EAFB award

HONORED CIVILIAN — David K. Robertson, a member of the Senior Exec­u­tive Service, is the Air Force Test Center executive director based out of Edwards Air Force Base. For his dedication and service, the Air Force selected Robertson as this year’s nominee for the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

EDWARDS AFB — A “diversity of experience” is what David K. Robertson attributes to his rise from a GS-07 entry-level en­gin­eer to a member of the U.S. Gov­ern­ment’s Senior Executive Service.

He began his career at Edwards AFB straight out of Fresno State University in 1986, and today he helps oversee a $31 billion test en­ter­prise as the Air Force Test Center’s executive director.

For his dedication and ser­vice, the Air Force selected Rob­ert­son as this year’s nominee for the Department of Defense Dis­tin­guished Civilian Service Award, which is the highest award presented by the secretary of defense to civilian employees whose careers reflect “exceptional de­vo­tion to duty and significant contributions of broad scope to the efficiency, economy or other improvements in the operation of the DOD.”

“I’ve always done what the Air Force has asked of me as a civ­il­ian,” said Robertson. “I’ve been both geographically and or­gan­iz­a­tion­ally mobile, so wherever the Air Force told me to go, I packed my bags and went. My philosophy is never shut a door for you may be eliminating opportunities you don’t even know exist.”

That mobility has taken him from Edwards to Hill Air Force Base, Utah; the Pentagon; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Tin­ker Air Force Base, Ok­la­ho­ma; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and even­tually back to Ed­wards.

Mobility, career-broad­en­ing assignments, com­ple­ting Professional Mil­it­ary Education and ob­tain­ing advanced degrees turned out to be the for­mula for becoming an SES mem­ber and the only one in the AFTC.

His duties are pre­dom­in­ately focused on the de­vel­opment of the civ­il­ian workforce across the AFTC’s three main in­stal­lations to include Ed­wards AFB, Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee; Eglin AFB, and units at Hol­lo­man AFB in New Mexico. Rob­ert­son also works labor relations across the test enterprise, along with man­ag­ing AFTC’s $7 bil­lion service contracts, he said.

While he acknowledges that not everyone wants to become a member of the SES, Robertson’s advice to those who want to climb the ladder is to set car­eer goals and develop a re­spec­tive road map.

“Pick a destination and then develop a road map to get there,” said Robertson. “That road map or destination can, and most likely will, change over your career; and by destination I mean what grade level are you look­ing for? What location or organization are you look­ing for? Or what kind of job do you seek? Those things define in your mind what success is and where you want to end up. Once you do that, you need to de­vel­op a viable road map to get you to that point.”

Robertson also said civ­il­ian employees should find mentors beyond their unit’s immediate su­per­vi­sors and/or leadership, such as people within their func­tional domain or at other centers, major com­mands or even at the Air Force level where they can ask career development ques­tions.

“You can develop your road map on your end, but then run it by others that have been at that level or above who can pass down their lessons learned and/or experiences/oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Robertson said.

Other items for career-mind­ed civilians to focus on should be Civilian De­vel­opmental Education op­por­tunities that are an­nounced in March each year. If there is some­thing that interests an em­ploy­ee, they should un­der­stand how it fits into their road map and be willing to raise their hand to include vocalizing if they are willing to re­lo­cate geo­graph­ically or or­gan­iz­a­tion­ally.  

“You have to move around to get different exp­eriences,” said Robertson. “That’s what the Air Force is looking for — diversity of experience. We don’t want you to sit in the same job for 40 years. It’s a plus to you as an individual because you’re learning something new and then it’s good for the organization because you’re bringing different ex­periences and ways of doing things to the or­gan­ization.

“The longest I have ever stayed in a job was two years until I got to this job where I’ve been for 4½ years. … I’m not saying every­one has to do two years, but it’s what I did to op­timize that diversity of experience.”

He said he understands the impacts on family if peop­le are constantly geo­graph­ically moving, but there are ways to develop diversity locally.

At his first stint at Ed­wards, Robertson said he start­ed out at Edwards work­ing F-16s then moved to the then F-15 Short Take­off and Landing pro­gram. He later went to Test Safety for another two years and then to the Tri-Ser­vice Standoff Attack Mis­sile program where he eventually capitalized on an opportunity at Hill AFB.

“Even here at Edwards you can still move around the different (combined test forces) like I was doing. You can go over to Test Safety to make sure you understand that side of the house. There’s in­stru­men­tation, main­ten­ance and the range; or you can career broaden to the Air Force Research Lab or Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, this strategy is however some­what dependent on what your functional area is.”

The winners of the DOD-level awards will be announced later this year. No matter what the out­come is, Robertson said he enjoys his position and com­mended the AFTC work­force for its en­thu­si­asm and dedication to the mission.

“Whenever we have senior leaders visit the dif­fer­ent AFTC sites they are marveled at how the personnel are really energized about the mission,” Robertson said. “You can’t beat the test mission, I can tell you that firsthand. I’ve been in log­is­tics and acquisition, Head­quarters Air Force career-broadening assignments, and you just can’t beat it.”

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