GROWTH THROUGH SERVICE

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

 

COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions Project Office
TITLE: Finance branch chief
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 12 years
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in business – financial management
EDUCATION: MBA, Florida Institute of Technology; B.S. in accounting, University of Alabama in Huntsville
AWARDS: Achievement Medal for Civilian Service
HOMETOWN: Rogersville, Alabama

 


 

Serra D. Wallen

 

by Ellen Summey

Serra Wallen has two dominant personality traits that sometimes push her in opposite directions. She cares about people a lot, but she’s also a major introvert. So when she had the opportunity to apply for a supervisory position within the Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) project office, she was torn. On one hand, she felt that she could take care of people and make a difference in their lives if she was offered the job. But on the other hand, changing jobs during a pandemic and taking on such a visible position seemed daunting. “Taking the leap of faith to try these new things—it makes me nervous, but I have to remind myself that it’s for the best, and try to step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “And I’ve found it gets a little easier each time you try something new.”

She applied, was offered the position, and then found herself in a similar situation just a few weeks later. The TAGM finance division chief position was vacant, and she had the opportunity to fill in for three months—she knew she couldn’t pass it up. “I learned so much,” she said. “It all connected for me. It takes all these different people to get the job done and get the product to the warfighter. It makes you feel like your work has purpose.” But the whirlwind experience was not without its challenges. “For a brand new branch chief, rotating to be acting division chief—going from supervising no one, to leading a team of 20 to 25 people. It was a lot,” she said.

She leaned on other members of the team to help her learn the ropes and she was surprised by a few tasks she encountered along the way. “While I was acting, we did the year-end closeout,” she said. “All the different phone calls and the people that it took to successfully close everyone out for the end of the fiscal year—that was definitely a learning experience.” Not to mention, she took on both of these new roles during a pandemic, while the organization was still on 100 percent telework, and with her 3-year-old daughter at home. “I’ve had to apologize a couple of times if people hear her singing ‘Elsa’ in the background, but overall, things have gone smoothly.” The experience, she said, been one of the most important points of her career. “I am happy that I took a leap of faith and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn something new.”

In addition to the rotational assignment, she said she learned a lot from taking the HIGH5 personality type training with her team. The test groups individuals into several different personality types, which are color coded (blue for data-focused, yellow for optimism, etc.) “My results make a lot of sense to me,” she said. “My top two colors are green and blue. The green—I really care about people and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to step up and try to be the team lead, to take care of people and get to know them better. The second was blue, which is the data focus. That fits into my background in finance and accounting. It was good to learn more about people and why they operate the way they do. I think it’s important for people to take those types of assessments, to learn to work more effectively with others.”

And speaking of working well with others, Wallen said teamwork is the best part of her job. “Everybody is very supportive of one another, even as we have different trials or different celebrations in our lives—having babies, getting married, everyone sticks together and they’re there for you through it all. We treat each other like a family, and I really like that about our organization.”

Wallen said the most rewarding thing about being part of the Army Acquisition Workforce is knowing how her work directly helps someone else. “Whether it’s assisting someone on my financial team or an engineer that requires funding for their project, I enjoy helping others in any way that I can.” She started her Army career in a non-acquisition position, but she felt she was struggling to understand the bigger picture about how her work made a difference. “When I later applied for an acquisition position as a foreign military sales program analyst, the training difference was remarkable. Even as I took the basic acquisition courses, I had a much greater appreciation of the teamwork that it takes to get the job done. My AAW position has helped me to feel less like a cog in the system, and allowed me to truly understand that my work has purpose.”

When she offers advice to others who are just starting their careers in acquisition, she encourages them to take advantage of any type of training or developmental assignment that they can. “Our Army Acquisition Workforce is full of many different opportunities to help us grow and learn throughout our careers,” she said. “If they take the chance and step out of their comfort zones, it will always pay off in the long run.”

As to what comes next for Wallen, she knows that it’s important to take her own advice and not stay too comfortable in one place. “I’m still deciding what’s next. I want to look for more, whether a developmental or a new position–it’s important for me to not stay still for the rest of my career,” she said. She wants to ensure that she’s always growing and learning, and she said she’s in the right place for that to happen. “There are plenty of opportunities for Army civilians, especially here on Redstone Arsenal.”

   

“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/.

Subscribe to Army AL&T – the premier source of Army acquisition news and information.
For question, concerns, or more information, contact us here.