Rhonda Link

Rhonda Link, Adversary and Specialized Aircraft Program Office (PMA-226), won the 2023 Defense Acquisition Workforce Awards - Individual Achievement Award for Services Acquisition. Link will be presented with her award at the Defense Acquisition Workforce Awards ceremony scheduled for Jan. 24 at Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Va.

Link wins top defense acquisition award

The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, William A. LaPlante, announced the winners of the 2023 Defense Acquisition Workforce Awards, naming Rhonda Link, Adversary and Specialized Aircraft Program Office (PMA-226), as the winner of the Individual Achievement Award for Services Acquisition.

The five annual awards, representing 24 separate categories, recognize individual and team accomplishments that advance the National Defense Strategy and support the Secretary of Defense's priorities through excellence in acquisition.

“Rhonda has done an incredible job, leading to major improvements on extremely challenging service contracts to get the Fleet the capabilities they need while enhancing competition to reduce costs,” said Capt. Gregory Sutton, PMA-226 program manager.

Link, who is the PMA-226 Contracted Air Services (CAS) Fleet and Range Support team lead, manages a team of government and contractor personnel who provide critical CAS Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) support to the Fleet and international partners, improving readiness and affordability in support of the Navy, Marine Corps and international partner customers.

Aerial refueling is an essential capability that enables combat and support aircraft to remain airborne longer and cover more distance than if they had to land to refuel, Sutton said. By eliminating the need for fuel stops, aircraft have less chance for damage or on-ground issues, remain able to immediately respond if needed, and can make long flights to other countries, even across oceans.

"Longer in-flight durations directly improve readiness levels and allow for faster transit," Sutton added.

“I am honored that I get the opportunity to support DoD’s critical need for air-to-air refueling services," Link said. "My team has worked very hard to deliver the fuel and provide pilot readiness training opportunities that the warfighter deserves. It is their expertise and dedication that enables the Navy Air-to-Air Refueling contract to successfully fulfill the DoD’s AAR requirements.”   

The Navy and Marine Corps have supplemented organic AAR support with CAS for more than 20 years, and during Link’s tenure, PMA-226 competitively awarded a Multiple Award Contract (MAC) for aerial refueling, commonly known as the Tanker MAC. The Tanker MAC has consisted of two IDIQ contracts.

Link executes the Tanker MAC, which, under her leadership, has overcome many challenges to meet the fleet and international customer AAR requirements when organic AAR support cannot be provided. The CAS AAR support allows certification, training and test events to continue to occur on schedule while enabling organic tankers to support other prioritized efforts.

Primary CAS AAR services customers include Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific, Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic, Marine Corps Forces Command, and Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Supported events include receiver aircraft AAR pilot and crew certification and recertification, test and evaluation and training exercises from the squadron level to the carrier battle group level.

Management of the Tanker MAC involves effort across three areas, certifying airworthiness, awarding flight hour contracts and handling administrative functions for each contract. Link and her team currently manage the tanker airworthiness qualifications for Omega KC-707, KDC-10 and Metrea KC-135R Block 35 tankers to support a growing number of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft platforms and international partner customer aircraft.

In the case of tanking services, qualifications must show the tanking capability of the tanker, as well as the compatibility and capability of the receiver. In addition to the vendor tankers, Link and her team currently manage receiver qualifications for 20 Department of Defense and partner nation aircraft type/model/series.

Awarding flight hour task orders is necessary for each required tanking event period, which can range from days to months. The requests by fleet customers or other partners are captured and detailed in Task Order Requests (TOR). Each TOR is competed among the approved vendors to drive toward increased affordability. Link and her team team awarded 50 TORs in fiscal year 2023 alone, while meeting time sensitive fleet requirements.

Link is also responsible for handling administrative functions following awarded task orders and modifications to the base contract from cradle to grave; from scheduling and coordination with the winning service provider, exercising task order options of additional flight hours, invoice management, fuel tracking and billing, researching and responding to AAR MAC stakeholders, to questions and inquiries. Link and her team continuously adapt by optimizing the TOR process and the Tanker MAC to improve their service to the Navy, Marine Corps, international partners, and beyond.

For the first time in history, the CAS Fleet and Ranges Support team expanded their services to support Air Force platforms in 2023. Contractor aircraft on the Tanker MAC refueled an Air Force E-3 and an RC-135 in coordination with Air Combat Command during a summer exercise, and a commercial refueler flew with Air Force F-16s from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea to Singapore to provide aerial refueling, enabling the pilots to further project airpower.

The Tanker MAC has high visibility across the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Link regularly provides timely responses to Congressional inquiries and briefs senior officials at the three-star level within the Navy, communicating complicated information in a simplified, audience-appropriate way.

As one customer said, “Without the tanking services provided by this contract, major deployments and training exercises would potentially be at risk and the fleet would be much less capable to fly and fight in support of Department of Defense tasking.” 

Sutton added, “The work that goes into management of this contract, the vendors, fleet schedulers, and the entire team is nothing short of phenomenal, and Ms. Link is more than deserving of this recognition.”

Link will be presented with her award at the Defense Acquisition Workforce Awards ceremony scheduled for Jan. 24 at Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Va.

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