Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Insight Into My Worklife

In case anyone is interested in knowing a little bit of the mysticism surrounding me at work, I wanted to share this with you.  I don't talk about work very often but when I had to write about a difficult challenge I had faced I ended up resorting to one of many projects I have worked on in the past. Let me know some of your challenging situations if you are open to share, whether work related or not.  Here is one of mine:

As a contractor working on a military education and training base I was tasked with being the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the main Application Exercise (APEX) for the students. This exercise tests the previously learned skills of the students to ensure that they have actually learned what they needed to out of the 6 month training course to go out into the operational Air Force.  During this time I was asked to combine a previous 3 Day Exercise with a 6 day exercise, turning it into a 9 day exercise that was synchronized and flowed easily, as well as to update the information from static dates of 2008 to static dates of 2011.  Although both exercises featured the same countries in play they were both created by different people and taken from different sources using various dates.  During initial creation they were intended to be separate stand-alone exercises.  This was a massive task that was assigned solely to me intended to be done with the combination of multiple companies and several people.  Due to the reassessment of personnel I ended up doing the majority of the work single-handedly on behalf of the company I worked for.  To add onto the massive project there was a timeline of 3-6 months in order to have the project completed on time for the re-write of the course that I was supporting as all material had to be completed at the same time for it to be approved and signed off on by the military.  The end result was 1042 pieces of message traffic for a day and night shift as well as a plethora of products (imagery, tracking products, PowerPoint briefings, etc.)  I can also throw in the fact that I was in my 2nd and 3rd trimester of my pregnancy with my first child as a single mother during this time.  Needless to say this was a daunting task, but it was one that I welcomed with open arms.  I love nothing more than to be faced with a challenge that I can shape into the best work I can accomplish.  Initially I had to start with figuring out what needed to be included in this project, the resources that I could utilize (as this was a classified exercise and not all resources are readily available) and the timeline that I had to work with.  I worked first on scrubbing (going through and seeing what was still relevant, what needed deleting, what needed changing) the message traffic.  After this I had to make personal contact with resources (personnel and websites) around the military that had worked with similar information and countries.  I had to use quite a combination of finesse and effective communication/people skills over the phone, and through email to get pointed in the right direction.  This was ongoing for many months to get the full range resources and the knowledge that was needed.  I had to come up with the best time management and most effective method of accomplishing all of these things.  Halfway through the project my timeline was cut from having 6 months remaining, to 3 months remaining.  I put in many overtime hours and was able to get all of the products including plotting over a thousand forces on Falconview (a computer based map of the military forces in play).  I had to constantly keep up communication between companies involved to ensure that both sides were synchronized in timing of events, visualization and messages that were dependent upon one another.  During this time I created many new products, still utilized years later, to help any teaching instructors to understand the exercise, and to be able to effectively teach the exercise with the best result of learning and knowledge absorption for the students during the hardest tasks they will face yet in the course.  Although many of my solutions to this problem took on a creative tone, it wasn’t until most of the time consuming work was done that I came up with the best solution yet.  My most creative solution to this monumental task was to take all of the work that I had previously accomplished and put myself in the shoes of the student, to try to envision myself as the audience that would be presented with and tested on this material and see it from their eyes.  I wanted this exercise which had now become my baby to be the most effective and most beneficial 9 days that they could be faced with at the end of their training.  I went through the exercise and acted as though I was in charge of all of the groups at once (during a normal class the students are broken up into 5-6 separate groups to track different aspects of the military forces (Air, Ground, Navy, Defensive Missiles, Special Ops/Ballistic Missiles).  I went through all of the visualizations; I read through each piece of message traffic (multiple times) and I acted as though I was one of the students.  I took each of these groups and I created student products of PowerPoint briefing to track the forces and to brief to the instructors, I moved the forces along with the traffic to ensure that force structure and amounts were adding up to where they should.  I had to track along and ensure that events would follow likely TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) for my target countries.   I had to be sure that this exercise was as realistic as possible given the static dates that were chosen.  From this creative solution I caught multiple minute force structure and number discrepancies that would not have been as clear otherwise.  In so doing, I was able to save credibility of the exercise when it came to the scrutiny of an actual running class as well as many man hours searching through for these discrepancies after the fact.   This also allowed me to ensure that I could confidently hand over this finished product to the military for validation and official release as an exercise that would be utilized according the military training standards across the Air Force.  I was also able to come up with number and force structure cheat sheets for the instructors to utilize for the beginning and end of each exercise day so that the instructors were able to adequately gauge the status of their students’ ability to keep track of what was going on in the exercise and better assess their finalized briefings.

Pregnant me about a month before my son was born

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