COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Integrated Air and Missile Defense Project Office, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space
TITLE: Product Manager, Integrated Air & Missile Defense Hardware
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program management and contracting
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 12
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 24
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and contracting
EDUCATION: M.A. in business administration, Central Michigan University; B.S. in finance, Florida Atlantic University; associate’s degree, Palm Beach State College
HOMETOWN: West Palm Beach, Florida
Lt. Col. Cassandra N. Forrester
By Ellen Summey
Lt. Col. Cassandra Forrester isn’t afraid of a challenge. Growing up in Jamaica, where cooking was a big part of her family life, she was frequently shopping for ingredients, preparing dishes and planning meals with her aunt. At age 10, she decided she was ready to cook a meal on her own. Her aunt wasn’t so sure. “She thought I would cut my fingers off,” Forrester recalled. “She was so nervous, she said she couldn’t watch.” But in the end, the meal went off without a hitch. “It went really well,” she said. “I’m a visual learner and I like putting things into practice.”
Today, Forrester is the product manager for the Integrated Air & Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System Hardware product office for the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO M&S). At first blush, air and missile defense is a long way from making boiled green bananas in her family’s kitchen. But Forrester encourages others to approach new tasks with the same confidence she did. “I have been fortunate to speak to newly accessed captains and majors at the Army Acquisition Center of Excellence course, as well as newly hired acquisition civilians,” she said. “The advice that I mostly relay is, do not fear this new career path, ask questions, use helpful tools (AcqNotes, DAU [Defense Acquisition University] website, etc.), seek a mentor and know your ethical and legal boundaries.”
She traveled a circuitous path to the Army Acquisition Workforce (AAW), first enlisting as a 92A logistics specialist in 1996 and later commissioning as an ordnance officer via Officer Candidate School. She first heard about the AAW during a deployment to Iraq, and the timing was perfect. “I loved my Army family and wanted to continue serving, but I needed to find a role that was a better fit” personally and professionally, she said. When she learned about the AAW, she saw it as a great opportunity. “I was captivated by the level of responsibility, autonomy and professional growth possible in the Army Acquisition Corps. I was excited about the opportunity to remain in the Army and still grow my business acumen.”
Her first acquisition position was as a contracting specialist and contingency contracting officer, and she found her previous experience to be quite helpful. “I have logistics management experience and planning, tracking and reporting experience,” she said. “I’ve worked in ordnance maintenance and I ran an ammunition supply point as a lieutenant in Okinawa, Japan. Risk planning, issues tracking, these are all skills I developed when I was enlisted and as an ordnance officer.” Now, Forrester recognizes these as some of her most important skills and attributes.
At PEO M&S, she is responsible for the development, procurement, fielding and life cycle management of $3.8 billion in air and missile defense major end items. Those items include legacy Air Defense Airspace Management; Rocket, Artillery and Mortar Warn; and IAMD Battle Command System components. She also leads a team of more than 150 government core, matrix and industry personnel. It’s a complex product within a complex program. Put simply, “This is supposed to be the mission command and control node, or system, that allows all Army air and missile defense systems, existing and future, to be able to communicate with each other,” she explained. “That is a tall order.”
So how does she approach the task? “Relying on the program management fundamentals,” Forrester said. “Risk management, all those processes, just making sure I rely on the fundamentals and stay in synch with all stakeholders, whether it’s the G-8, the G-3/5/7, the requirements or capabilities manager. I have to bring it all together to ensure that what I’m providing does meet the expectation. It’s a dance.”
If asked to hire her own replacement, Forrester said she would look for someone with the same balance of skills that she has now, but with an added focus. “Communication, written and verbal, is really necessary in this particular job,” she said. “The product we have is the only ACAT 1 Army air defense program being managed at the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] level, so communicating with our stakeholders is very important.” In addition, it’s important to understand the interdependencies, how the system impacts people on a tactical and operational level, versus on the strategic and political levels. “You have to understand how it all fits together,” she said. “You can’t have tunnel vision. If this schedule slips, what does that mean to the Soldier? It’s crucial to see and manage those interdependencies.”
The most significant lesson she has learned through the course of her career, though, is about the importance of family. “Family is most important,” she said. “I apply this same philosophy at work.” Undeniably, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this lesson carries a new weight. When the novel coronavirus began making headlines around the world, Forrester was quick to take action. “I knew my workforce well enough, that even prior to the stay-at-home order, I was able to have some of my high-risk folks start teleworking,” she said. “Family comes first. When I built that plan, I took into consideration immediately who had young kids, who had underlying conditions, and other factors. Without them, I can’t do my work.”
Forrester feels that she has two families. “One that I work with, and one that I go home to,” she said. Regarding both families, “I am motivated, driven and humbled to serve for their happiness.”
“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 civili654321qns 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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