Face of Defense: Soldier's Short Career is Long on Experiences
FORT BELVOIR, Va. --
As he has logged just over nine years in acquisition, Army Lt. Col. Beire Castro has managed to pack in some impressive experiences in a relatively short span of time.
In addition to a variety of assignments at two program executive offices, he also has served as a legislative liaison, a Pentagon position that involved working with members of Congress and congressional defense committees.
"The interaction between Congress and the Pentagon is very similar to the interactions within the defense acquisition enterprise," said Castro, who's now the product manager for Force Protection Systems within the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. "The success of the mission hinges on prioritizing your most important efforts and then aligning the resources and stakeholders to execute them. While some of the players are different -- and at times, the playing field may have a more narrowly tailored strategic focus -- the playbook is essentially the same. It's always about people: aligning their interests and motivations to achieve a desired outcome."
Castro, who is the son of Cuban immigrants and whose father served in the Cuban army, enlisted in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s.
Believing in the American Dream
"The only thing I've ever wanted to do is be a soldier," he said. "My parents came to the United States as young adults and always reminded my siblings and me how blessed we were to be Americans. I grew up believing in the American Dream, and fell in love with what I saw as the protector of that dream: the American soldier." He later attended college through a Green to Gold scholarship and was commissioned in 1998 as an armor officer.
An encounter with acquisition workforce members while on deployment motivated him to enter the Acquisition Corps.
"When we were deployed, a lieutenant colonel came to field a new system for us. He and his staff came from out of nowhere, it seemed, and provided us this gift of a new capability, and they took notes as we told them what worked and what didn't--it was fantastic," Castro said. "At that time, I was starting to plan for the next phase of my career, and I knew that I liked being a soldier and taking care of soldiers. The next step for me in combat arms was battalion commander, and I knew what that position was like. But acquisition seemed limitless -- there are so many different programs to manage."
Variety of Experiences
His first acquisition assignment was assistant product manager within PEO Soldier, where he served from late 2010 through November 2013. "It was a fantastic first assignment," he said. "It was so easy to be passionate about what we were doing because it was so easy to draw a direct line from what we were doing in the program office to how it affected soldiers."
That assignment also provided him with a variety of experiences: managing multiple programs, including cold weather gear, fire-resistant clothing and tactical communications; a month-long fill-in stint as a Department of the Army systems coordinator; and a year as the executive officer to the PEO.
Castro then served in the Pentagon as a legislative liaison in the Army's Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison, which is responsible for coordinating the Army's legislative agenda. He served for two legislative cycles, in 2014 and 2015, and noted that the assignment yielded numerous dividends.
"First, it allowed me to work within and understand the Army staff and secretariat, including the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. Understanding the intricacies of how the Army and Pentagon work is essential for being successful in a [program manager] position. It enables you to understand and anticipate potential impacts to your program before they occur and to determine the best course of action in response."
The assignment also included strategic planning and messaging, and attendance at strategy meetings in which senior leaders discussed Army modernization issues, all of which helped him put into context the importance of the work being done at the program level. "Pentagon jobs provide such a layered understanding of how the acquisition enterprise works, and that understanding is invaluable later on," he said.
Force Protection Systems
Since June 2016, Castro has been the product manager for Force Protection Systems, responsible for providing most of the base defense equipment and capability to deployed forces, as well as security systems for installations in the continental United States.
The job of a program manager -- "ensuring that we provide the best capabilities, on time, and at the best cost" -- is pretty straightforward, Castro said.
"The true art is in aligning the myriad stakeholders to get you there," he explained. "They all get a vote, and each can say no and stop you. The PM is the only one accountable for a program's success or failure. But it is fantastic when you are able to bring everyone together to focus on ensuring success of the mission."
One of the challenges he faces is keeping track of the numerous regulations, policies and laws that govern defense acquisition.
"It takes years to develop an understanding of all of it, and I find that I learn something new every day," he said. "But it's too easy to get dismayed by the bureaucracy -- don't let it discourage you. Our job is to get capability to the warfighter, despite the challenges."
His advice to others? "Do the best you can with the first job you have, wherever that is," he said. "Use that position to get as much experience in different aspects of program management or your particular career field. Talk to leaders you admire or those who are doing things you'd like to be doing. Ask them how they got there and ask them to share their experiences with you. Some may not be as open, but through that process you'll find leaders who are willing to invest in your professional development."