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Erin Cook (’18): Executive Secretary with OUSD Acquisition & Sustainment

Erin Cook

As a new student at IWP, Erin landed her first job at the Pentagon thanks to a referral from an IWP alumna. After earning a Graduate Certificate from IWP and working for a few years, Erin now runs this office where she first started as a junior employee – the Acquisition & Sustainment Executive Correspondence Office at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment.

Here, she shares about her experience at the Pentagon, her studies at IWP, and what it’s like to take on a new position of leadership.

It all started after watching Zero Dark Thirty.

Erin had taken some time off to do some soul-searching after studying pre-law at Concord University and realizing that she did not want to do law as her profession. After watching the 2012 drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Erin knew that she wanted to be a part of this type of work.

Joining the national security world

“IWP was my first step into the national security world,” remembered Erin.

Because she enjoyed her experience at her small college, she was drawn to the close-knit atmosphere of IWP as a graduate program.

She found the Certificate in National Security Affairs program to be the ideal fit for her goals. “I definitely think the education was great. I really liked expanding my knowledge. I enjoyed learning the history of the Cold War. A lot of my professors worked in the field during the Cold War, and all these conflicts are still relevant today.”

Erin also enjoyed being in class with people with a variety of backgrounds: “I was in class with professionals in the working world, as well as recent graduates. As another recent graduate, I learned how to communicate well with both my peers and my superiors.”

Erin enjoyed hearing her professors’ stories from their work in national security and international affairs, particularly Amb. Alberto Piedra and Dr. David Thomas.

A job at the Pentagon

Erin soon received an email on behalf of an IWP alumna asking if anyone was interested in entry-level work in the Pentagon. “That’s how I got started in my job,” said Erin. “I soon realized that I really liked the Pentagon – I enjoyed the close relationship between the civilian and military side of things.”

When she arrived at work, she reconnected with an IWP alumna she had met at a mentoring event at school. Erin said, “After meeting her at IWP, I thought she was so cool – I wanted to be like her! When I started my job, she worked right across the hall from me.”

When she began this first “real job,” Erin was comfortable with the work – she was experienced in editing. Meanwhile, she was learning about how the Department of Defense operated, who did what, and what all the acronyms meant.

She learned in more detail about the mission of the Office of Acquisition and Sustainment, which is to “Enable the delivery and sustainment of secure, resilient, and preeminent capabilities to the warfighter and international partners quickly and cost effectively.”

After work, Erin would head to class at IWP: “I was learning all these things at work, and I would go to class, and learn the other side of it.”

A leadership position

This past April, Erin moved from a contracting position to a government position, taking on the role of Executive Secretary for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment. “This was my goal for a long time, and I’m really happy that it worked out,” said Erin. She now manages a team of six.

Erin’s office handles all the official correspondence for the Under Secretary and manages all the official taskings that come into their organization.

When asked what it was like to take on this leadership position, Erin said, “It is hard to transition to delegating to the team. But the team is so great, and they know what they are doing. We are in a good spot!”

One way that Erin has been able to add value is by the connections she has built with colleagues throughout the Pentagon. “When an issue arises, I am often able to know exactly who can help us with it. It has made a big difference for myself and my team,” said Erin.

Erin’s office has been making a meaningful impact on our nation’s defense preparedness. One recent success that she was able to share with us was some of the work her office did during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her office played a significant role in the Defense Production Act, which allowed important supplies to get under contract and produced quickly to respond to the COVID crisis.

After achieving success in her workplace, Erin has been mentoring IWP students. She advises them: “Don’t take your time in grad school for granted. Stay focused and keep working towards your goals. Be confident in your skills and knowledge, but use good judgment about when to be direct and when to take a back seat. Definitely utilize all the great connections at IWP as you progress.”

Erin Cook at IWP Commencement
Erin receiving her Certificate in National Security Affairs at Commencement in 2018. She is pictured with then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and IWP founder, Dr. John Lenczowski.