COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Project Manager Aircraft Survivability Equipment, Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors
TITLE: Assistant product manager, Modernized Radar Warning Receiver
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program Management
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 2
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Military
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 13
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in program management
EDUCATION: MBA, College of William & Mary; B.S. in art, philosophy and literature with a minor in mechanical engineering, U.S. Military Academy at West Point
AWARDS: Meritorious Service Medal (2nd Award), Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal (3rd Award), Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal (3rd Award), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Army Aviator Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge
HOMETOWN: Lacey, Washington
Maj. David R. Addams
by Ellen Summey
War and poetry. If poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” as William Wordsworth said, then the link between war and poetry makes perfect sense. “In Flanders Fields,” “High Flight,” “The Soldier,” and countless other lines of verse have been inspired by the trials and triumphs of war. Maj. David Addams, assistant product manager (APM) for the Modernized Radar Warning Receiver, within the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S), could speak at length about the topic. “I was a poetry major in undergrad,” he said. “It’s a little-known fact, but West Point has a very strong poetry department.” His official major was art, philosophy and literature, but with a primary focus in British Romantic literature. “Romantic as in ‘during the 1800s,’ not like Fabio holding a rose on the cover of a book,” he clarified. “There’s a very proud tradition of military poets. Some of the most famous poetry of the early 20th century is from World War I, and West Point really captured that in the program.”
So, how did Addams’ military career take shape? “There’s no poetry branch of the Army, so I had to pick something,” he laughed. By his recollection, he was the only poetry major in his class who didn’t become an infantry officer. Nothing against infantry, he said, “but there’s something about flying, even though it’s highly technical—flying, itself, is poetic.” He became a Blackhawk pilot, eventually completing a tour as company commander at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Addams was then selected for the Army’s Advanced Civil Schooling program, which allowed him to attend graduate school full time and then take on an assignment at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Eustis, Virginia. It was at TRADOC that he first learned about the acquisition career field. “I was working in data analysis at the time, but I had lots of watercooler conversations with acquisition folks there,” he said. He thought the work sounded interesting and he decided to apply. “What appealed most to me was the opportunity to make a difference for the future of the Army,” he said, “to work on projects that would outlive my years in service.” That’s pretty darn poetic.
He loved his time in the cockpit, and still feels a strong connection to the military aviation community. Today, Addams works to support his fellow flyers in another way. “I oversee the cost, schedule and performance for the next generation of radar warning capability that will help protect our aircrews from the advanced radar threats found on the modern battlefield.” And of course, his flight experience is helpful on the job. “Knowing how to speak the language of aviation is helpful with dealing with stakeholders, requirements, testing, etc.,” he said. “Military aviation is its own culture and it spans across the services. I still have a lot of friends who are flying, so it’s really meaningful to work on things that will eventually wind up in their aircraft, and potentially protect them from a threat somewhere, someday. I believe in what I’m doing, and there’s an added urgency to it just because I know my own lived experience.”
This is still the first acquisition assignment for Addams, so he knows he has a lot to learn. But, he has a piece of advice for those who may follow his path. “Avoid the temptation to try to live in the technical weeds of the program,” he said. We have brilliant engineers and technical experts in our workforce who can handle the gritty details. Our role is to keep an eye on the bigger picture and make sure the lines of effort are all in sync. I fell into that trap early in my APM assignment myself, as I’m sure many do.” It may be a bit of muscle memory for a former pilot, as they are trained to memorize the aircraft’s systems inside and out. As a pilot, he had to understand the Blackhawk’s every feature and facet, so that he could act quickly in case of an in-flight emergency. But program management is not like flying, as Addams learned firsthand.
But there is perhaps one universal lesson that spans every Army occupation. “The thing I’ve learned in my Army career that applies as much to acquisition as it did to flying helicopters, is that this is a people business,” he said. “At the end of the day, getting things done requires human interaction and being cognizant of the individual strengths, weaknesses, motivations and limits of yourself and those you work with. I try to keep this in mind when things get stressful—if I’m feeling the pressure, then most likely others are as well.”
Indeed, entering the world of acquisition was a bit like drinking from a firehose at first. He credits his growth and success thus far to his colleagues at PEO IEW&S. “It’s been eye-opening to work with (and learn from) the incredible civilian workforce we have,” he said. “The depth and breadth of experience across our organization is truly impressive. There’s so much to learn and so many different facets of this world that it’s crucial to have seasoned professionals that you can talk to for advice. It really is a team game.”
And on any team, there are standouts. On whether he’s the first former-Blackhawk-pilot-turned-APM who discussed his poetry major in Army AL&T, Addams celebrated the possible distinction. “It’s always good to be a trailblazer,” he chuckled.
“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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