Taking Charge of the Narrative

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Sean Brandt

COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Director for Joint Bombs, Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition
TITLE: Project management officer
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and engineering; Level I in production, quality and manufacturing; logistics; and test and evaluation
EDUCATION: Master of Engineering in mechanical engineering, Stevens Institute of Technology; MBA, Florida Institute of Technology; B.S. in mechanical engineering, Penn State University

By Susan L. Follett

When he’s not at work, you’re likely to find Sean Brandt at a martial arts gym in northern New Jersey. The project management officer has trained in martial arts since childhood, and he got started in Sayoc Kali, a Filipino martial art known as “the art of the blade,” in 2004.

“The blade is a powerful teaching tool: every movement you make, no matter how small, matters; there is no margin for error,” said Brandt, who’s part of the Product Director for Joint Bombs within the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A). “Steady pressure at the razor’s edge drives incremental growth. I bring this same mindset to my job: I believe that everything matters, so I strive to do the best I can in every moment, and to be better today than I was yesterday.”


Brandt, right, trains with Matt Campbell in Sayoc Kali, a Filipino martial art known as “the art of the blade.” (Photo by Jacqueline Sayoc)

When knife or sword drills are performed in Sayoc Kali, one participant—the feeder—controls the action. “The creator of Sayoc Kali, Tuhon Christopher Sayoc Sr., said, ‘Be the feeder,’ ” Brandt said. “Being the feeder means to be the author; to be the one who writes the story, who controls the narrative. In the office, it’s my duty to take ownership and lead the stakeholders to a successful outcome. I work tirelessly to make sure my programs are successful. When my programs have failed, I look at what caused us to miss the target, and adjust fire on the next program. My goal is write the story of delivering good-quality ammunition to the warfighter on time, while being mindful of our government’s resources.”

Brandt leads a team that acquires conventional ammunition for the Army, Navy and Air Force. “Ensuring that joint warfighters have quality product, when they need it, is our duty,” he said. “But everything has a cost, and it is taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill. So the other part of our work is to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.”

Acquiring weapons for all three services “means that we work with three different chains of command, as well as foreign military sales customers,” he explained “The biggest challenge I face is coordinating those chains of command—knowing who to talk to in order to get a certain task accomplished.”

Brandt worked in the private sector after graduating from college, first with Intel Corp. and then with Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), which sells software to federal agencies. “Working with AGI gave me the opportunity to see how the government operates and how they were using the systems we were selling, and I decided I wanted to be part of that,” said Brandt, whose grandfathers served in the Army. “I wanted to support the military mission in a direct and pure way, one not clouded by corporate profit motives.”

His first federal position was an artillery weapons engineer with U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, now the U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Command’s (CCDC) Armament Center. “Guns and ammo are not covered in any depth in standard engineering curriculum, so the nature of the work, as technically unique, was intriguing,” he said. “Plus, when you become part of the Army as a civilian, you learn about military culture and history, like the fact that artillery is known as the ‘the King of Battle,’ because historically it has caused the most casualties. As I took on different positions, I got to work on ammunition and other related products. I realized that every weapon and ammunition commodity has its own story, its own history and its own importance on the battlefield.”

Brandt noted that some of his most memorable training experiences were in “greening” classes about the Army and Army leadership led by Col. Kurt McNeely (USA, Ret.), chief of Warfighter Central at Picatinny Arsenal. “The classes give civilians a look into the Soldier’s world. [McNeely] introduced us to rudimentary land navigation, marching, core concepts like chain of command, etc.,” said Brandt. “But, perhaps most memorably, he personally narrated—based on firsthand knowledge—while we watched ‘Black Hawk Down,’ ” which details the U.S. military raid in Mogadishu in 1993 in which 19 warfighters were killed. “That gave me a visceral connection to the warfighter.”

Tritonal Bombs Project

Brandt and the team he worked with on the Tritonal Bombs Project: From left are John Curran, Mike Grant, Brandt, Mike DeMaria, Kathy McGinley, James Vanatta, John Swift and Jon Irizarry. (Photo courtesy of Picatinny Photographic Services)


Brandt joined JPEO A&A in 2014, and his arrival marked his transition from engineering to program management—“a substantial change,” he said. “As an engineer, you are primarily concerned with technical details and quality. As a program manager, you have a broader scope of concern, because now you are responsible and accountable for cost, schedule and performance. It’s quite a balancing act.”

He noted that he’s grateful for the support he has received from John Curran, acting deputy JPEO. “Oddly enough, after all the Army-centric leadership training I’ve done, it’s this man—who retired from the Marine Corps—who is the best example of an Army civilian leader who has been my direct supervisor,” Brandt said. “He embodies the warrior ethos, lives the military values, and is a consummate professional. I haven’t always agreed with him, but through those disagreements I have had the opportunity to learn how a senior leader thinks.”

Over the course of his acquisition career, Brandt has availed himself of opportunities to earn advanced degrees in business and thermal sciences. He credits Dr. Donald Carlucci, senior research scientist at the CCDC Armaments Center, with helping him in those endeavors. “In an environment that sometimes felt like a degree factory, Dr. Carlucci made me earn my degree. He expected the best of us and held us accountable, and he sometimes failed people in his classes, which I respected, because something was actually at stake,” Brandt said. “Dr. Carlucci is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, yet he’s incredibly humble. He’s a role model for engineers and a devoted civil servant—someone I strive to emulate.”

His advice to newcomers? “Do your DAWIA training to get your career field certification and do your mandatory training. All of this takes time, but it is just part of being an acquisition workforce member. There are boxes that need to get checked, so check them,” he said. “Beyond that, don’t be afraid to try something new; make a move. There’s always an unknown when you change positions, but that’s where growth happens.”

“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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