Editorial Note: ‘Trailblazers’ is a four-part feature series celebrating the incredible innovation and highly technical accomplishments of Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic’s female workforce. During this special Women’s History Month tribute, readers are encouraged to learn from the personal experiences of those spotlighted and the unique ways their contributions are blazing new trails for future generations to come. This story is the second installment of NIWC Atlantic’s Trailblazers Campaign.
Various dictionaries describe the term ‘trailblazer’ as one who is a pioneer, innovator or carves a path to literally guide others. As a leader in Other Transaction Authority (OTA) processes for naval prototyping and technology innovation, Jee Youn Fickling fully encompasses these definitions.
As Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic’s program manager for the Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP), Fickling is responsible for the cost, schedule, performance and risk management for a program that accelerates the delivery of technology to the warfighter.
“I lead an extremely skilled team at NIWC Atlantic and NIWC Pacific that works with industry partners, technology requirements owners and innovative pipelines across the Department of Defense (DoD) making IWRP a cornerstone in acquisition planning and providing efficient and effective services to rapidly develop prototypes and provide technologies to the fleet,” said Fickling.
Fickling’s role as IWRP program manager began in June 2020, but her career in the federal government and the preparation for Navy civilian service started years prior to taking on this position.
In 1992, Fickling graduated from Ashley Hall High School in Charleston, South Carolina – an all-girls school whose mission is educate women who are “independent and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence.” A fitting statement, considering Fickling’s future trajectory and impact in both the defense community and private sector.
By 1996, Fickling was graduating Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on the dean’s list with a Bachelors of Arts in Modern Languages and a minor in English.
Despite an advanced workload and challenging learning environment, Fickling continued pursuing learning opportunities that enabled growth and personal development, and by 2006, Fickling received her Master of Science in Management from Southern Wesleyan University in Charleston.
“My story has chapters to it, like anyone else’s; none of which is a simple successful linear story,” she said. “Starting out in the workforce, I chose a more unconventional path with a mix of disappointments, successes and challenges.”
Fickling’s first job was in intermodal shipping with an international shipping company where she learned the foundation to her success from an incredible mentor and supervisor.
“This individual was successful and technically proficient – but most importantly, caring,” she said. “With each and every job, role, peer group, supervisor, mentor, leadership program … they influenced the arc of my career and my life story.”
Mentorship is a defining element of Fickling’s success. Looking at the generation coming into the workforce today, she is passionate about encouraging others to find a good role model and a community of support.
“Learning, growing and choosing my goals wasn’t done in a vacuum,” she said. “My mom was my first role model and she was the one who encouraged me to take on new challenges, no matter how scary they were at the time.”
In 2010, Fickling took on her next challenge and started her career with then Space and Naval Warfare System Center (SSC) Atlantic in contracting as an intern for the Naval Acquisition Intern Program. During her next 11 years, her opportunities expanded from contracting to policy, to human capital management and organizational development to her present role in program management.
As NIWC Atlantic’s lead for IWRP, Fickling is able to use her background in contracting, policy and project/program management to thrive in the high operations tempo and complex environment that is inherent of the information technology field.
“Through the education, experience and care of the NIWC Atlantic community, I have grown forward developing resiliency and gaining useful lessons in collaboration, diplomacy and the power to inspire,” said Fickling.
Building on the groundwork laid by her predecessor, Don Sallee of NIWC Atlantic, Fickling and her team are continuing to inspire others through the foundational and groundbreaking work they’re accomplishing for the warfighter with IWRP.
“We’re setting a new standard for rapid prototyping, by leveraging an alternative acquisition-based method called an other transaction authority (OTA),” she said. “Through this streamlined acquisition approach we are not only developing prototypes to solve real-world challenges, we are rapidly delivering advanced technology to the fleet.”
In fact, in September 2020, IWRP was the first Navy systems center to transition successful prototypes to production under 10 U.S.C §2371b(f) Authority, which allows for production agreements as sole source awards. NAVWAR awarded three production awards, OTA-Production, with a combined ceiling of $104 million, taking the lead and forging a path toward the future for OTAs across the Navy.
“Since the inception of the program in 2018, the success of this team continues to be defined by the significant milestones achieved for the Navy and the incredible growth of the program in exceeding all forecasts,” she said.
These efforts and many others, earned the IWRP team the prestigious Lightning Bolt Award presented during a Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) ceremony February 2021.
“I am incredibly proud of the IWRP team who worked tirelessly to maintain aggressive schedules, grow the collaboration events with industry partners, execute trainings across NAVWAR with technical owners on the IWRP process and overcome COVID-19 challenges,” said Fickling.
The successful and innovative trails that Fickling continues to blaze she attributes to the support and encouragement of many men and women who have had her back through the years – individuals and teams that emphasized the importance of not being afraid of the uncomfortable and owning a growth mindset.
“My motto is to always keep moving forward … no matter how insignificant you think the progress is,” she said. “I believe that you should constantly challenge yourself to learn, grow, and choose new goals.”
As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.