In 1977, when Bill Marriott was a midshipman at the Naval Academy, he and five other midshipmen spent a semester studying at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was his first encounter with the Army, but certainly not his last.
As Marriott prepares to retire from his position as the Aviation and Missile Command’s deputy commander, he looked back over his 44 years of distinguished federal service, including that early time spent with the Army that foreshadowed his career path 40 years down the road.
“That was an incredible time. I learned a lot,” Marriott said of the semester at West Point. “But I should have paid more attention. I probably wouldn’t have had as much of a problem transitioning to the Army after I retired from the Navy,” he joked.
Marriott has served nearly five years as AMCOM’s deputy. He is also the first to hold the position of AMCOM executive director, the civilian equivalent of the commander. He served in that position from February of this year, when Maj. Gen. Doug Gabram relinquished command, until June when Maj. Gen. Todd Royar assumed command.
“I have been fortunate in my career. My wife calls it my Forrest Gump career, because a lot of it was being in the right place at the right time under the right circumstances,” he said. “A career that has taken me from Navy aviation to Army aviation.”
Marriott was born into Navy aviation in Pensacola, Florida, where his father was assigned as a Navy helicopter instructor. Marriott followed in his father’s footsteps, choosing a career in the Navy. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1979, he trained on the P-3 Orion, a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, and was designated a Naval aviator in 1980.
“I joined the Navy to fly. And those were the best tours, the ones where I could fly,” he said.
Marriott’s career has been as varied as the box of chocolates to which the fictional Forrest Gump referred. He said he’s found something to love in every assignment, because he relishes challenges. One of the decisive points in his career was when he was selected to serve as a flag lieutenant, working for a two-star admiral in Naples, Italy. Like any young officer with a family, being stationed overseas was challenging.
“Driving in Naples is not for the faint of heart, but we really loved it,” Marriott said. “But you learn from every job that you’re in. Being an aide to a two-star admiral who had three commands under him, including a NATO command, was fascinating.”
Once an officer has worked in the general-officer arena, it sets him or her on a certain career path, Marriott explained. “If you successfully got through that job without getting fired, it makes you eligible for other positions like that. I went from one job working for a flag officer to another.”
Those opportunities to listen and learn from senior leaders, as well as two fellowships, helped Marriott continue to grow into a distinguished senior Navy officer, then transition to a successful career in the Senior Executive Service.
“You learn from every job; you learn how to be a better leader by observing, watching and listening,” he said. “I’m continuing to learn here under Maj. Gen. Royar, he’s incredible. He gets it all done and still carves out time to walk around to speak with the workforce.”
Marriott progressed through the ranks, serving in demanding staff assignments, including as the special assistant to the deputy chief of naval operations, the aide-de-camp to the then chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. John Shalikashvili, and as the Department of Defense executive secretary under defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.
Among his operational assignments, one of Marriott’s most challenging was serving as the commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10, based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Washington. He was in command when an EP-3 surveillance plane assigned to his unit landed on the island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese jet fighter in April 2001. Twenty-four crew members from that aircraft were detained by the Chinese for 11 days.
“I learned a lot from that, too. When I walked in that room for the press conference as the first representative of the government to speak with the media, it was not by choice,” Marriott said. “I attribute the fact that I came away from that event fairly unscathed to the training I received from senior leaders I served with along the way. They taught me the importance of staying on message.”
Marriott’s last assignment in the Navy was as the executive secretary for the Department of Defense in direct support of defense secretaries Rumsfeld and Gates. In 2005, he retired with 26 years of service. He immediately went back to work in the defense secretary’s office.
“I worked there on active duty; I retired and came back in to work in civilian clothes on Monday. I basically held the same duties. The difference was (as a civilian), people were calling me ‘Sir’ not because of what I had on my collar but because of my age,” he said.
Marriott was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in July 2005 and continued to work in the defense secretary’s office until 2009 when he accepted an assignment with Army Materiel Command, then based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he was assigned as the deputy chief of staff for personnel and G1.
He compared the move to AMC as something similar to being dropped in a foreign country, being totally disoriented and not knowing the language. Marriott had some experience working with the Army from his assignment with the chairman of the joint chiefs, and he had his long-ago semester at West Point, but it was still quite challenging.
