Major General Robert S. Ferrell Commanding General Army Communications-Electronics Command
His office is overflowing with memorabilia from his travels and deployments around the world. African artifacts line the long windowsill. Pictures of past platoons are stacked on the floor. Hundreds of military challenge coins are displayed on racks, across his desk and under the glass top of his conference table. “I like bringing back souvenirs from where I’ve been,” smiles Major General Robert S. Ferrell. “I can look at a photo, a piece of art or a coin and remember the people I was with and the work we were doing.”
Ferrell is a pretty big deal at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG). A two-star general, he is the Senior Mission Commander for the 72,229-acre installation where he functions like a town mayor for the more than 80 tenant units that reside there. “I make sure that all the facilities are up to a level of excellence from a work and living environment. Issues come up through the garrison to me.”
He serves as the Commanding General for the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) that relocated to APG from Fort Monmouth, N.J., with the Base Realignment and Closure of 2005. And, he is the lead for the Army Team C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) comprised of six independent and inter-dependent organizations collectively responsible for the lifecycle of all C4ISR systems. The three separate missions keep the General busy but don’t lend themselves to conflict for priority. “CECOM is focused outwardly toward all the Army units. My role as team lead for C4ISR is to bring everyone together to synchronize our activities. And I have an O-6 deputy who handles the day-to-day operations of the Post.”
CECOM is part of the Army’s C4ISR Materiel Enterprise – a subset of the Army’s Materiel Enterprise, which is co-chaired by the Army Materiel Command (AMC) and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA/ALT). CECOM is one of the lifecycle commands under AMC and the only one dedicated to communications. Their vision is to be the “lifecycle provider of choice for supporting joint warfighting superiority through world-class, globally networked C4ISR systems.” Ferrell explains, “Part of my efforts here at the command is to strengthen our partnerships within the Department of Defense (DoD), with the joint combatant command environment, and multi-national and interagency areas. We have to figure out how CECOM can provide lifecycle support to the warfighter within those domains, by partnering to address the challenges as we transition to a new Army and face cost constraints in the near future.”
His First 90 Days
Taking command of the installation in February, Ferrell’s primary focus was understanding his new environment, meeting the key players and indentifying obstacles to formulate his strategic vision.
“I saw during my initial assessment that there was a challenge regarding how the community could engage the installation,” he notes. “In my early meetings with local leaders, the industry partners, as well as our members here on base, it became clear they were challenged on a common entry point. I wanted to look at the installation’s activities, our relationship with the community, and learn where CECOM was with regard to our core mission and vision to determine if we needed to make adjustments. Then I really wanted to learn about our C4ISR partners. It took me about 90 days to get my thoughts together and decide that we needed to develop a better approach to help folks outside the gate engage with folks inside the gate.”
Ferrell immediately went to work creating what he called “TEAM APG.” Categorizing the work of all the tenants on APG, Ferrell came up with six core focus areas for the installation
Then, as part of his vision of a tightly integrated and enterprise solution approach, he assigned team leaders from across the tenant organizations to each area. “I focus on teamwork – a more enterprise approach than individual approach. Everything we’ve done here since I’ve arrived has been team oriented.”
With the players in place, Ferrell hit the road taking his message and vision to the public. He presented his plan at the quarterly Town Hall meeting on APG. He met with Harford County Executive David Craig and briefed all the local leadership from the county and the municipalities. He presented to the APG Professional Associations Network (PAN) that brings together groups like Women in Defense (WID), Northeastern Maryland Technology Council (NMTC) and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). “I believe that the more people know about what goes on here, the better the relationship. Teamwork and transparency – there’s no gate. Unless it’s classified, it’s open to everyone,” Ferrell declares.
Ferrell’s commitment to teamwork and relationship building is evident in the changes he’s made and in the way he makes them. The Oktoberfest celebration in September is one example of how he gets the teamwork results he wants. Instead of simply allowing the event to take place on APG grounds or participating at an event off-site, he proposed that the community and the installation plan the event together. “We already had strong relationships with each of the towns,” he admits, “but this makes it stronger.” Over the four-day event, a different town was featured each day to highlight their individual uniqueness – Aberdeen on Thursday, Bel Air on Friday, Havre de Grace on Saturday and Cecil County on Sunday. “Just imagine the strength of knowing one another after planning a major event such as that,” he smiles.
Another example where Ferrell’s ultimate goal was teamwork above all else was his introduction of the on-post Olympics competition. “I was thinking of a way for the units to raise their esprit de corps and togetherness. So I said, ‘Let’s have an Olympics competition. Let’s have a challenge where all the units come together and compete for a commander’s cup. And oh, by the way, let’s put the sergeant majors of all the units in charge of planning it,’” he says showing his amusement. “It was a way for the sergeant majors to get to know each after a lot of turnover and for new people to come together and plan the event. It was outstanding! We had huge participation, and not just by the units, but families and family activities as part of it, too.”
Families are an important but often forgotten element of Army life. Ferrell made sure to include families in a core focus area for Team APG under Veterans Affairs and Survivor Outreach. “We’re going to make sure to tuck Gold Star mothers under there,” he says referencing an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country.
