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Mentor recommendation leads to ‘hidden gem’

CE Online Fall 2016

By Rachel McAnallen
21st Civil Engineer Squadron

 I had completed two internships through the Workforce Recruitment Program, a federal recruiting program for students with disabilities, and I volunteered to participate in a WRP “E-Mentor” program. My mentor, a retired Marine colonel, recommended I apply to a civil engineer Palace Acquire, or PAQ, program. 

Since my degrees were in environmental technology (a bachelor’s) and environmental, health and safety management (a master’s), the program was a good fit. My personal career goals were to gain knowledge and experience among a breadth of environmental programs and to develop leadership skills for vectoring. The program was a hidden gem, because although I began at a GS-07, the PAQ program devoted my first two years to building vertical and horizontal competencies rather than immediately putting me to work in a small area of mission support. Plus, it rewarded each year of successful performance with a promotion to the next grade level. 
In the environmental world, one traditionally manages one or two programs, and being the program manager for a specific media is normally the justification for obtaining specialized environmental training. In PAQ , however, I was able to attend several Air Force Institute of Technology  courses in a smattering of different environmental media, rounding myself out as an environmental professional and equipping myself to tackle a variety of mission needs. My only justification was that I was a PAQ intern. 

Horizontal development was accomplished through a series of job rotations not only within my own installation management flight but also in civil engineering operations, emergency and fire services, engineering, contracting, force support services, logistics readiness services, and even in some of our base tenant organizations. 

There were times I wondered why job rotations within other career fields would be valuable to developing my career. Now that I am actually working as an environmental program manager, the networks I developed by doing those rotations on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, are invaluable, since I manage programs that touch nearly every facility on the installation and require collaboration with other CE flights. The networks that would take a new employee several years to develop, I was able to build in two years by “crash-networking” not only among Peterson organizations but also the headquarters Air Force office for my career field, the AFIT staff, my local Air Force Civil Engineer Center Installation Support Team, various AFCEC subject matter experts and civil engineer career field team members. 

One of the courses most valuable to horizontal development was the five-week CE Management 101 course all CE PAQ interns are required to take. CE Management 101 is usually reserved for new CE lieutenants, so taking the course not only gave us our first taste of professional military education but also built a foundation for understanding what a senior leader in civil engineering would have to manage. Being part of PAQ ensured that I could understand the language of CE and the Air Force, not just “environmentalese.” As a PAQ graduate, I am able to provide my technical expertise in a context that CE and Air Force customers outside of environmental can understand. 

The advice I have for current PAQs is treat everyone with respect and kindness, because you will see them again sometime in your career! I also have to emphasize that however tempting it may be to start on-the-job training (i.e., actually managing a base-level program), fight for your chance to devote those first two years in the PAQ program to training and job rotations.

Attend all the advertised webinars you can, even if you don’t think it directly applies to your career field (I took a lot of resources/finance training even though I was an environmental engineer PAQ). It will never again be as easy to get permission to go on TDY or devote time in your busy work day to professional development.
About the author: McAnallen is an environmental program manager with the 21st CES Installation Management Flight at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.