TITLE: Contract specialist
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: 928th Contracting Battalion
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 1
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 7
ACQUISITIONS CERTIFICATIONS: Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act Level 1 in contracting
EDUCATION: M.S. in engineering management, Syracuse University; B.E. in electronics and communications, Sathyabama University.
AWARDS: Army Commendation Medal (3rd award); Army Achievement Medal (6th award); Army Good Conduct Medal (2nd award); National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon; Army Service Ribbon; Certificate of Achievement (3rd Certificate); Driver and Mechanic Badge and Marksmanship Qualification Badge–with Carbine
Staff Sgt. Abhiram Palivela
by Cheryl Marino
On-the-job training is an essential part of the package for any new hire, but if they happen to have a well-rounded assortment of prior industry experience—it’s a bonus.
An active duty Soldier since Feb. 2015, Staff Sgt. Abhiram Palivela joined the Army Acquisition Workforce just one year ago as a contract specialist with the 928th Contracting Battalion, stationed in Grafenwohr (Bavaria, Germany). He may be relatively new to Army acquisitions but, for him, preparing contracts really isn’t anything new.
Prior to joining the Army, Palivela was the owner of an Indian Fine Dining establishment called Thulasi Kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin for two years. So although he’s familiar with small-time business contracts, he said he was always intrigued by the “big Army contracting” world. “Even before I knew about the acquisition program way back in 2016 when the movie War Dogs [a movie depicting a fictitious company and the sale of firearms to the U.S. Government] came out, the first thing I did was to start looking into federal contracts and how to bid on them.” He said he was particularly interested in the contract specialist position because “the entire process from purchase requests [PR] being generated by the customer to PR being fulfilled by the contractor” appealed to him. “It is an extensively intriguing process, as it gives me a detailed insight into the whole contract action from start to finish, and helps me understand what I need to look for if I was a private company bidding on government contracts,” he said.
Palivela said in his role, his primary focus is writing contracts for supply buys, services and executing task orders against existing service contracts. “Everything we do has a greater impact on the army or warfighter as it is focused towards equipping the warfighter with what they need to win wars, such as basic life support that includes but not limited to transportation, food, latrines, showers, etc.,” he said.
Outside of work, he said people are always intrigued by the different aspects of his job, and the questions they have about his role typically vary—depending on the person and level of interest—but he said mainly they’re curious about “the different kinds of military contracts and the money involved.”
His job as a contract specialist might also be of particular interest to anyone outside Army acquisitions since it’s an entirely different line of work than the restaurant business, or any of the jobs he’s held before. Palivela began his career as a software engineer, technical lead for Dean Health Plan, Inc. (a healthcare insurance company) in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked for four years providing analysis, design, development and implementation, testing and support for data warehousing applications. Then, as an active duty Soldier, just before joining the acquisitions workforce as contract specialist, Palivela served as practice manager at Stuttgart Dental Clinic Command, Germany for two years, where he was responsible for the dental readiness of over 4,000 Soldiers and family members assigned to the United States Army Garrison Stuttgart.
It can be said that Palivela has dabbled in a diverse assortment of industries and, as a result, he’s acquired an abundance of knowledge about how different types of businesses function and operate—valuable experience that he can apply to any role he takes on now and in the future.
Palivela’s career may have evolved over the years, but he said when it comes down to it, he’s pretty much known to those outside of work as a “software engineer” given his prior industry software experience. Even though, he said, there is really nothing in common between the software and acquisition field. “The software field is more of thinking outside the box, building an innovative code from scratch to develop a specific application, whereas the acquisition field is more streamlined with defined federal regulations which require us to strictly abide by the rules and regulations set in place to do any type of contract,” he said.
Palivela grew up in Hyderabad, India and came to the United States in Aug. 2009 to obtain a Master’s Degree from Syracuse University. He then joined the Army and served as a non-commissioned officer administration and operations supervisor and squad leader-in-charge of the administrative operations of Joint Base Lewis McChord Dining Facility in Washington state where, given his prior restaurant experience, he was responsible for supervising, manning, budgeting and smooth operations of the facility—including the management of 10 non-commissioned officers (NCO) and 50 junior enlisted personnel working within the facility.
In 2020, he was among a group of Soldiers selected into the 51C military occupational specialty (MOS) contracting NCO program, and graduated Army Acquisition Professionals Course in March 2021. The 51C NCOs not only provide support for anything a unit requires, but also serve as business advisers to the commander to ensure Soldiers get what’s needed to support the mission. As part of the reclassification process, Palivela said candidates “have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the world of federal acquisitions and gain valuable information and skills through the training, education and professional development aspects of the MOS.”
Palivela said even though he’s only been in his current position for a short amount of time, the experience he’s already gained has been his career development program. “So far, I am proud to say that I have made a great decision jumping on board the acquisition workforce.” Noting that there are many opportunities available for future career growth within Army acquisition.
“Being in this position for one year, right now it is hard for me to say what the important career points within the acquisition workforce are; however, hearing from my peers, I would definitely consider going to an assignment that involves the Army Corps of Engineers (construction) and the Training with Industry [TWI] program,” he said. The TWI work-experience program is designed to provide extensive exposure to managerial techniques and industrial procedures within corporate America.
Palivela said he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to offer any advice to junior acquisition personnel, but if and when he gets the chance, he would suggest that they “Keep an open mind as one can never know everything about acquisitions. Every day is a real learning experience and the longer we are in this field the deeper we dive into the federal regulations, the variety of experiences increase, teaching us something new about what we thought we already knew.”
He said what remains consistent no matter what the instance—both in and outside of work—is that being resilient to any given situation is something that he strongly believes in. “I have seen firsthand how things can change drastically,” he said. “Being resilient and calm always gets me working on finding a solution to the problem and able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“The greatest satisfaction I receive from being a part of the acquisition workforce is to realize the fact that we are the force behind the force enabling the warfighter to be well equipped in order to train beyond standards and win wars.”
“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/.