COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: 923rd Contracting Battalion, 418th Contracting Brigade, Army Contracting Command
TITLE: Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology NCO
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Contracting
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 8
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Military
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 16
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting
EDUCATION: MBA, Trident University International; M.A. in acquisitions and procurement management, Webster University; M.S. in homeland security, Trident University International; B.S. in chemistry, Southern Connecticut State University; certificates in health science laboratory technology from George Washington University and emergency and disaster management from Trident University International.
AWARDS: Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal (4th Award), Army Achievement Medal (8th Award), Army Good Conduct Medal (5th Award), Afghanistan Campaign Medal (3rd Campaign), Korean Service Defense Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon (3rd Award), the NATO Medal (2nd Award), the Combat Action Badge and the Parachutist Badge.
HOMETOWN: Priory, Jamaica
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Nicholson
by Ellen Summey
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Nicholson has never met a topic that didn’t interest him. Science, sociology, contracting, technology, medicine, security, leadership—he will readily engage in earnest exploration and discussion at any opportunity. And it shows. The 16-year noncommissioned officer (NCO) holds three masters degrees and is currently pursuing a doctorate. In November, the Priory, Jamaica, native was selected for the 2021 Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) in the graduate-level student leadership category. The awards are given by the BEYA Conference each year, an event that highlights the contributions of African-American leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“I’m not actually an engineer, though,” he clarified. “That’s the name of the award, but it’s for any STEM field, not just engineering.” Nicholson, a self-professed “Trekkie” and lifelong science geek, decided to enlist in the Army after coming to terms with his own suspected academic limitations. “I emigrated to the U.S. after attending community college in Jamaica. I completed my B.S. in chemistry in 2003, and it was then that I realized I may not have been destined to be a true ‘STEM pioneer.’ Don’t get me wrong—I love science, but I am just not one of those naturally gifted genius types.”
Gifted or not, he isn’t afraid of a challenge. Nicholson chose to join the Army, where he would reassess his priorities and decide on a new goal for his life. Once he discovered the ample education opportunities for Soldiers, all bets were off. Four degrees later, he has no plans to stop. “I tell other Soldiers all the time, you have a great opportunity to grow in the Army. When you’re on deployment somewhere, you should always make the most of that time and continue your education. Never stop learning.”
He began his Army career at the U.S. Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in Natick, Massachusetts. There, he spent eight years working as a biological research assistant and medical laboratory specialist. “That was an awesome job and my experiences there were extremely influential to me,” he recalled. “But I wanted to explore what else the Army had to offer, so I decided to apply to the 51C MOS (military occupational specialty).” Particularly appealing to Nicholson were the competitive accession requirements, high academic standards and broad job description. “I had just returned from a U.S. Special Operations Command MOS immaterial deployment, so along with my educational background, I knew this field was where my all skills and personality would best appreciated and utilized.”
Today, he is an Acquisition, Logistics and Technology NCO with the 411th Contracting Support Brigade, Camp Humphreys, Korea, having just transitioned from the 923rd Contracting Battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas. He has had the opportunity to mentor younger Soldiers throughout his time in the service, and he typically offers a piece of advice that was once given to him. “It’s the P-I-E concept,” he said. “A theory introduced by Harvey J. Coleman in the 1990s, which suggests that success is based 10 percent on performance (P), 30 percent on image (I) and a whopping 60 percent on exposure (E).” While performance is obviously necessary, Coleman said it was not sufficient. In fact, since performance is expected, then image and exposure are the things that set you apart. Image is how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you, and exposure refers to your interactions with colleagues, leaders and other stakeholders.
“Find ways to increase the number of interactions you have with your immediate senior leadership, service members and civilians from other MOSs and branches, and within the vast acquisition field,” he said. “The formal interaction is where you are usually measured, but the informal is where you are finally judged. In our career field, exposure and relationship-building with other fields are key to mission accomplishment. We all know how difficult it can be to translate regulations to a requiring activity who has no idea who we are, what we do or why we do it a certain way. So, get started early on building those relationships—formally and informally.”
And this is not an abstract idea for Nicholson—he has the lived experience to support that advice. After making the transition to his first acquisition assignment in Korea in 2012, he was mentored by a more experienced Army civilian, who has since become a close friend. “He taught me the art and science of contracting,” Nicholson recalled. But he also learned about the true meaning of inclusion. “By watching his interactions with the Korean local nationals and other military personnel, I came to appreciate why inclusion and diversity are so important.” People often hear the word “inclusion” and think about race, gender or sexual orientation, but Nicholson believes it’s a much broader concept. “Inclusive leaders tend to create collaborative and understanding environments,” he said. “This includes articulating an authentic commitment to diversity of thought. It’s about humility, awareness of bias, an open mindset and a deep curiosity about others, as well as empathy and cultural intelligence, empowering others and focusing on team cohesion.”
Nicholson, the lifelong learner with endless curiosity, said his greatest professional satisfaction as a member of the Army Acquisition Workforce is that he has found that kind of inclusive leadership within the Army Contracting Command. “I’ve witnessed an unfettered commitment to inclusion and diversity here,” he said. “While no organization is perfect, I feel it takes a very committed and conscious effort to ensure inclusion and diversity are celebrated, and I applaud my leaders for that.”
“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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