From boss to sponge to award ceremony

By February 25, 2020Faces of the Force
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Maj. Eugene Choi


COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Army Contracting Command
TITLE: Team leader/contracting officer
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in contracting
EDUCATION: M.S. in systems engineering management, Naval Postgraduate School (expected in June 2021); B.S. in international relations, United States Military Academy at West Point
AWARDS: Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award for Acquisition in an Expeditionary Environment; Army Contracting Command – Contingency Contracting Officer Award; Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (three oak leaf clusters (OLCs)), Army Commendation Medal (three OLCs), Army Achievement Medal (four OLCs), Ranger Tab, Airborne Badge

by Susan L. Follett

“The Acquisition Corps doesn’t have all the guns and the glory, but we know that the work we’re doing helps Soldiers get the job done, get back to base safely, and recharge before they head out for their next mission,” said Maj. Eugene Choi. “I’m glad to be a part of that.”

Choi, formerly an armor officer, came to acquisition five years ago. “During my cavalry troop command, I applied to join the Army Acquisition Corps because I believed that my experience on three major armored platforms—Abrams, Bradley and Stryker—would benefit the Acquisition Corps when it comes to research and development or program management of future combat vehicle systems,” he said.

The transition to acquisition “exceeded my expectations for what I thought it would be,” Choi said. “I’ve been blown away by the expertise, professionalism and knowledge of the officers, noncommissioned officers and DA civilians I’ve met, and I’m grateful for the training and support they’ve provided in developing solutions for the warfighter. I’ve told my active-duty friends as well as my civilian friends: Acquisition has a wealth of job opportunities—for civilians and for Soldiers after they leave active duty.”

Choi’s first acquisition position was as a contract specialist in the Warfighter Support Center within the Army Contracting Command – New Jersey (ACC-NJ) at Fort Dix. “I went from being a boss to being a sponge. Although I was a captain promotable, I felt like a lieutenant again, trying to learn a whole new world of jargon, policies and regulations,” he said. He relied on group managers and contracting officers to coach him in the technical field of contracting, as well as contracting “battle buddies”—newly promoted GS-11s who helped him with questions and contracting system troubleshooting. “Without that ‘it takes a village’ mentality of mentoring and coaching, I would not have been able to learn as much as I did at ACC-NJ,” he said.

Starting in October 2017, Choi led and managed the 683rd Contingency Contracting Team within the 414th Contracting Support Brigade (CSB), providing contingency contracting administrative services for the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) Task Order 14 contract at 16 sites in seven African countries. His team supported several named operations, multinational exercises and requirements for the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, Air Force Africa, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa and U.S. Army Africa. In September 2018, he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, serving as the lead administrative contracting officer for the LOGCAP Task Order 7 contract in the 408th CSB.

Providing contingency contracting in Africa before deploying to Iraq “paid dividends because I already knew and understood LOGCAP, quality assurance and change management,” Choi said, and he had established working relationships with the program office and the contracting officers at Army Contracting Command – Rock Island (ACC-RI), Illinois. “The experience I gained managing the multiagency contingency contracting team in a much faster-paced combat zone prepared me to become a better contracting officer and leader in the future,” he added.

“‘Trust, but verify’ was our team’s motto in Iraq,” Choi said. “Although the LOGCAP contractor is a strategic partner, we were there to check the quality of their work to ensure they were adhering to all terms and conditions of the contract. It’s also a great motto to live by when exercising mission command. There’s so much going on each day, and every leader needs to be able to trust their subordinates and contracting officer representatives to accomplish the mission. However, the leader also needs to manage their time to follow up, double-check and conduct inspections and investigations, to ensure that all policies and procedures are met while upholding the highest standards of excellence.”

As a result of his efforts, Choi received the Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award for Acquisition in an Expeditionary Environment in October 2019. “The award means a great deal to me,” he said. “It represents the sacrifices and hard work of my contingency contracting services team of Soldiers, Airmen and civilians with the Defense Contract Management Agency; and our partnerships with Stephanie Brown, the procurement contracting officer, and her team at ACC-RI; and Patrick Rowe, senior LOGCAP professional for Task Order 7, and his team. The support and leadership I received from my battalion and brigade commanders were crucial to our success as well. Lastly, and most importantly, it represents the sacrifices that our families made while we were deployed. Their support was invaluable.”

Choi received the award at a ceremony at the Pentagon, accompanied by his father, who emigrated to the U.S. from Korea. It was the elder Choi’s first trip to Washington, and it was his 80th birthday. “It was so meaningful for me to share that event with him, especially since he and my mom sacrificed so much and worked so hard for me. I’m so grateful for everything this country has given me and my family.”

Choi is currently at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), halfway through a new Army acquisition-oriented program in which he’ll earn a master’s degree in systems engineering management. “I would highly recommend it to anyone,” he said. In the 18-month program, participants earn Level III equivalencies in program management, contracting and systems engineering, and Level II certification in test and evaluation. Officers also earn credit as captains promotable and majors for their Intermediate Level Education, and can pursue other professional certifications while at NPS.

The NPS program “is a great way to get all those certifications at once,” Choi said, “and the instructors at NPS all have federal acquisition experience, so you get a unique viewpoint. Our discussions, our coursework and the people here provide a DOD-wide perspective of defense acquisition, and I don’t think I would have gotten that if I pursued an MBA or other advanced degree somewhere else. This degree will definitely make me a better acquisition officer, and will prepare all my classmates to be successful contracting officers and program managers as well.”

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