In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers.
Mark Mellott is the Executive Vice President of DoD and Veterans Affairs at iTech AG, a technology consulting firm. He has served in the position since February 2022 and has a history of academic leadership for advanced information systems and IT, with knowledge of military operations. Mellott previously served in several program manager and technology roles in the Defense Department, corporations, and has experience in academia.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I left a small liberal arts college to enlist after the first Gulf War and have never once regretted my decision. I’ve always believed it’s important to have a calling in life, and for me, it’s always been the military and defense community. It was during my time as a medic that I realized my true passion was in supporting the defense community.
The military allowed me to work on technology, save lives and engage in exciting activities like jumping out of planes. There’s no other industry that serves such a critical, rewarding mission. It’s a mission I’m lucky to continue supporting through technology.
I also gained many essential life lessons by getting started in the community. I learned to listen to my community, support the next generation, and pause and appreciate the great moments in life. As a young private, I earned my expert field medical badge—a feat less than 20% make it through—which taught me to appreciate small victories that are often hard to come by.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
Ethically and effectively dealing with competing commitments and decisions can be challenging but critical as a leader.
One of the most important things I’ve learned regarding this challenge is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to ethical dilemmas—if it were a clear right or wrong answer, it would be easy. Balancing competing commitments and making ethical decisions that align with your values is essential. Striving to do what’s right is always worth it.
It’s a challenge I am passionate about. In teaching Administrative Leadership for the Clemson Master of Public Administration Program, we maintain a heavy focus on ethical decision-making. I always tell my students that if they’re not making at least one decision a year that could get them fired, they’re not in the right job.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
Strong mentors and leaders have been instrumental in my success. I’ve had incredible mentors, such as our Brigade Chief of Staff, Col. Tony Young. When I was a young headquarters company commander for the brigade, he provided excellent advice and invaluable lessons on preparation, teaching me that I’d truly be ready when I could individually recognize all 129 soldiers I was deployed with, even when they walked away from me in the dark.
Another valuable lesson from a mentor is best summarized by Eisenhower, who once noted, “planning is everything, but the plan means nothing.” Don’t get stuck in creating a product. It is the deliberate planning process which remains important. Know your people, equipment, and mission, then have the confidence to start an action and remain adaptable.
Even though being a mentor or mentee can be time-consuming, it’s the best investment one can make. Even bad leaders have taught me so much, sometimes from watching them make the wrong decisions.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I’ve found that one of the most vital aspects of successful mentorship is being willing to own up to your mistakes. These moments can actually be incredibly powerful teaching opportunities for both myself and my mentees.
It’s important to stay humble and genuinely curious, a lesson that was reinforced for me when I went back to Clemson to pursue my PhD. I entered the classroom as a student who had not been in a formal classroom setting for years, not as an Army Major, and needed to check my hubris at the door.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
To me, success means leaving everything better than you found it. This is a lesson I learned in the Army—you continually improve your foxhole. It continues to be crucial as I serve some of the defense organizations’ critical missions. When presenting government IT leaders with technology solutions, this focus and the human impact of technology are always central to my recommendations. By providing customized, cutting-edge technology, we can succeed together in advancing federal missions.
The other mark of success goes back to ethical decision-making. You will have to make hard decisions, but you need to make the choices that will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror when you get up in the morning.
Success is about constant improvement, but if you keep these two principles in mind you’ll stay on the right path.
What are some under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?
It’s important to recognize the vital role that data analysts and logisticians play in the defense community. They are the essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done, but sometimes rarely receive recognition. The data they analyze can help keep those on the frontlines safer and give leaders at all levels the tools they need to make decisions essential to mission-critical objectives.
Data analysts and logisticians work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that information and resources are presented in a way that brings clarity, alignment, and focus. While they may not receive the recognition they deserve, their contributions are invaluable to the success of any operation.
How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
We can support data analysts and logisticians by introducing new tactics, techniques, procedures, and technology, which enables them to be more effective in their roles.
Bringing industry best practices to the government—while considering the specific barriers they may encounter—can help better support these individuals, especially when we start by listening. It’s essential to approach these conversations humbly and genuinely listen to the challenges these unsung heroes face. By listening and working together, we can build them up and empower them to achieve even greater mission success.
This is also key in building human-centric systems that support the defense community and their end users—you need to start by fully understanding their basic requirements.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
While the importance of diversity has become increasingly recognized, there are still great strides to be made. Conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion must happen more frequently and openly. As Cyrus the Great noted, “Diversity in council, unity in command” is crucial for success—it’s not just about having diverse representation in the workplace but also in leadership positions. Otherwise, we’re not looking at the community holistically and can’t provide the best possible service to others.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
First and foremost, people will always have different perspectives, but if everyone focuses on the mission, it creates a unified sense of purpose that transcends personal differences while fostering camaraderie and teamwork. Even if you have a different perspective, being able to listen and engage with others is crucial when working towards the same objective.
Second, go into every conversation without hubris. Having a conversation with someone who views the world differently is always a good reminder that you don’t know everything—listen and don’t be afraid to engage. It’s important to remember that you’re also a valuable resource to your community. I always appreciate hearing from young minds or those new to the space because they bring new ideas to continuous challenges we’ve been working on for years.
Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at [email protected].