So long, Dark Ages

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William “Rich” Richardson

COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Network Modernization – CONUS, Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization Program, Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems
TITLE: Senior project leader
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 20 (5 while on active duty; 15 as a civilian)
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management
EDUCATION: Master’s certifications in information technology and in program management, George Washington University, Honor Graduate – Signal Operations Advanced NCO Course
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, Meritorious Service Medal (two oak leaf clusters (OLCs)), Army Commendation Medal (two OLCs), Army Achievement Medal (three OLCs), Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral 3, Army Good Conduct Medal (seventh award), National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Korea Defense Service Medal, Overseas Service Medal (third award)

by Susan L. Follett 


As far as jobs go, William “Rich” Richardson considers himself pretty fortunate. “Really, for me the hardest part of my job is the commute,” he said. “I spend approximately three to four hours per day on ‘windshield time,’ commuting to and from work. Apart from that, I really enjoy what I do. I like the challenges and the complexity of the work and the different groups of people that all of that complexity brings me in contact with.”

Richardson is a senior project leader for Network Modernization – CONUS (NETMOD-C), which upgrades and installs modernized, streamlined and standardized 10-gigabyte networks at Army bases, posts, camps and stations in the United States. It’s a part of the Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization Program (I3MP) within the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems. The overall goal is to transition legacy networks into a single robust Army network, reducing the number of entry and exit points to enhance security; standardize the configuration of Army Installation Campus Area Networks; centralize data; and improve content management.

Richardson and his team focus mainly on data switch replacement. “We survey, engineer, design and install data electronics for network enterprise centers. Data devices that are managed or operated by these agencies are replaced roughly every five to seven years,” he explained. “That helps the Army by increasing the speed and bandwidth of the infrastructure—from 1 gig to 10 gigs, in most cases, which is pretty significant. Seeing the improvement when we deploy the new technology—going from old, obsolete data networks to the latest and greatest state-of-the-art technology being deployed—is really rewarding. It’s great seeing these systems being brought out of the Dark Ages and into the light.” These new features eliminate bandwidth issues and allow for POE+ end user devices to be installed, said Richardson. POE, or Power over Ethernet, technology uses data cables rather than power cords to carry electrical current, reducing the number of wires needed to install a network.

The NETMOD-C team will have completed work at 84 sites in six years, meeting cost, schedule and performance parameters. “In total, our program will have installed more than 60,000 network switches that are positioned on these sites for the next engineering group, the Joint Regional Security Stack, which is leading the transition to the Joint Information Environment,” Richardson said.

The work takes Richardson across the country, and he estimates that he’s on the road half of the year performing system upgrades for Army. “What I like most is getting to meet different people in the business—government engineers, industry engineers, presidents and CEOs of major companies,” he noted.

It’s a job that requires several skills, including the ability to lead and an ear for the terminology, both military and technical. “Fortunately for me, I had all of that as a result of my active-duty service,” said Richardson. “It’s also important to be a good communicator. The work involves meeting with vendors, contractors and clients; hosting conference calls, design review meetings, and technical working group meetings; and briefing Army leadership, so this role requires someone who can speak well and listen well.”

Richardson spent 24 years on active duty as a telecommunication operations chief. For the last five years of his active-duty career, he transitioned from a tactical line unit in South Korea to an acquisition office environment at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. After he retired from active duty, he returned to I3MP, first as a contractor, then as a government civilian. He is one of a handful of people who’ve been with the organization almost since its inception. “My very first acquisition position was with the Information System Management Activity, which was later changed to the Common Use Information Transport Network, that upgraded the infrastructure to support high-speed data transfer at Army sites worldwide,” he said.

If Richardson has any regrets, it’s that he didn’t get into acquisition sooner. “I wish I got into the acquisition business long before now,” he said. “I wish I had made it a part of my active duty service instead of being in line units almost all of my career.” To compensate for that, he’s always on the lookout for career-broadening experiences. “I want to learn more about this business. There’s so much to learn about Army acquisition and the technology we deploy and the rapid pace at which it moves. My goal is to continue staying ahead of what we are going to be delivering to our customers.”

He has learned two important things over the course of his career: it’s OK to have a few missteps, and it’s vital to trust your staff. “Have confidence in your team members, and let them make mistakes. I tell my team that they’re entitled to make mistakes so long as they learn something from them.”

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