AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Q&A: The AWS Military Fellowship

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is committed to offering opportunities to servicemen and women. As part of this commitment, we created the AWS Military Fellowship exchange program as part of the larger program across the Department of Defense (DoD), designed to expose active duty military to AWS’s technology and Amazon’s leadership principles. The programs build a unique cadre of officers who understand not only the profession of arms, but also the nature of the strategic problems facing the DoD, and the organizational and operational opportunities made possible by revolutionary changes in information and other technologies. These officers will be at the forefront of transforming defense strategy, military forces, and the supporting infrastructure.

About the fellowship

For up to one year, our current three active duty military fellows are able to live day in and day out as employees of AWS. During their time at AWS, they are tasked with finding areas of specific interest to them and their military specialties.  They focus on these innovative areas of interest and at times, will reach out to their respective services during their tour with AWS— putting the uniform back on to explain to their community what they are seeing and doing within the commercial technology space to provide value to the DoD.

Value to industry and military

This program pays dividends to both the DoD and to industry. The DoD, as an institution, will be more capable of meeting future challenges because the officers coming from this program are familiar with innovation and transformation issues. And AWS is able to work alongside our military fellows to learn from them how we can better help the different branches of the military save money, innovate faster, and deliver capabilities that help achieve their mission.

This year’s AWS fellows include:

  • Lieutenant Colonel (Promote-able) Maria Schneider (MS), U.S. Army Acquisition Officer
  • Captain James Thomas (JT), U.S. Airforce Communications Officer
  • Master Sergeant Kelly Butler (KB), U.S Army Acquisition Non-Commissioned Officer

We had the opportunity to sit down with these fellows during their first few months at AWS to talk about their experience within the DoD, how they got involved with this program, and what they plan to get out of their time at AWS.

Our first interview is with Lieutenant Colonel (Promote-able) Maria Schneider (MS), U.S. Army Acquisition Officer.

How did you get involved in this program? What attracted you to the AWS Military Fellowship?

MS: I was honored with being selected from this competitive board to participate in the Senior Service College (SSC) program. The SSC program offers a unique opportunity for members of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC), military and civilians to gain advanced leadership training and experience specifically designed for senior leadership positions. As an Army Acquisition Officer, I selected the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellowship Program (SDCFP) as my top choice, in order to gain a better appreciation of how industry deals with change management and insertion of new innovation. I was looking for a company that supports the DoD mission, where I could identify the acquisition related challenges. Amazon was my top choice of the 14 participating civilian corporations. I have been intrigued with getting to look “behind the commercial curtain” to determine how Amazon fosters such an innovative culture, develops corporate strategies, develops/implements metrics that matter, institutionalizes the leadership principles into daily operations, and meets customer’s demands (more specifically DoD).

What are your focus areas here at AWS? What are your focus areas within the DoD?

MS: While at AWS, I am primarily focused on rotating through various teams in search of opportunities to gather innovative ideas and best practices that can translate over to the DoD. I also provide insight for the DoD sales team on acquisition processes, procedures, and programs that can continue to foster the business relationships between DoD and Amazon. Within the DoD, one of my duties is to serve as an independent observer for DoD Senior Executives focused on providing an unbiased viewpoint of acquisition-related challenges associated with the adoption of commercial cloud computing goods and services.

What are some lessons learned at AWS that you are able to bring back to your role in the DoD?

MS: Some lessons learned at AWS that I’ll be able to bring back to my role in the DoD as an Army Acquisition professional are: rethink the way we do business, reform the ways DoD communicates mission requirements with industry, remove the barriers to enable people to work collectively to develop innovative solutions, and restructure antiquated acquisition models.

What military values are you able to transfer to industry?

MS: It is my desire to demonstrate the Army’s seven core values (leadership, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage) in all of my engagements and interactions with industry, in order to ensure that continued support is provided to the program and peers alike in the future.  This program is instrumental to the success of the Secretary of Defense Honorable Ashton Carter’s “Force of the Future” initiative and National Security, since representing the values in all daily actions is key to mission success.

Give an example of what has been your favorite part about your time at AWS?

MS: Functioning as an integrated member of the AWS discussions with government on acquisition related challenges certainly provided a unique perspective on the challenges faced by industry in meeting DoD’s mission requirements and forced me to re-evaluate business processes followed previously.  I’m confident that these engagements and broadened perspective will make me a better acquisition professional and leader, which will translate to the delivery of improved goods and services to the supported Army units that will fall under my area of responsibility. On a personal note, one of my favorite memories will be the challenges faced daily during my morning routine—wondering what to wear, and how to take care of my long hair— that became at times a significant dilemma.   For 26 + years, this challenge was handled by the United States Army.  I definitely realized, I have some room for personal growth in this area, hence, my recent subscription to some fashion magazines.

We are so thankful for the fellows’ expertise and for the time they took to share their experiences. Stay tuned for more interviews from the other AWS Military Fellows.