Shortly after retiring from the Air Force in 2016 after 24-years of service in the air transportation field, Robert Sparks, product specialist, Nuclear Division, Supplier Operations Commodities Directorate, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, said he accepted a position as a Veterans Transportation Program manager at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. Eighteen-months later, he was hired as a patient advocate, also at McGuire.
“I loved my position as a patient advocate and being able to be the voice for both the veteran and Hunter Holmes McGuire Hospital. However, I missed working with my fellow men and women of the armed services and the Department of Defense. I knew going back to the DOD was where I wanted to be,” he said.
Sparks said he found what he was looking for when his research led him to discovering the Defense Logistics Agency Pathways to Career Excellence (PaCE) Program, a two-year training program designed to train entry-level personnel for subsequent advancement to the journey-level in professional, administrative and technological career fields. This is accomplished through on-the-job assignments, cross-training, rotational assignments and formal training (e.g. classroom, distance learning, web-based training, conferences and seminars).
Participants enter the program at predominantly the General Schedule (GS-7) pay level and are targeted to the GS-11 or GS-12 level upon successful completion of the program requirements. While in the program, participants are permanent, full-time employees with competitive salaries, benefits, and potential career advancement opportunities.
Sparks started his PaCE journey in December 2019.
“I believe Defense Logistics Agency is doing it “right.” The best way to provide excellent support to our warfighters is to provide excellent training opportunities to their employees,” Sparks said.
Sparks said he chose the product specialist procurement track within the program and is currently working as a quality assurance product specialist.
“I assure that contractors who furnish supplies and equipment to the military meet all specifications and contractual requirements. I also prepare and issue quality assurance letters of instruction, first article test inspections, evaluate quality assurance procedures, reports, inspections, test results/methods and other operational aspects involving assigned items or commodities,” he said.
Jessie Blaylock, quality assurance supervisor, Career Development Branch, Command Support Directorate, DLA Aviation, oversees the product specialist track for PaCE in Richmond.
She said while the program consists of two tracks, formal and On the Job Training, Aviation offers a unique opportunity to succeed with 16 weeks of locally developed foundational training. It is the first phase for Aviation Pacers before transitioning to operations.
“These phases are designed to provide Pacers with a corporate-wide perspective on logistics support, and technical and formal training to perform at a journeyman level in the assign career field,” she said.
Blaylock said once the PaCEr completes the local foundation training, they are assigned to an integrated supply team to begin their on the job training. After meeting all requirements and upon program completion, the PaCEr graduate officially becomes a member of the DLA Aviation acquisition workforce.
Sparks completed his local foundation training and reported to the Nuclear Division, his IST, back in March.
“There are plenty of challenges for sure. Being a Product Specialist is one thing, but understanding the robust details and constant internal changes to multi-million/billion dollar contracts is mind boggling. It’s not only vital to learn and understand other jobs within the different Aviation directorates, it’s also important to form strong working relationships with them. We all work together to ensure each contract proposal (pre and post) meet the needs and demands of our Warfighter.”
Ronald Booker is Sparks’ supervisor within the division. He said despite Sparks only being there a short while, he has been impressed with his work ethic.
“My initial impression is he's eager to learn and willing to do what it takes to become proficient at being a product specialist. He shows a lot of pride and motivation to support the warfighter,” Booker said. While COVID-19 has changed DLA Aviation’s normal operating procedures, he continues working to complete daily workload assignments and training requirements through teleconferencing, emails, and screen sharing within skype. He is a great addition to the Nuclear Enterprise Acquisition Team.”
Antonio Williams, a quality assurance specialist who graduated from the program in 2017, is training Sparks.
“I can already see that once he completes some more training, he will make a substantial contribution to the operation and growth of the team.” Williams said. “So far Robert displays an ability to learn new things rapidly and is always eager to learn new skills.”
Sparks said it’s been people like Blaylock, Booker, Williams and many others, who have validated his decision to pursue a DLA career.
“DLA is providing that “hands on approach” to job knowledge! I’m looking forward to the challenges that may lie ahead here at DLA and excited to once again support our warfighters,” he said.