COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Army Contracting Command – Warren, Michigan
OFFICIAL TITLE: Supervisory contract specialist
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 13 years
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting; Level I in program management and in information technology
EDUCATION: M.S. in administration, Central Michigan University; B.S. in business administration and marketing, Eastern Michigan University
AWARDS: Secretary of the Army Contracting Professional of the Year; Commander’s Award for Civilian Service; Achievement Medal for Civilian Service; U.S. Army Materiel Command Frank S. Besson Jr. Award for Contracting Excellence – Civilian Intern
Success brackets a 13-year career
by MS. SUSAN L. FOLLETT
Not long into her acquisition career, Mary Hernandez received the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Frank S. Besson Jr. Award for Contracting Excellence in the civilian intern category. “I was very humbled to receive that award,” she said. “When I started at the Army Contracting Command – Warren, we were in the middle of conflict [the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq], and I was asked to work on projects that probably wouldn’t have gone to an intern under normal circumstances. There was no other choice than to sink or swim, and I’m grateful that I had those opportunities.”
It turns out she’s a pretty good swimmer, named the Contracting Professional of the Year by the secretary of the Army in 2016. “I was really honored to receive [that] award, especially since the recommendation that I be nominated originated with my customer,” she said.
Hernandez is a group chief in the Stryker/Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) Contracting Division at Army Contracting Command – Warren, Michigan, procuring Stryker vehicles, vehicle upgrades and system technical support services.
She received the secretary of the Army award for her contribution to developing and managing innovative contracting approaches for two high-priority missions within the Stryker Combat Team Project Management Office. First, she played an important role in supporting an operational needs statement (ONS) to add a 30 mm direct fire weapon onto the Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle, a $450 million effort. Hernandez helped develop a three-phased contracting strategy that condensed the acquisition lead time and met tight schedule deadlines, in part by eliminating redundant documentation and using urgent acquisition mechanisms.
She was also involved in an $858 million effort to replace flat-bottom hull Strykers with double-V hull (DVH) Strykers to improve survivability, a project that also included modernization to address space, weight and power-cooling issues. Hernandez’s team conducted a successful Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy review, receiving approval to award the production exchange requirement.
One of her first assignments in the Stryker/LAV division was incorporating the DVH into Stryker production in 2010, an enhancement urgently needed in theater to mitigate threats from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “When the DVH Stryker vehicles were fielded to the Stryker units in theater, we started hearing from Soldiers who were involved in IED blasts,” Hernandez explained. “The DVH survivability enhancement was the reason they were still alive. That’s the reason I do what I do. Knowing my work contributes to helping keep someone’s son, daughter, mom or dad safe is priceless to me.”
Hernandez has been with ACC-Warren for 13 years, joining the organization after an internship in logistics didn’t pan out. “I graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a marketing major, and the only available jobs I found were sales positions. I knew I didn’t want a career in sales, so I started talking to family and friends about their jobs,” she explained. “My dad’s cousin worked at the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command and told me that most of the career fields were hiring interns.” Hernandez was hired in 2004 as a logistics management specialist intern within TACOM’s Integrated Logistics Support Center.
“After a little while, I figured out that the position was not a good fit for me,” she said. “Six months later, I applied for and was selected as a contract specialist intern within ACC-Warren. What I love about the contracting field is the variety of assignments, the challenge of negotiating with the contractor to get the best value for the taxpayer and, most of all, the overall positive impact the contracted goods and services have on the Soldier.”
While Hernandez finds her work rewarding, she concedes the process is not perfect. “When I tell people we buy Stryker vehicles, they think it sounds awesome, but the length of time the procurement process takes often surprises people. There is a lot of red tape involved in the procurement process. Numerous regulations to follow; many stakeholders involved in defining the requirements, and challenging negotiations with the contractor; political pressure and budget constraints—all of that feeds into the procurement process. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into the final contract document.”
Procurement actions can take as little as a month or as long as several years, she said, depending on the complexity of the task. “If I were in charge, I’d change some of the approval thresholds,” Hernandez said. “Some actions are reviewed, and decisions are made, at the highest levels of the Department of the Army. In my humble opinion, not all of the documents need that level of review. I’d also consolidate some of the documentation we’re required to provide. Many of the documents we produce overlap, and eliminating duplicate work would help shorten the process.”
Her career has afforded her numerous opportunities to take advantage of training and educational programs, including leadership training offered through the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and Eckerd College. One assignment in particular during the Darden Women’s Leadership Program, known as Reflected Best-Self, “really stuck with me,” she said. “While many leadership training classes focus on improving your weakness areas, this assignment forced me to analyze times I felt I was at my best, request feedback for times others felt I was at my best, and then create a self-portrait discussing the patterns in my strength areas.”
That focus on strength also is rare in the workplace, she said, but “identifying strengths in ourselves and others is a key to effective leadership. It’s been my experience that if you take the time to develop people, help them overcome roadblocks and show you appreciate them, everything else falls into place.”
This will be published in the January – March 2018 Army AL&T magazine.
“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 contact 703-664-5635.
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