Vienna Native at the Top
By Daniel P. Elkins, Mission and Installation Contracting Command Public Affairs Office, United States Army
Two soldiers attached to the Mission and Installation Contracting Command are among those exemplifying the Army profession through their acquisition certification efforts.
Sgts. 1st Class Melissa Browning, of Vienna, Illinois, and Shannon Davie are setting the pace for their enlisted peers in contracting by achieving certification levels beyond their requirements.
The Army Acquisition Corps requires enlisted soldiers to meet specific education and certification requirements in order to execute contracts on behalf of the government. In order to obtain certification in the contracting career field, soldiers must meet a minimum education requirement of a bachelor’s degree in any field of study with at least 24 hours in business disciplines.
The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, or DAWIA, further outlines standards in acquisition and functional training as well as education and experience for contracting certification at three levels for both uniformed and civilian members in the workforce. Army staff sergeants are required to obtain a minimum Level I certification; sergeants first class should attain their Level II certification; and those in the grade of master sergeant and above must achieve their Level III certification.
The degree requirement often compels enlisted soldiers to expedite higher education goals in order to obtain certification commensurate with their rank to perform their missions. For Browning, a contracting officer for the 634th Contingency Contracting Team at MICC-Fort Riley, Kansas, this prerequisite proved most challenging.
“Completing a degree was actually the most difficult (challenge) to accomplish,” said Browning, who entered the contracting military occupational specialty in May 2009 after spending 15 years as an automated logistical specialist. “It consumes a lot of time, and mixing that in with your daily workload requires a delicate balancing act between the two.”
She earned dual master’s degrees in business administration and logistics from Trident University International in 2013 and is Level III certified in contracting, one level above that required as a sergeant first class.
Davie, who had about 80 semester hours under his belt before his selection to the Army Acquisition Corps in 2009, found the requirement less stressful so long as he remained focused on his goal.
“As long as you were a good soldier and were motivated, the requirements were fairly easy,” said Davie, the MICC noncommissioned officer in charge of training and readiness at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. “I just kept chipping away at the civilian school and (Defense Acquisition University) courses to obtain my certification. The motivation was just to continue along my career path, so I could have everything in place in order to do my job to the best of my ability.”
Davie completed a bachelor’s degree in management in 2012 from the American Military University and has since focused his attention on obtaining DAWIA Level III certification in contracting and also working toward a master’s degree in healthcare administration. The Hopkinsville, Kentucky, native completed his final contracting course in July and is now Level III certified and is in his final class to satisfy requirements for the master’s degree.
A dental lab technician supporting patients for nine years, Davie found the 51C MOS as a natural transition to continue applying his customer service skills by supporting military and contract partners.
“There were several instances in which we were the first unit to occupy the area. It amazed me that items would just start to appear, and I honestly had no idea where they were coming from since we were the main logistical hub on the ground,” the Vienna, Illinois, native said.
Both Browning and Davie entered the contracting career field with a basic understanding of contracting. They began their training with simplified contract actions that included the acquisition of supplies and services, including minor construction, research and development, and commercial items not exceeding a threshold of $150,000. They have each moved on to more complex contracts while becoming more proficient in all procedures making up the contracting life cycle from pre-award and award to administration, including contract closeout.
They believe their previous service contributed to their success and drive to excel in the 51C specialty but also credit mentorship by civilian contracting professionals.
“Mentoring is important in every aspect. In regards to certification, mentoring is most important in the ability to provide guidance and direction to contracting NCOs and officers to help them excel,” Browning said. “The purpose of mentoring is also to help you pay attention to your intentions and get to where you want to be.”
Davie agrees, adding that mentors play a critical role in helping guide soldiers and other civilians through the myriad of changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, contracting policies and the certification process.
With each having achieved an acquisition certification level beyond their requirements, they serve as a motivating force for others to emulate, according to Donna VanGilder, the chief of training and readiness for MICC Operations.
She said approximately 34 percent, or 78, of the 230 enlisted members attached to the MICC have achieved their necessary certification level against a threshold of 96 percent established by the office of the principal deputy to the Army acquisition executive. VanGilder said the primary reason for NCOs not meeting their required level of certification is the lack of a bachelor’s degree. However, approximately 48 additional NCOs are expecting to complete their degree in the next six months, and a large number of those have already completed the required DAWIA training and experience requirements for certification.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Gabbert, the MICC commanding general, said a commitment to the Army profession combined with the contracting proficiency expected of senior NCOs in the 51C MOS reveal a higher caliber of professionalism and leadership. He believes contracting certification reflects a practical and professional experience valuable to Army leaders at all levels of command.
“The acquisition corps is able to attract and retain the best soldiers our Army has to offer, because today’s soldiers want to be challenged,” Gabbert said. “To succeed within the career field, an NCO must not only be intelligent, a leader and possess character beyond reproach but must also be self-disciplined and driven.”