TITLE: Assistant program manager
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Director for Army Watercraft Systems, Project Manager for Transportation Systems, Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 17
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in engineering and in program management; Level I in life cycle logistics
EDUCATION: M.S. in alternative energy technologies and M.S. in mechanical engineering, Wayne State University; B.S. in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, University of Michigan; Advanced Acquisition Program, Naval Postgraduate School
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service; David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award; Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service; Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section Key Contributor Award
HOMETOWN: Brighton, Michigan
by Susan L. Follett
Among the myriad things that Heather Gruenewald learned from her mom, two are important components of her career development: baking, and focusing on strengths over weaknesses. “My mom baked for friends and family to show that she cared for them, and I inherited that same philosophy,” said Gruenewald, assistant program manager in the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS). Her coworkers “aren’t surprised to see me show up with cookies to share. Food is a universal language in the workplace,” she said, “encouraging dialogue and relationship-building with your team, as well as improving motivation and workforce morale.”
Gruenewald’s mother contracted polio as a teenager, which restricted her physical mobility for the rest of her life. “She taught me to leverage the skills you do well, and to not beat yourself up over what you cannot do. As I have progressed through my professional career and leadership development, I have learned to identify and leverage my own strengths, and to leverage our integrated product teams and stakeholders in their areas of expertise.”
Gruenewald is assistant program manager for the Modular Causeway System (MCS) Service Life Extension Program within the Product Director Army Watercraft Systems, which is used in joint logistics over-the-shore operations to offload equipment between watercraft and as a shore enabler. Although she’s now in program management, most of her education and career has been spent in engineering. “Engineers love problem-solving. It is incredibly gratifying to take an existing fielded system and work directly with Army mariners to address technical and supportability issues, which helps improve their ability to perform their mission,” she said.
For Gruenewald, the biggest challenge she faces in her work is “a universal problem for anyone in program management: balancing budget and schedule constraints. It is a challenge predicting future budget needs because you do not necessarily know how priorities will shift or if something will impact your schedule,” she said. “If you experience schedule delays, then you lag on executing that funding, which means you are at risk of losing current and future funding because you are not spending it as planned. And if you need more funding than what you had predicted, it can be a significant challenge to secure it in this era of limited funding availability.”
Gruenewald came to acquisition “unintentionally,” she noted, after working as an engineer in the auto industry. She was looking for a new challenge in a more stable industry, and a friend helped her identify an opportunity to become an Army civilian. Her first acquisition position was as a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (now the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Ground Vehicle Systems Center), working in project management on alternative energy programs and programs with the commercial vehicle industry to develop dual-use technologies for military and commercial applications. Gruenewald enjoyed the opportunity the position afforded to learn about alternative energy and get involved in such projects as hydrogen fuel cells, idling reduction, and hybrid vehicle demonstrators. “I liked alternative energy so much that I took classes at night for a master’s degree in that subject area,” she said, and was one of the first graduates of that degree program at Wayne State University.
She joined PEO CS&CSS in 2011. Among her most valuable assignments were developmental assignments in staff positions at PEO CS&CSS and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)). “The mentoring I received from senior leaders during those assignments was invaluable, and set the foundation for how I do program management today. My frame of reference was changed by the decision-making I was exposed to at that level.”
Gruenewald previously managed the Joint Operational Energy Initiative, which used modeling and simulation to explore energy consumption during multiphase conflict. The program brought her into frequent contact with senior leaders at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), ASA(ALT) and the U.S. Marine Corps. “I loved working on a project that aligned with my personal values of energy conservation, leveraged my technical background, and had the potential to have an enormous impact on how the Army operates,” she said. The project helped her develop mentoring relationships with several senior leaders and taught her how to communicate at that level, she added, “which has proven to be invaluable in subsequent assignments where I engage with senior leaders on the acquisition programs I manage.”
She has also participated in mentoring and shadowing programs at PEO CS&CSS. In the mentoring program, she was paired with a PEO CS&CSS representative at OSD and a PEO CS&CSS deputy product director. “I gained fluency in a wide range of topics on Army acquisition in those relationships,” she said. Through the shadowing program, she followed the program executive officer and the deputy program executive officer for two weeks. She gained a better appreciation for the stamina and commitment required to operate at that level, she said, “and for the ability to constantly and quickly shift gears as they manage issues on different programs, engage on special projects and handle personnel challenges.”
She’s now nearing the 18-year mark in her career and points to Soldier engagement as a primary motivator in her tenure. Gruenewald’s husband is a mechanical engineer at CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center. “We are both fully committed to supporting Army acquisition programs for the rest of our careers. One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy working in the auto industry was the lack of direct engagement with end users,” she said. “Once I started doing program management in PEO CS&CSS, I was frequently interacting with Soldiers who were using the equipment in our portfolio, and I thrived on that. It made me passionate about what we do in acquisition. One of the best parts of my job is when I talk to Soldiers about what we are doing to improve their ability to perform their mission.”
“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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