COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND)
TITLE: Deputy joint program executive officer, Senior Executive Service (SES)
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 13
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Advanced in program management and project management professional
EDUCATION: M.S. in biomedical sciences from Hood College; M.S. in national resource strategy from the National Defense University, Eisenhower School; and a B.S. in biology from Mount Saint Mary’s College
AWARDS: Commander’s Service Award (2014 and 2016); Superior Civilian Service Award (2015); Excellence in Federal Career ‒ Outstanding Supervisor GS-13 and above-Bronze (2015); Excellence in Federal Career ‒ Rookie Employee of the Year-Science & Technology and Program Support-Silver (2011); Army Civilian Service Achievement Medal (2010 and 2011)
by Holly DeCarlo-White
Nicole Kilgore is the deputy joint program executive officer for the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND). In this role, she leads civilian and military multidisciplinary teams whose mission is to protect warfighters and the nation from CBRN threats by generating affordable and state-of-the-art capabilities like the joint service general purpose mask, which allows warfighters to survive and maintain ground operations in a chemical and biological threat environment. Other life-saving projects Kilgore’s teams handle include the Next Generation Diagnostics System 1, which identifies biological hazards in human clinical specimens and provides diagnostic information to facilitate delivery of appropriate medical countermeasures; and the nuclear, biological, chemical reconnaissance vehicle sensor suite upgrade, which is a specialized vehicle equipped with a system to detect chemical, biological and radiological contamination in its immediate environment and warn Soldiers of the risk.
Before DOD, Kilgore was the senior manager of virology and safety operations for Panacos Pharmaceuticals, a development-stage biotechnology company that seeks to develop next-generation anti-infective products through the discovery and development of small-molecule oral drugs designed to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other human viral diseases. As a scientist and acquisition professional, she brings a unique blend of expertise to CBRN defense. Initially, she joined the Army Acquisition Workforce to work closer to home, so she could better balance work and family life. However, she said, “Coming to the government was really a leap of faith for me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I left my first meeting in a total daze. I had never heard so many acronyms before in my life!”
Kilgore started as a contractor, then transitioned to a civilian position with the Joint Project Manager (JPM) Chemical Biological Medical Systems, now known as JPM CBRN Medical, as an assistant program manager, which allowed her to touch all the aspects of the virology programs she was familiar with. “Specifically, I worked on the filovirus vaccine effort beginning at milestone A and was tasked with developing a strategy to take the product to licensure,” she said. Ebola, for example, is a type of filovirus. “It took three months to develop the strategy, only for us to have to redo the work when it wasn’t approved initially. Budget constraints, technical risks and other factors required us to think outside of the box. But we developed a new, incremental strategy that offered greater flexibility and creativity. In the end, the program came back to life, and this gave me a unique perspective. I learned how the roles of contractors, scientists, civilians and service members all came together. I liked having the ability to keep some of these laboratory connections as I moved to other positions as a civilian.”
Throughout her career, Kilgore has held several positions of increasing responsibility within JPM-CBRN Medical. Serving as the joint product manager for the Platforms for Rapid Integrated Solutions for Medical (PRISM) is one opportunity that stands out for her. “That group was really ahead of its time,” Kilgore said. “So much of what we discuss now for fielding platform technology for the delivery of medical countermeasures started back with PRISM. It really sped up licensure and response processes so that we could protect the warfighter. I developed a communications strategy that identified all federal and industry stakeholders, held recurring meetings to hone specific requirements and engaged senior leaders at a very high level. This was all a big pivot point in my career since it meant building the team out in all aspects—funding profiles, team expertise, etc.”
Working as a joint product manager also meant working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “I had the opportunity to form very strong partnerships and working groups with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, HHS and the FDA early on in my career. Many of the joint working groups between these organizations still function today,” she said. These relationships and connections, she explained, have helped the JPEO respond aggressively to COVID-19. As the acting deputy JPEO for Assisted Acquisition and Medical, Kilgore led coordination of the DOD’s COVID-19 Joint Assisted Acquisition (JA2) efforts in support of the HHS. JA2 supports HHS by bringing together medical and acquisition specialists, innovative technology and agile business practices that enable procurement of vaccines, diagnostics and medical countermeasures and industrial base expansion for the domestic production of life-saving products for DOD and the nation.
“People are surprised to learn every single COVID-19 vaccine, diagnostic and therapeutic product we have in this country was procured by the JPEO-CBRND,” Kilgore said. “They are often unaware of the extent of our impact in COVID-19 acquisition, and the JPEO-CBRND does this every day for all of the CBRN defense needs for the warfighter and joint force.”
When Kilgore served as acting medical director in the Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Chemical and Biological Defense, she gained a new appreciation for working at the Pentagon and the grander strategic view of the nation. “I saw for myself how Congress and the DOD interact,” she said. She would tell aspiring leaders in DOD, “If a senior leader asks you a question, it is very likely because someone else at the Pentagon, in Congress or at the White House is asking the question. The coordination efforts between the Pentagon and Congress are something I am grateful to have learned more about before entering my current position, where I interact regularly with Pentagon leaders.”
Kilgore said that the Army Civilian Education System Advanced Course was a great learning experience for her. She explained how she had the opportunity to meet with Senior Executive Service members and get advice from them. One of these leaders, in particular, stood out offering great advice. “Being technically ready, skilled and having a little bit of luck … that is what helps someone move into new positions and grow,” she said. “Luck helps in terms of which positions open up, but most importantly, it’s your reputation, skills and readiness for the role that help your name rise to the top.”
As an Army acquisition professional, Kilgore’s greatest satisfaction is being able to witness the delivery of defense products to the force and the nation from start to finish, and the ability to touch all aspects of the development process. “There are so many capabilities we cover from R&D [research and development], contracting, legal authorities, etc. You have to be a bit of an expert in each one of those elements,” she said. “I have learned working in the industry means being more of a specialist, but in my position with the SES, I get to be more of a generalist and watch every project aspect unfold.”
Kilgore’s first piece of advice to new personnel entering the acquisition workforce is to fully understand your strengths and weaknesses, and where the latter is concerned, ask yourself how you grow and ideally ask others for help in overcoming or making up for areas where you are not as strong.
“You have to trust your team and learn to delegate,” Kilgore said. “I say this to women and mothers in particular: Prepare yourself for when the big opportunity comes up and don’t let your current situation stop you from applying for a certain position. When you start a new position, think about where you want to be in three years. Make short- and long-term goals. Set yourself up for your future positions beyond the one you’re currently serving, understand where development opportunities exist, take advantage of them and figure out how to get the experience you need to progress. Finally, when you are preparing to enter a particular position, don’t be deterred by how someone else serves in the role. You may be more organized or skilled at certain aspects of the role and you can make it your own, you don’t have to emulate everything someone else is doing.”
“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/.