COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition
TITLE: Deputy product manager
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program management
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 14 years
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Civilian
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and financial management
EDUCATION: MBA, Florida Institute of Technology; B.S. in finance, Pennsylvania State University
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service (x2), Achievement Medal for Civilian Service, PM CAS 2015 Professional of the Year, PM CAS Excellence Award (x3)
HOMETOWN: Jefferson, New Jersey
by Ellen Summey
Above all else, Kevin Vo is a man of his word. If he makes a commitment, you can be sure he’ll move heaven and earth to keep it. “I never want to promise something and then not deliver,” he said. That commitment was put to the test recently, when Vo took on a temporary developmental assignment as chief of staff for the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A). He was expecting to have his hands full, but was shocked by just how full they were. “It was a huge surprise for me,” he said. “I always knew the chief of staff was involved in programs, but I thought most of their time was spent managing staff. In reality, nothing bypasses the chief of staff. It’s a lot of work.”
But he had made the promise to learn the role, so he wasn’t about to raise the white flag and surrender. He pushed through. “Honestly, it was hard work—nothing that cannot be done, but it required a lot of commitment and effort,” Fortunately, that’s Vo’s nature. “I grew up that way,” he said. “I’m OK spending longer hours if I need to. I put the work in and prioritize.” And no matter how many tasks come his way, he’s very careful about managing the details. “I don’t let things fall through the cracks, in any job.” For an organization as busy as JPEO A&A, that’s saying something.
Today, Vo is the deputy product manager for Medium Caliber Ammunition within the Project Manager Maneuver Ammunition Systems. In this role, he is responsible for Army and DOD readiness and modernization for all direct-fire medium-caliber ammunition. “I manage a portfolio of over 50 products, ranging from 20 mm to 40 mm, and lead the development and execution of acquisition policy, industrial base shaping, resource management and materiel solutions to provide the best capability for the warfighter,” he said. He started this job in 2016, and said it has also been a challenging experience at times. “The responsibility for this position has kept me up many nights throughout these four years, but it has been a rewarding experience,” he said.
He’s excited about the developments in “smart” ammunition, which allow greater capability and effectiveness on the battlefield. “We’re moving away from a lot of the conventional, high-explosive ammunition, to smarter ammunition,” Vo explained. Traditionally, warfighters rely on ammunition to detonate on impact, which is often ineffective against certain targets. “What we’re working on now is adding the ‘airburst’ capability for 30 mm and 40 mm ammunition, which is what we sometimes refer to as proximity or multifunction munition.” The proximity airburst is new to medium caliber ammunition, and provides a capability that can defeat unmanned aerial systems. The proximity munition features a fuze sensor, which initiates the explosive train when it detects the target within its proximity. This technology is used in many larger ammunition such as mortar and artillery, however, it’s very challenging to package similar technology in a much smaller configuration, Vo said. The multifunction munitions has three different fuze modes, each of which causes the ammunition to function in a different way—one mode programs a midair detonation, another setting tells the round to detonate on impact, and the third mode causes the ammunition to delay detonation, allowing the projectile to perforate structures before detonating. The munition is also able to self-destruct if needed, which Vo described as an added bonus. He’s looking forward to these and other changes, with the ultimate goal of protecting warfighters and making judicious use of the taxpayer’s dollar. “At the end of the day, that’s what I’m doing here. My ultimate goal is to make sure the warfighters have the best capability in their hands, while also protecting the taxpayer’s interests,” he said.
Vo’s approach to work—his sense of personal empowerment and an enthusiasm for making a difference—was shaped by his early years working in private industry. He worked in technology and corporate finance, where his leaders expected innovation and results, rather than conforming to the way things had always been done. The old saying, “That’s how we’ve always done it,” just doesn’t work for him. “If something wasn’t working, I took the liberty—and the responsibility—to fix it. I’d say I still identify with that culture, based on the years of experience I had in industry,” he said.
Vo credits his success to having great leaders who invested their time in him, and he feels it’s his responsibility to pay it forward. “What’s important to me now is building the future by developing our up-and-coming leaders,” he said. “Coaching and mentoring newer Army acquisition civilians or military officers is one of my personal objectives.” He hopes to encourage others to broaden their experience by seeking out new opportunities, including outside of their own organizations. His other advice? “Be humble and learn from others—make sure you have a strong foundation across different career fields instead of trying to climb the ladder too quickly.” Leave it to Vo to always cover his bases.
Despite his emphasis on preparation and hard work, Vo isn’t one to just deal with difficulties by slogging through. He’s known for being very honest and direct, and providing feedback as problems arise. In fact, he said that’s the most important lesson he has learned. “Being candid is my nature, whether on or off the job—that’s how I was taught growing up,” he said. “On the job, my focus is mission first. When I see an issue that could potentially hinder our success, I feel it’s my responsibility to speak up.” He said his leaders expect him to solve problems, rather than sweeping them under the rug. He takes great pride in his work, and strives to always keep the most important promise for any Army civilian or officer—the promise he makes to the American warfighter. “Nothing is more satisfying,” Vo said, “than being able to see programs through their development and fielding and receiving feedback from the warfighters that the capability allowed them to reach the adversaries first, helped them accomplish their mission, and return home safely.”
“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/.