COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: PEO Combat Support & Combat Service Support
TITLE: Program officer
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program management
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 16 years
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Civilian
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and business management, Level I in life cycle logistics
EDUCATION: MBA from Wayne State University, BBA in logistics and production operations management from Central Michigan University
HOMETOWN: Macomb, Michigan
By Ellen Summey
Lisa Orejel knows she’s kind of a walking dichotomy. She’s a self-professed “girly-girl” who manages trucks for the Army—and she loves her job. “People who know me outside of work find it surprising that I work with the military and deal with huge trucks for a living,” she said. Today, Orejel is a program officer for Medium Tactical Vehicles at the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS), at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan. “I am responsible for the Army’s legacy, current and future Medium Tactical truck fleet, which consists of approximately 69,000 vehicles in various configurations, like 2.5- to 5-ton cargo trucks, 5- to10-ton dump trucks, wreckers, etc.” And the job keeps her on her toes. “I always say, ‘You better make sure you are wearing the right outfit in program management, because it needs to match well, wearing a lot of different hats.’ ”
So, how did she get there? A native of Macomb, Michigan, Orejel has always felt a connection to her home. “I love it,” she said. “I wanted to be close to my parents and raise a family in this area.” She started working at U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), also located at Detroit Arsenal, back in 2004. “I worked on the intern program as a secondary item manager on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” she said. She was inspired to move to program management (PM) by a friend and mentor. “My team leader at the time, Jerry Wozniak, always told me, ‘The job you want to be in is in a PM shop, because that’s where the money is and the decisions are made.’ ” She took his advice, and that has shaped the rest of her career.
From the Bradley, Orejel moved to a program analyst position at PM Stryker in 2008 and then to a project officer position on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) MaxxPro vehicle team in 2011. “That was my first acquisition job in a project management capacity,” she said. “Looking back to 2011, I feel I have really grown in the acquisition world. I’ve now had experiences and challenges working several different truck platforms—MRAP, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle [HMMWV, or Humvee], and Medium Tactical Vehicles.” She enjoys the challenge of learning the ins and outs of each new program. “You have to be knowledgeable about every functional area, like engineering, logistics, contracting, budget, test and quality.” Lots of hats, indeed. But she knows the bottom line is about protecting the men and women who serve our nation—including one very special young man in particular.
“My son A.J. just recently joined the Marine Corps,” she said. “I wasn’t totally on board with that choice at first, but now I see it was the best decision he could have made.” And she’s working hard to make sure that he stays safe. “He is my drive. He is the reason I want to have the most safe, modernized, armor-capable, durable fleet of trucks possible,” Orejel said. “The greatest satisfaction I have every day is knowing that I am doing everything I can to keep him and his fellow service members safe. The equipment we provide should be the last thing I want my son to worry about in the field. I want to make sure it’s right.” Orejel is driven, not only to protect her family, but to set an example for them as well. “My family is my everything,” she said. “They are my drive, and the reason I put 110 percent into everything I am doing. I don’t want them to see me just existing—I want them to see me living my life. I want my kids to see hard work and drive pay off.”
An outgoing and social person by nature, Orejel enjoys mentoring and sharing advice with her team members at work—something made more difficult in the days of COVID-19. “I like going to peoples’ desks and asking how their day is,” she said. “You can see if someone is having a bad day, and offer them some reassurance, or a listening ear. That personal interaction is so vital, but I never realized how important it really was, until we had to be apart from each other for months now.” Her favorite piece of advice to junior acquisition personnel? “Never get married to any idea or briefing or course of action that you have,” she laughed. “I’ve learned that through the years. Your plan is going to get changed so much, and if you’re married to it, your feelings are going to get hurt.” But in the end, she said, change is for the better. “You get outside perspective and it really changes things and opens your eyes. I have a tendency to look at things through my own lens, but there are so many other ways to approach things.”
If she were queen for a day, she would want to harness those same perspectives for the good of the organization. “I would want to empower my people more,” she said, “and push decision-making down to the lowest level possible.” Not only would that take some pressure and administrative work off senior leaders, but she said it is a good motivator for the workforce. “People take more pride in their work, knowing that they are a piece of the puzzle,” she said. “A lot of decisions are made at such high levels that some folks feel out of the loop, or like it’s not their role to be concerned with it.” Orejel said she thinks that is because of a low tolerance to risk. “Everyone is afraid to make a mistake,” she said. “But I feel like, you’re always going to make mistakes, so you just course-correct and keep the train moving—learn from your mistakes.”
Orejel has proven that she’s not afraid of making those tough decisions. At a pivotal point in her career, she took a developmental assignment managing the HMMWV Ambulance program. When she took on the program, “it was on a rocky road with increasing costs and a delayed schedule,” she recalled. But she was optimistic about the possibilities. “I really viewed the challenge as an opportunity for me to grow,” she said. “I took full ownership of the program and worked to get it back on a path for success—I had to reestablish relationships with Rock Island Arsenal and build confidence within the TACOM Integrated Logistics Support Center and PEO CS&CSS leadership.”
Ultimately, the effort was a success and Orejel learned from the experience. “Acknowledge what you know and do not know on your programs,” she advised. “Don’t be afraid to challenge things, and don’t be afraid to question something that doesn’t make sense.” Take it from the girly-girl who manages 10-ton dump trucks for the Army—almost anything can be an opportunity for growth, so make the most of it.
“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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