COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) on a developmental assignment to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (OASA(ALT))
TITLE: Deputy product manager, on developmental assignment as deputy director, OASA(ALT) Secretary of the Army for Acquisition Logistics, Intelligence and Simulation Hardware Directorate
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 13
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Advanced in program management and business financial management
EDUCATION: Currently pursuing an M.A. in global leadership and management at Lawrence Technological University, Senior Service College Fellowship, B.A. in sociology, Haverford College
AWARDS: Special Act or Service Award (July 2019), Department of the Army Meritorious Civilian Service Award (July 2019), Special Act or Service Award (July 2021)
by Cheryl Marino
As a child, Kelly Tisch will never forget watching her late grandfather—an Army prisoner of war during WWII—receive his Bronze Star. It didn’t come easily, but as she’s learned from his experience, nothing worthwhile ever does. His heroic efforts, pride and dedication made an impression on Tisch, and years later inspired her to pursue a career with the Army at the civilian level that would be both challenging and fulfilling.
“I love that in some small way I am giving back to my late grandfather,” she said of bringing her own brand of authenticity to her developmental role as deputy director for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army of Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, Secretary of the Army for Acquisition Logistics, Intelligence and Simulation Hardware Directorate .“He was incredibly proud to have served and every day I walk in the Pentagon I pass the WWII veterans display and I think of my grandfather and his sacrifice.”
Tisch supports the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management (DASM) Office in a hardware directorate for the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors and the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. Both portfolios provide critical support to our Soldiers. “It’s been interesting to learn about this organization and its responsibility to provide critical acquisition rigor and analysis to key senior leaders, Congress and DOD. I provide support and representation for intelligence, electronic warfare, cyber, sensors and simulation program efforts and quick reaction capabilities. I have only ever supported the Army from a PEO or deputy product manager perspective and that support was specifically at PEO C3T [Program Executive Office for Command Control Communications-Tactical].” Now, she is more aware of how other PEOs manage and run their respective programs. “I’m not halfway done with my developmental training and I have already learned an incredible amount from my director, my team, the PEOs the DASM and other stakeholders.”
She began her Army career as an intern with Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. “I didn’t realize how much purpose and passion I would find in my first job as a program analyst. I loved that job!” She said she found the role of a program analyst to be the most critical role in the program management office. “I felt like I was the action officer program manager. I knew I needed to become savvy in the business, logistics and technical aspects of my programs, so I aimed to be the point person to ensure strong communication amongst the stakeholders including surfacing and mitigating risks, clarity of purpose and overall acquisition rigor,” she said. “I was fortunate to have an awesome boss who threw everything at me the first two years including contracts, budget, cost and owning program reviews. He would give me acquisition homework over the weekend ranging from reviewing the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] to fiscal law to how the Army runs. I loved it all and wanted more.”
Tisch said her boss told other program management office team members to include the technical and logistics folks to run their work by her because if she couldn’t understand it, then it wasn’t simple enough. “At first, I would laugh and ask if I should be insulted by this tactic. I quickly appreciated the importance of this approach as many initial drafts contained information written in a way that only an insider of a particular product or process could understand. From my perspective, the most effective people in the acquisition community are the ones who can take the highly technical aspects of their work and make it digestible to anyone.”
And simplifying details—like explaining what she does for a living—is something that Tisch, a mother of five, has grown accustomed to. “For my young kids, my message is simple—I help our brave Soldiers. I give them the equipment they need.” Plain and simple. If they have any questions each is answered accordingly. And she handles things the same way at work.
Her best advice is “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask a senior leader you respect to be your mentor. Ask for a developmental assignment. Ask to take a course,” she said. “I asked these types of questions and have often received a ‘yes.’ Mentorships, developmental assignments and multiple courses have all directly shaped me to be the employee that I am.” Tisch had mentors from the beginning and plans to until the end of her career. “What’s fun now is I’m beginning to pay it forward by mentoring others.”
Tisch said it’s important for junior acquisition personnel to “show and share” their value. “A team needs to balance the experiential wisdom of folks, while concurrently pushing to hear from junior acquisition personnel about what they think and see. Sometimes objectivity and creativity come from our most junior employees.”
Recalling the challenges her grandfather had faced and overcame while serving, Tish said “Throughout your career, remember there will be hard times.” Those may include your own personal challenges that make the workday feel harder or the professional ones you’ll need to tackle head-on during the workday. “I’ve had them,” she said. “Link up with the people who are there to help and support you. In every organization, seek those people out. They aren’t hard to find. Build that support team for yourself. Acquisition is a team sport for products, and you should be building your own personal support team for your career.”
Tisch graduated from Army Senior Service College (SSCF) in May, remarking that it was a wonderful experience—to reflect, learn, reflect more and grow. “I learned through readings, classes, other senior leaders and my peers. It re-motivated me to do better and be better for myself, both personally and professionally, for my teams and the Army at large. I will always be a strong advocate of the SSCF program as it built me a bigger network and gave me a stronger leadership foundation.”
She said a book recommended by one of her early mentors called “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg was a game changer for her. “I have learned to lean in with my authentic self,” she said. “I am a mom; I am kind and I am good at what I do in the workplace. For me, being a mom and being kind to others has only made me a better employee for our great Army.”
It has also been of benefit for dealing with different personalities in the workplace. “I have five children, all very different with different needs. It’s kind of like working with the acquisition community. I need to seek to understand where each player, or child, is coming from. They have their own perspective on topics, and I need to learn it, understand it and see how it applies. After learning about Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in SSCF, I realized how important it is to seek to understand others first, and then be understood. It’s a tenant I apply every day, with every meeting and conversation. The acquisition community is a small place and I want to make products, people and processes better.”
“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/.