Dedication and sacrifice to the United States and its military is a family trait embedded in Ferrell’s own family. His father, Howard Ferrell, entered the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth in 1952, and after deployments in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, retired as a master sergeant first class in 1974. Ferrell followed in his footsteps enlisting in the Army and becoming a commissioned officer in the Army Signal Corps in 1983 after earning his degree from Hampton University. He is a proud father of two sons, both of whom have done well in their careers. His youngest son, Michael, followed in his footsteps as a communications specialist in the Signal Corps, and is now assigned to the White House Communications Agency. His oldest son, Robert II, is a graphic designer, photographer and videographer in Stuggart, Germany. The general’s wife, Monique Ferrell, is an accomplished civilian defense employee. Mrs. Ferrell is a member of the Senior Executive Service and the Deputy Auditor General for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Training Audits for the U.S. Army Audit Agency. She’s been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times.
Sequestration and Army 2020
With both military and civilian family members, Ferrell’s family is not atypical and one that could be affected by impending budget cuts. “No one has a crystal ball, but Army leadership has been examining the impact of coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan by looking back at history. There’s always been an indicator that coming out of war, the Army tends to get smaller. So given that consistency over time, we’re doing the prudent planning, if you will, with the workforce, our modernization strategies and looking at some operational requirements.”
The operational requirements Ferrell alludes to are directly related to the new vision of the Army unveiled by the former Chief of Staff of the Army, General Martin E. Dempsey in early 2011. Coined “Army 2020,” the plan calls for changing the Army’s Cold War-era structure. The range of threats is different today and the Army knows it needs to adapt. “Part of Army 2020 is shifting toward being a more regionally supportive entity,” Ferrell explains. “We operate in theaters in the Pacific, Southwest Asia, Africa, South America and the United States. The Army will be going through a transformation, and each commander will be realigning their units to provide the necessary support for their mission requirements.”
Other components of Army 2020 include sustaining the all-volunteer force, developing both the military and civilian workforce to be more adaptive and agile, and bringing back the Army profession by reengaging the customs and courtesies and reestablishing training in the garrison environment.
“When I came into the Army,” Ferrell remembers, “it was a different Army where we were training for war. We went through all the preparatory requirements of getting the equipment ready, learning our specific skills and learning how to install, operate and maintain everything. We now have to focus on getting back to the basics and educating our young soldiers who haven’t been exposed to all the foundational training.”
The proposed budget sequestration will profoundly impact the Army’s civilian and military workforce. Working within the Congressionally mandated numbers, the Army will reach their authorized strength through attrition, retirement, hiring freezes and the guidance of Congress and DoD leaders. “We’re developing transition programs where we’ve identified all the skills our soldiers obtained on active duty and established a database that is transparent to civilians so that soldiers can prepare to market themselves for the civilian workforce,” Ferrell says. “We’re looking for ways to help the men and women we can’t retain successfully transition back to the civilian society.”
|G6 Personnel: Army Chief of Information Officer’s Representatives
The mission of G6 personnel is to lead the transformation of the Army’s contribution to the Global Information Grid – LandWarNet – to deliver timely, trusted and shared information through an unsurpassed responsive, collaborative and trusted information enterprise.
On the day of the interview, Ferrell had attended two high-level meetings on Post examining several CECOM initiatives as they pertained to anticipated budget constraints. In one of the sessions, he gathered and met with leadership from Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and Army G6 and Chief Information Office representatives regarding the next generation of cloud technology. “We were discussing how to upgrade [the IT infrastructure at] all the posts, camps and stations in the United States. As you look at how things are configured now, not all the military bases have the same level of capabilities when it comes to IT (information technology). A lot of our soldiers who were deployed for the last decade are used to certain high-level IT capabilities because that was the priority effort. For them, coming back to the United States is like going back to 8-track tapes. They want what they had while they were deployed. Our next effort will be looking at ways we can leverage some of our cloud technologies as part of the Department of Defense to efficiently make those upgrades.”
Welcome to Harford County
As a career soldier and former “Army brat,” Ferrell may have traveled the world and met with national and international leaders, but he is quick to admit that the reception he and his wife received and the commitment he has observed by Harford County citizens and local government leaders has been unprecedented.
Ferrell was pleasantly surprised, he says, of the relationship between the installation and the community. “I’ve been to many posts, camps and stations and this is by far the location where the closeness … there’s no gate really. The relationship of supporting one another, regardless of the requirements, is better than I’ve seen in all the locations I’ve visited. I’m not just saying that. The mayors can pick up the phone, and we’re like best friends talking. I just went down to the Ripken baseball parade and the best thing about that was how the entire community came out to support the participants and the installation came out to support as well. You can tell if folks really care by their actions. Their smiles. Their conversations. Here, it’s always warm and embracing. I go out to the schools, and it’s the same thing. I can go out to a store or restaurant and people are gracious and thankful and asking how they can help. It’s really over the top here. It’s by far the best.”
Protecting the warfighter is his mission, but it’s the personal relationships he hopes will be the legacy he leaves behind. “The military is very special. It’s hard to really recognize that specialness unless you’ve served. It’s like a band of brothers and sisters. It’s a bond that is unwritten – that you know you have someone there to support you regardless. Over time, I’ve run across many individuals. To me, I hope my legacy is how did I touch, coach, teach or mentor that person. How did they grow from the time that I was there? Did my actions allow that person to positively grow to their fullest potential? That’s how I look at it.
“I feel very blessed to be here as the senior mission commander and team lead for APG. When you think about the opportunities that lie ahead, even with all the challenges that you hear in the news, I’m very optimistic given the closeness of our relationship with our local leadership as well as our communities and all of our team members here on base. I believe that together, there really is no obstacle we can’t go around.” I95