Gail Forest coordinates ten directorates at AFRL
Forest's science and technology organization, the corporate integration group for the whole lab, makes sure that everything works in harmony
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has ten technical directorates, and as director of plans and programs for the entire lab, Gail Forest coordinates their activities. She started this new job at the beginning of this year.
The lab's mission is to lead in discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies. Of its staff of 10,300, nearly 6,400 are scientists and engineers. Forest's science and technology organization, the corporate integration group for the whole lab, establishes and manages policies and processes to make sure it all works in harmony.
"My organization brings it all together," she says.
Some of the directorates are located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base; some are at other locations in the U.S. and there are offices in Europe, Asia and South America.
There is no "typical day"
Still new in her job, Forest has no "typical day." "I'm still working to understand all that's going on and the activities we're involved in," she says. Even though her background is in industrial engineering, she realized early in her career that she wanted to work in management and business roles for engineering operations.
"If you want to get into management you must be oriented to working with people," she says. "Individuals who work in technical fields get used to working with things. We're not naturally as people-focused, but it's important to adopt that mindset! When I mentor, I always remind people to seek out leadership training courses that will build their management skills."
There are more than 130 people in Forest's science and technology organization. Forest herself has ten direct reports. She encourages a chain-of-command approach in which subordinate supervisors are accountable for their staff members and for resolving issues at the earliest stage possible.
"I'm not the kind to resolve every issue myself," Forest says. "It's part of their learning process to handle issues and manage individuals at their level. If I'm always in the middle they won't understand how to handle that."
As a manager, she strives to be "someone who is fair but direct," she adds. She has high expectations for employees and is willing to work with people to make sure they reach their potential.
Directing air platforms
In her previous post, from 2009 to 2010, Forest was associate director for air platforms. She was involved in planning, formulating and directing science and technology for the lab's R&D; aeronautical platforms for the Air Force. This meant overseeing various activities with the military, civilians and contractors.
"I managed the portfolio," she explains. "My role touched R&D; programs involved with sustaining the current fleet of aircraft, evolving unmanned air systems and developing hypersonic aircraft."
At the same time she was the Air Force's science and technology senior principal for high-performance computing. "The Department of Defense has six supercomputing resource centers. The Air Force has two of those, which are operated by AFRL," she explains. She represents the interests of the Air Force science and technology community on an advisory panel made up of representatives from all the armed services.
Growing up, Forest lived with her mother in Ohio and spent summers with her father in New York. She was the first in her family to get an engineering degree: a 1977 BSIE from Kettering University (Flint, MI).
"Young women weren't encouraged to go into engineering when I was growing up," she remembers. "But I liked math and science and I liked IE because it involved more of the human factor. It was about the human/machine interface and I was interested in that."
From Buick to civil service
She began her career in 1977 as a manufacturing engineer with the Buick Motor Division of General Motors Corp (Flint, MI). In 1978 she became an industrial and marketing/sales engineer for International Harvester (Louisville, KY).
Next Forest entered federal civil service as an IE in the maintenance directorate at HQ Air Force Logistics Command (Wright-Patterson AFB, OH); in 1986 she became lead engineer for the aircraft/stores certification program.
In 1989 she completed an MS in administration from Central Michigan University, and became a logistics manager in the certification program. From 1991 to 1993 Forest was chief of the systems requirements and engineering division at Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson; then deputy program manager for a computer-aided acquisitions and logistics support program.
Next came two years as chief of the Air Force computer-aided acquisitions and logistics support strategic plans and support division and another two as deputy program manager at the air force product data systems modernization office in the Electronic Systems Center.
From 1998 to 2000 Forest was program manager for the air force product data systems modernization office, then on to chief of the strategic planning and business development division.
In 2003 she completed the Carnegie Mellon executive excellence program (Dayton, OH) and moved on to become special programs CIO and deputy chief of the special programs division. She went on to a year at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC) and received an MS in national resource strategy in 2007.
She was deputy director of the munitions directorate at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida until 2009, when she moved back to be associate director for air platforms at Wright-Patterson. This January she took over her current job as director of plans and programs for AFRL.
Challenging jobs, all unique
"I've had some challenging positions, all unique," Forest says. "Some of them taught me to deal more effectively with higher management, others taught me how to restructure and align my teams to work for a common purpose."
She notes that even today, most of the scientists and engineers are male. "To be a female leader is an interesting challenge in this environment. You have to be attuned to those who are not like you and develop and nurture their talents to achieve success."
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