Maj. John M. Close
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Director for Army Watercraft Systems, Project Manager for Transportation Systems, Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support
POSITION AND OFFICIAL TITLE: Assistant product manager, Maneuver Support Vessel (Light)
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 1
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 11
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II (educational requirements) in program management; Senior Logistician designation from the International Society of Logistics
EDUCATION: M.A. in organizational leadership, Baker University; B.A. in American history, University of Florida
AWARDS: Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (second award), Army Achievement Medal (second award), Meritorious Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, Global War On Terrorism Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Mobilization Device, NATO Medal, Combat Action Badge, Parachutist’s Badge
By Susan L. Follett
Just one year removed from an acquisition classroom at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Maj. John Close has learned a great deal in his new role with the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS). Asking questions and learning more about how the organization operates have been the keys to flattening the learning curve.
Close is assistant product manager for the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) (MSV(L)) program, the first new developmental watercraft for the Army in nearly 40 years and the primary effort toward modernizing Army watercraft. The program was created to deliver a new vessel that enables Army mariners to transport combat-configured personnel and equipment into diverse littoral settings and give commanders greater project firepower in support of maneuver operations. Expected to be able to operate in five feet of water, the MSV(L) will be designed to carry a combat-configured main battle tank, two Strykers or four Joint Light Tactical Vehicles into a wide range of littoral environments. With a planned range of 360 nautical miles and a speed over 21 knots, it will improve the Army’s ability to maneuver land power when and where commanders need it.
“This is a high-visibility project, and the Army really wants to get it right,” said Close. “Not many people know that the Army has watercraft, and even among Soldiers, access to the vessels is pretty limited.” The constraints of watercraft manufacturing and the stakeholders involved in present additional challenges. “Unlike ground vehicle programs, our program has been limited to producing and testing one prototype vessel. We’re incorporating a unique design for it, so there’s a lot of planning, collaborating and risk-reduction efforts under way,” he said. “There’s that saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once,’ but we’re measuring 15,000 times before we cut.”
For Close, the most appealing part of the job “is serving with a diverse group of experts every day. I am always learning, and the myriad perspectives and personalities I get to engage with around the world and at all levels of government and industry make the assignment all the more enjoyable.” The program puts him in contact with engineers, finance experts, naval architects, civilian contractors and ‘green suiters,’ he said. “The goal is to foster collaboration, not just cooperation. We’re debating the issues and collectively creating effective solutions. Building relationships with all our stakeholders and making decisions as a team has proven to be the key to our success and enhances our ability to provide warfighters the capabilities they need.”
Close came to acquisition through the Army’s Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program, after spending 10 years as a transportation and logistics officer. “While serving as a capability development officer at the [U.S. Army] Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, [Virginia] I learned some basics about acquisition, and decided that applying my knowledge and experiences as a transportation and logistics officer in a unique and challenging career field was something that interested me,” he explained. “What I find most satisfying about being part of the Army Acquisition Workforce is serving on a team of government and industry leaders and experts, all of whom are empowered to address critical challenges.”
He joined PEO CS&CSS one year ago, after completing the requisite coursework. “The instructors, staff and leaders responsible for the Army Acquisition Professionals Course in Huntsville, Alabama, are outstanding,” he said. “The course provides an excellent opportunity for new acquisition officers and noncommissioned officers transitioning from the operational Army to learn in a very professional and supportive environment.”
His advice for new acquisition officers in their first assignments is to focus their efforts on two main objectives: learning about their new assignment, and providing as much value for their team as possible. “I think the foundation for achieving both of these objectives is asking good questions—and asking them often. Doing so will to teach you something new about your career field, and will often help you lead your team toward solving a particularly challenging problem.”
He noted that one of the most important lessons he has learned so far “is the value of understanding and mapping out your organization’s communication networks and spheres of influence. This goes far beyond organizational structure and chain of command. As a new acquisition leader, you need to learn not only how the people within your organization communicate and influence each other, but also how they engage with others in outside agencies as well,” he said. “The people with the most influence or communication reach are not always obvious, and they are not always in formal leadership positions. People or groups outside your organization often have a great impact on your program, so it’s important to identify and learn how to communicate effectively with them.”
It’s also important to know what you don’t know, Close said. “I knew coming into this assignment that I wasn’t the technical or subject matter expert; my contribution is leading teams of people. Anyone who wants to make an impact in a position like this one needs to have a positive track record of serving in a range of leadership positions, leading different groups of people on different kinds of projects.”
Another thing he has learned is the importance of urgency. “Even though programs have long life cycles and my assignment is likely to be relatively short in comparison, I still make decisions that have an impact on the program. To do that, it’s important to focus on how to provide value to the organization—busy doesn’t always mean productive, and I’m trying to stay mindful of what’s important, what brings value to the warfighter and what moves the project in the right direction.”
“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/.