Ursula Stewart, a contracting officer for the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support’s Industrial Hardware supply chain, has always looked for personal and professional development opportunities. So when she had the chance to apply for the Training With Industry program, Stewart contemplated throwing her hat in the proverbial ring.
TWI is a Department of Defense program meant to pair government employees with temporary private industry assignments. According to DOD guidance, its goal is to provide a career broadening experience in the employee’s career field to meet current or future agency capabilities.
To Stewart, TWI posed an opportunity to gain perspective on supply chain management through the lens of the private sector.
What she didn’t realize was how challenging and enlightening the process would be in deciding if it was right for her. Nor was she prepared for the perfect industry pairing for her government career.
But now, as she is getting ready to depart for Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington in June, she couldn’t be more excited.
Meet Ursula Stewart
Stewart came to Troop Support in 2006 through the DLA Corporate Intern Program, now called Pathways to Career Excellence, or PaCE. Since then, she has grown in her acquisition career as she went from working small value purchases, evaluating long-term contract bids and administering contracts with orders valued at up to $5 million to now being a team lead where she shares her experiences with new acquisition professionals.
Stewart’s personal life has also grown since coming to Troop Support. She considers herself a newlywed, having just gotten married in 2015, and she is also an active foster parent.
In both her personal and professional lives, Stewart values her role in developing the people under her care.
“My favorite part of the job is helping make [my teammates’ career] journeys be as uncomplicated as possible,” Stewart said. “Acquisitions work can become frustrating at times, but I try to give them guidance and lead [the team] in such a way that they don’t get overwhelmed.”
Robin Thomas, a supervisory contract specialist in IH, has been Stewart’s supervisor for a few years and has seen Stewart’s abilities and capacity for leadership development.
“[Stewart] definitely has a passion for the job and the ability to lead,” Thomas said. “She holds training sessions with her team and is focused on them knowing what they’re doing and really understanding the [acquisition] process.”
Applying for the TWI program is not the first time Stewart has followed her passion for growth. She said her application for TWI was influenced by her participation in the Defense Civilian Emerging Leader Program, focused on providing training to the next generation of the Department of Defense leaders.
“I know the direction I want to go in,” Stewart said about her developmental choices. “I am always looking for challenging opportunities.”
Despite her drive and positive experience with developmental programs such as DCELP, Toastmasters public speaking club and the Troop Support Shadowing Program, Stewart said the decision to take part in TWI wasn’t easy.
Getting over the hurdles
With her new marriage and a teenaged daughter getting ready to graduate high school in June, the time away from her family was the toughest part of her decision.
“I didn’t have any concerns about the program itself … it was more so the family concerns,” Stewart said. “Do I want to leave right now? Is the timing right?”
Stewart talked with a fellow Troop Support employee who she views as a mentor and coach to help with her decision, but more importantly a conversation with her husband helped lock in her choice to apply.
“[My husband] was very supportive,” Stewart said. “And as far as my daughter: she is currently in JROTC in high school, graduating this spring and she is joining the Army National Guard and continuing ROTC in college. So I won’t have to worry about her so much.”
Her work team also provided the support she needed to go ahead with the program, making the decision to explore options outside of her comfort zone easier.
“My team is great. They’re always encouraging me to take advantage of things and giving me the confidence that they can handle things while I’m gone,” Stewart said.
Thomas was also supportive.
“Knowing the type of person [Stewart] is, I knew that she would be a good fit for this program,” Thomas said. “It’s a good opportunity, and she is the perfect candidate for it.”
Next stop: Seattle!
When she got the news that she was selected and would temporarily relocate to Seattle, Washington to train with Amazon, a top-ten ranked Fortune 500 company, Stewart said she was overwhelmed.
“I was very excited at first,” Stewart said. “And then I asked myself all the questions you have when you’re starting something new … ‘Am I going to fit in?’ ‘Am I going to be able to contribute?’”
Although she had more than a decade of experience in government contracting, Stewart worried about how well that would serve her in the private sector.
Stewart was comforted with the reminder that the only expectation was for her to learn.
“I realized the keyword in Training With Industry: training,” Stewart said. “Once I realized I was not expected to go in there and run the company, I was just excited about learning as much as possible.”
Stewart looks forward to relate her experiences at Amazon to DLA in her role as a government contracting officer.
“To me, DLA is the Amazon of the military,” she said. “This is a perfect opportunity to learn about the logistics and acquisition processes that Amazon and the private sector go through, and hopefully help improve our [DLA] processes.”
Thomas was also excited for Stewart’s selection.
“There was a whole list of companies that she could have gone to,” Thomas said. “But Amazon, being the up-and-coming organization now with supply chain management … She’ll be able to go there for six months, learn their processes and bring back some good skills that we can share with the employees here.”
While Stewart is primarily interested in learning Amazon’s procurement processes as they relate to her role at Troop Support, she is also looking forward to what the Seattle area has to offer as a tourist.
“On my downtime I want to experience as much as possible of what Seattle has to offer,” Stewart said. “Maybe I’ll go and catch a fish at Pike Place Market!”
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series that will be published on DLA Troop Support’s website and continue with Ursula Stewart’s experiences while training with Amazon and upon her return and re-immersion in the DLA Troop Support workforce.