“It’s a different culture. I didn’t know the regulations and all the acronyms. I knew nothing about logistics. I tried to attend as many meetings as I could,” he said. “I went to a logistics meeting and in front of every person was a half-inch thick packet of acronyms. They got to one acronym, AC. I thought it would stand for air conditioning. It had 14 different meanings. One of the meanings for ‘AC’ was aircraft carrier. I have buddies who are commanders of aircraft carriers and not a one of them has ever used that acronym!”
One logistical challenge Marriott faced in his new position was moving AMC personnel from Belvoir to their new home at Redstone Arsenal. Marriott communicated with the workforce, encouraging them to consider making the move. The expectation was that only 30% of the AMC workforce would make the move south, but more than 50% transferred with the command.
“Bill Marriott is a remarkable leader and professional,” Gen. Gus Perna, Army Materiel Command commander, said. “As the deputy to the commanding general of AMCOM and deputy chief of staff for personnel at AMC, Bill has been a driving force in developing and executing programs that have increased productivity, advanced aviation and missile readiness, and most importantly, improved Soldier and civilian readiness.”
In March 2015, then AMC commander Gen. Dennis Via informed Marriott he would be moving across Redstone Arsenal to take the position as AMCOM’s deputy to the commanding general.
Marriott expressed his concerns to Via that he was about to take a critical acquisition position and he, Marriott, was not acquisition certified.
“Gen. Via told me I’d figure it out. I thought that meant I would get a waiver. Instead, I worked with a lot of folks here, in the acquisition community and at the Defense Acquisition University to get certified,” Marriott said. “I’m proud of that, but I’m even more proud of the people who helped me get up to speed.”
Marriott said his goal at every assignment, both military and civilian, has been to leave the organization better than when he arrived. At AMCOM, Marriott has been pivotal in affecting change. He has been instrumental in increasing Armywide readiness rates for both aviation and missile systems. As AMCOM’s senior resource manager, he led the command in deliberate spending of the annual $4 billion budget that enabled more responsive and sustainable readiness at the point of need while building strategic depth in the supply chain. During the Shape the Fight initiative, Marriott personally planned, directed and executed the first-ever headquarters-wide realignment effort, an initiative that focused on sustainment engineering, knowledge management and requirements integration.
“Over his entire career, and in everything he does, Bill Marriott defines a tradition of excellence. As a nation, we have been blessed to have him lead in multiple critical positions within the Department of Defense,” AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Todd Royar said. “Uniformed service members, DOD civilians and their families are all better off due to his personal service.”
Even now, weeks before his retirement, Marriott is still focused on the command and its 12,000-strong workforce. His advice to employees he’s mentored is to find a good work-life balance. Most of all, he wants the AMCOM workforce to know how important they are and how they really make a difference to Soldiers.
“Sometimes, it’s tough for our employees who are working in cubicles to know they are important in helping our Soldiers fight and win our nation’s wars. Our Soldiers need to know the equipment they have is the best in the world and that it’s going to work. They have to have confidence that if it breaks, we’ll fix it or get the parts to them soonest,” Marriott said. “AMCOM exists to enable the aviation and missile systems’ readiness for our Soldiers and our coalition partners. Everyone in this command plays a role in that mission. We need to remind people, because otherwise it becomes just a job, not a passion.”
Marriott admits that while he won’t miss all of the meetings, he will miss the people.
“I have truly enjoyed my time in the Army,” he said. “Across all the services, we are basically cut from the same cloth and that’s what I really loved. I’ve been so fortunate to stay involved with the military and service members. I actually thought when I retired after 26 years in the Navy, I would be doing something outside of the military. So, the opportunity to continue to work with and for the military has exceeded every expectation. I blinked and then, the next thing I know, it has been a total of 44 years.”
For his visionary leadership at AMCOM, Marriott was awarded the fiscal 2017 Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award by then secretary of the Army Mark Esper in a Pentagon ceremony. His other awards include the Army Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Superior Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit (with one star).
As always, Marriott is looking forward to the next chapter and still looking for new challenges. He and his wife plan to stay in Huntsville, where they will be close to his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
“I’m not sure what’s next. I might do something or just be a grandfather,” he said. “Whatever it is, it will be a new adventure.”