Faces of the Force: Cynthia Smith

By February 2, 2016March 20th, 2016Contracting, Faces of the Force, General
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Position and Unit: Contracting Officer, Contracting and Acquisition Management Office, Army Contracting Command-Redstone
Years of Service in Workforce: 12
DAWIA Certifications: Level III in contracting and purchasing; Level I in program management
Education: M.S. in management with a concentration in contracting and acquisition management, Florida Institute of Technology; B.S. in organizational management, Oakwood University; associate degree in computer information systems, Faulkner University
Awards: U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command FY12 Competition Award for Outstanding Achievement; Secretary of the Army Excellence in Contracting Outstanding Unit/Team Award; Outstanding Performance Award for participation in the Small Business Innovative Research Program

‘The best decision I ever made’

By Susan L. Follett

For Cynthia Smith, the benefits of working as a contracting officer for DOD’s Counter-Narcoterrorism Program Office (CNTPO) are twofold: she has the satisfaction of knowing that U.S. troops fighting terror funded by drug trafficking are properly and quickly equipped. And her work has taught her a great deal about different cultures and countries.

CNTPO leads the development of technology for interagency and multinational operations that disrupt, deter and deny narcoterrorist activities. The CNTPO provides all federal government agencies with a rapid-response contracting vehicle that can award work quickly to support counternarcotics or counter-narcoterrorism operations anywhere in the world.

On behalf of CNTPO, Smith has awarded contracts to help the war against drugs and terrorism in places like Uzbekistan, Colombia, Nigeria and Guatemala. “Understanding the laws and regulations of these countries has broadened my knowledge of cultures that I wouldn’t have known about if I wasn’t in the Army Acquisition Workforce [AAW],”she said.

Smith came to the AAW from the private sector, beginning her career with Motorola’s Universal Data Systems Division. “I started in manufacturing, where I assembled different components onto a circuit board,” Smith explained. “I moved to soldering the components to the boards and then to testing the boards to ensure they were operational. I later became an administrative assistant to a contracting officer who was responsible for buying transistors.”

She spent five years as a buyer for Sanmina Corp.’s SCI Technology Inc. before becoming a contract specialist with the Army in 2002. “I was skeptical about applying for a position with the Army because I associated it with being in combat. But I did some research and found that the Army offered a lot of challenges and that piqued my interest,” Smith said. “Coming here was the best decision I ever made.”

What do you do in your position, and why is it important to the Army or the warfighter?
As a contracting officer, I am responsible for leading 11 employees in executing a $15 billion contract in support of the CNTPO. Each contract awarded under this program focuses on detecting, identifying and disrupting narcoterrorist activities and organizations worldwide. My position is important to the Army and the warfighter because I provide multiple ways for the Army to succeed in the fight against drugs and terrorism as well as the instruments that warfighters need to execute this challenging mission.

How did you become part of the Army Acquisition Workforce, and why?
I was involved in the whole spectrum of purchasing—cost, shipping and delivery—when I worked for Motorola. I was happy with what I was doing in the private sector but was looking for a new challenge, and the acquisition workforce seemed like the next logical place to go where I could continue to develop my career. A friend of mine whose father worked for the Army mentioned the Department of the Army Internship Program and suggested that I apply. I read about it and was interested in what the Army had to offer, so I applied and was hired in December 2002.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work? How do you overcome it?
As team lead, it is challenging to keep employees motivated. The amount of work that we have, coupled with limited resources and experience, can be overwhelming to some people. Each day presents a new challenge to overcome and what you didn’t imagine would happen usually does. I overcome this by making sure that my team is aware that we are all in this together: helping them to understand that we are a cohesive unit that succeeds or fails together. To accomplish our goals, it takes all members of the team to do their part and I try to help them realize that they are not left alone to fend for themselves. When we all look at our accomplishments at the end of the day and are proud that we made things happen in the world, that’s priceless.

Can you name a particular mentor or mentors who helped you in your career? How did they help you? Have you been a mentor?
I have had many mentors who have been instrumental in my career. Cristina Rodriguez, a former human resources manager who is now the deputy director of business management for the Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, taught me to always be true to myself and to have confidence in what I’m doing. Daryll Nottingham, the director of contracting, taught me perseverance. The CNTPO is a demanding program where situations arise outside the continental United States that require you to research the issue and understand the laws of other countries before you can attempt to resolve anything. Daryll taught me what dedication, determination and drive really mean, and led by example.

I’m striving to lead by example for the 11 people on my team. I believe that I have been a mentor to them by instilling in them the value of knowledge: teaching them to really understand what it is that they are buying so that they can make the informed decisions.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to a career like yours?
Nothing beats hard work. Always put your best foot forward. There are situations where we tend to feel that if we haven’t worked a particular contract action or contract type, we shouldn’t be given the task. But no job is too hard if you are dedicated, determined to learn all you can about the issue, and have the drive to see it through to the end.

“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 a variety of AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

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