Hunting contracts on a Big Safari

Published: 10 Jun 2016

Working Week - 09.06.16

Exposure to aviation as a child has translated into a career for Capt Nicole Stevens with the acquisitions arm of the US Air Force, where she currently helps to rapidly deliver capabilities for ISR and special forces missions.

What drew you into aviation?

My exposure to aviation came very early in my life as I grew up with a father in the field. His time in the US Coast Guard and beyond has been dedicated to aviation – from running Lockheed Martin C-130 maintenance shops outside the contiguous USA, to managing a fleet of executive aircraft.

More direct contact with aviation first came during my intelligence career broadening tour. During intelligence training, I had to learn about airframes and how they contributed to the fight. Then, throughout my intelligence assignment, I worked in operations planning and collection management for remotely-piloted aircraft.

Coming back to the acquisition community, my assignment to the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy system programme office allowed me to stay close to aviation; supporting a programme that enabled an ageing aircraft like the C-5 to continue to fly for another 10 years definitely indoctrinated me into the field.

Where were you stationed?

My first assignment was to the US Air Force’s 37th Contracting Squadron at Lackland AFB, where I was the officer in charge of the base support.

Here I oversaw execution of $300 million in contractual support for the wing’s 86,000 graduating students. In 2009, I was accepted onto the acquisition and intelligence experience exchange tour programme and worked on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) planning and operations for the now-disbanded 13th Air Force and Pacific Air Forces intelligence directorates at Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

From 2013 to early 2015, I was assigned as a contracting specialist to the C-5 systems programme office at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, where I supported $5 billion in contractual obligations to ensure operational capability of the C-5 fleet.

What are your current duties?

I am a warranted contracting officer in the ISR section of the special projects branch in the air force’s ‘Big Safari’ rapid acquisition contracting office. I direct acquisition strategies, negotiate contract arrangements and ensure contractor performance and compliance.

My day-to-day duties involve a lot of problem solving so that our assets can stay in the air; figuring out the best way to fill a requirement, working through acquisition strategies with programme managers and resolving any issues with contractors.

As a contracting officer, you’re never sure what type of challenge you’ll face in any given day, but that’s what keeps it interesting! Our unit procures combat-ready ISR aircraft and support services for all combatant commands in support of national security and Department of Defense objectives.

We direct rapid acquisition strategies to minimise the time from requirement identification to fielding a capability. We also advise our customers and management on maximising efficiency for expedited 
acquisition support of ISR and special forces.

I couldn’t do my job without the contract specialists, programme managers, finance officers, technical experts and myriad of professionals who provide input. When a C-5M completes an airlift or one of our ISR assets completes a mission, I immediately think of all the effort involved and I’m honoured to be part of the teams that enabled those capabilities.

Upgrading Air Force One's communications is an ongoing project

Does upgrading Air Force One form part of your remit?

Our team has been working on the acquisition of a fleet-wide communications system for the executive airlift programme as part of an upgrade across multiple aircraft types, including Air Force One. Once these modifications are complete, all the aircraft in the fleet will have a unified way to communicate with each other and the ground.

The capability for this seamless communication between these aircraft is vital to our national security and being a part of something at that level is really exciting.

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