U.S. Army Veteran, and now Senior Director and Program Manager, NCI Information Systems
During a 30-year career in the U.S. Army, NCI’s Ted Jennings has just about done it all. ROTC at Auburn University. Second Lieutenant to Colonel. The Iron Mike Award at the Army’s Airborne School. Certified M-1 Armored Tank Commander. Platoon Leader. Company Commander. DoD’s Biometrics Program Manager.
He was even the project manager for a 400-foot Army catamaran that could sail at 50 knots with an entire battalion with its motorized equipment on board. And no doubt there’s a story or two about becoming a landmine and munitions expert while at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.
The list goes on…
But regardless of where he was stationed or who he was leading, his command philosophy has always remained the same – including as a senior director and program manager on several contracts at NCI.
“No matter what, people are always the most important asset,” said Jennings, who retired as a Colonel in 2013 soon after he completed a one-year deployment in Afghanistan. He joined NCI a year later. “As a platoon leader, I could have 30 people, or as a PM, I could be managing 600. Whatever it is, if those people need something and I can help them do it, I feel a responsibility to help.”
Jennings said that’s what he enjoys - helping people be successful at what they do.
“That’s what has always attracted me to NCI,” he said. “That’s how they’ve always treated me, which encourages me to treat others the same.”
Jennings noted that he’s been trying to help others be successful his whole life, starting from his days growing up in a small town in southern Illinois, where he enjoyed sports and scouting (he was one of the first Eagle Scouts ever in his community). Those activities led him to an ROTC scholarship at Auburn University where he met his wife, Dianne. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the National Guard for a year, before he came on active duty in the Army at Fort Belvoir, Va. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, which meant he had his choice between going to Airborne School or becoming an Army Ranger.
“I chose Airborne School, because I liked my current body weight,” he joked. “Ranger School, that’s tough stuff.”
Four Years Turned into a Career
Despite his success in ROTC and early days of active duty, Jennings had no plans for a career in the Army. He began as a platoon leader and a combat engineer, while also getting a master’s degree in Metallurgy. During that time, he also became a company commander in the Second Armored Division at Fort Hood.
“It was only supposed to be for four years,” he said. “My wife had her bachelor’s degree, and it was supposed to be her turn. But then they offered me a command. And that’s how it would go. Every time it was time to decide to stay or leave, they would hang another carrot out there for me. And it all turned into 30 years.”
Jennings and his family (which includes three sons) were able to see a lot of the country and the world during those 30 years, with assignments and commands in places like Heilbronn, Germany; Fort Hood, Texas; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.; three tours in the Pentagon; and even … Detroit, Mich.
“That’s where the Army’s boat program was,” Jennings said of the Detroit base, adding with pride that the Army has more boats than the U.S. Navy (a long-term argument between both branches).
But in his three decades of service, he was most proud of his team’s work in Southwest Asia, where they launched a biometrics program that truly made a difference in protecting communities across the war-torn countries.
“I was really proud of that team and what they accomplished,” he said. “We were responsible for the front-end collection of the data, and the back-end for its storage. We had to figure out who the good guys and bad guys were using that data. When I deployed to Afghanistan, I got to see how that was being used in a combat zone. It was really satisfying.”
Veteran Leadership Today
Today, Jennings uses all that experience to lead several programs for NCI, ranging from the U.S. Capitol Police and the Department of Justice, to supporting one of the company’s largest programs at the Department of Defense that focuses on artificial intelligence. These days, he manages most of the projects from his home office in Florida, where he moved in 2019 to help take care of his and his wife’s aging parents. He’s grateful that NCI has always had trust in him and his teams to perform at their best, no matter where they’re located.
“NCI was doing telecommuting before COVID-19 hit, before it was the only way to do business,” Jennings said. “When we made the decision to move to Florida to support our family, NCI’s senior leaders said, ‘Absolutely, go ahead. We’ll figure it out.’ So, we made it work because the senior leaders were willing to support that kind of thing. I am proud to have NCI’s branding on my wall. I want to make sure everyone sees that. That’s where my loyalty is.”
As for celebrating Veterans Day, Jennings noted the significant change in the way people recognize veterans today, versus when he first joined ROTC in 1978. He said as cadets, they weren’t allowed to wear their uniforms off campus due to safety concerns related to how service members and veterans were treated after the Vietnam War.
“It’s changed a lot in my lifetime, compared to now,” he said. “When I was in uniform and going through airports or wherever, people would come up to me and say, ‘thank you for your service.’ Or today, they do that if I’m wearing my Army hat.
“The first time they did that, was Afghanistan,” Jennings continued. “I didn’t know how to deal with that at first, but I’ve become more comfortable with it. And now I say, thank you for saying that, or you’re welcome. But the mindset has changed, and most people look at service members as people doing service to help people, help the country, serving the country. So, I’m glad we have Veterans Day, and we can recognize veterans. It means a lot to me to have a day set aside for veterans, and I’m proud to be one.”