Out-of-the-blue solution makes sustainment easier

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Capt. Zachary Schofield

COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Manager for Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems, Project Manager for Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems
TITLE: Assistant product manager
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 14 (9 as a commissioned officer)
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level I in program management
EDUCATION: M.A. in information technology management and MBA, Webster University; B.A. in liberal studies focusing on anthropology, Georgia Southern University
AWARDS: Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal (2), Meritorious Unit Citation, Afghan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal
Iraqi Campaign Medal (2), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (3), NATO Medal, Air Crew Member Wings

by Susan L. Follett

Thanks to Capt. Zachary Schofield and his team—and a piece of blue construction paper— logisticians and sustainment personnel in Korea have a communication system that’s lighter, smaller and much easier to use.

As the assistant product manager for the Combat Sustainment Support Satellite Communications Program, Schofield led the team fielding the Army’s new Inflatable Satellite Antenna (Very Small Aperture Terminal), or ISA-VSAT, to 8th Army in response to an operational needs statement. “We redesigned an existing satellite antenna, the T2C2 [Transportable Tactical Command Communications] Lite, and the Army gateways for the WGS [Wideband Global SATCOM] satellite network tie-in, making it simpler to install, operate and maintain than any triband-capable terminal fielded in the Army.”

The new systems “are dramatically smaller, lighter, more powerful and redundant than anything else currently used in the Army,” he said. “The sustainment community in Korea—and select stateside units—is now positioned to be able to move its logistics information systems … to the extreme edge of the battlefield. They are no longer hampered by systems that require a full truck to move.” The new systems can be transported in two cases, “which allows for sustainment operations anywhere, anytime in the world,” and they can be operated by any Soldier regardless of military occupational specialty. “We don’t need to have school-trained signal Soldiers to enable the sustainment missions—the logisticians can do it themselves,” Schofield said.

The ISA is lighter and more expeditionary than the legacy version. Two Soldiers can set it up in less than 30 minutes, compared with more than 45 minutes for the previous system. It uses the same portable terminal as the T2C2 Lite, a program of record that provides voice and data communications for operational command posts. Using common equipment means the ISA is already available in the Army supply system.

Fielding the new ISA is a big accomplishment for someone who has been in acquisition for just a year, and Schofield is quick to note that the people he works with were an important component to that success. “All I did was point the program in the right direction and provide some insights from the field,” he said. “We have a team of technicians, engineers, tech writers, trainers and logisticians that really made this program a success. I didn’t do that much in comparison. Even the network and terminal designs that I created were really just poorly drawn sketches on a page of my son’s construction paper that the team made real.”

He also noted that the leadership within the Project Manager for Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems and the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems gave him a lot of latitude to run the project as he saw fit. “They were also there to bounce ideas or issues off of, and that allowed me to learn a great deal. It was my project to make work, and I had to learn the details of it.”

Schofield was a signal officer before joining the acquisition workforce and spent two years planning and operating small terminal dishes in Korea. “To be able to take what I know works or doesn’t work and apply it to the systems we are actively fielding has been an amazing experience. We were able to get new systems into the hands of the Soldiers within six months of funding, condensing what is normally a 24-month process.” He added that while these new systems are only for the Korea operational needs statement, “what we learned through the process of designing, procuring and fielding them is directly influencing the next generation of VSATs for the whole Army.”

Looking back over the experience, he learned a couple of things. At the top of the list is the potential hazard of institutional inertia. “Many of the projects we work on in the Army are multiyear or multi-decade projects. It’s very easy to fall into the processes that have always been used, but it’s important to take ownership of your program and question all aspects of how things are done,” he said. “Things we’re doing might have made perfect sense 10 years ago, but now are just outdated. Never let process get in the way of performance.” Second, understand the capabilities of the equipment and the organization. “If you know what the parts, pieces and people can do, it’s easy to shift the plan when you need to.”

Schofield’s transition to acquisition was spurred in part by frustration. “Having spent eight years in various S-6 or signal company positions, I was tired of getting new equipment that was so complicated that my Soldiers couldn’t operate it reliably. I figured I could help make new systems simpler for the Army,” he said. “It shouldn’t take a degree in information technology to operate an Army communication system. If an item or system requires a field service rep just to operate or maintain it, it’s too complicated, and it won’t be used.”

Now that he has seen acquisition from a couple of different perspectives, he noted that one thing Soldiers often don’t understand are the timelines for Army acquisitions. “At the unit level, it’s hard to see the scale of the Army and the sheer amount of equipment that needs to be fielded. Soldiers can become frustrated by the pace [at which] they receive new equipment without fully understanding the production back end,” he said. “Even if we had unlimited funding, our industry partners can only make so many widgets per year. Sometimes it will take years or even a decade to field a new item to the whole Army.”

“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.

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