Senior leader profile: Col. Robert Yates

  • Published
  • By Aimee Malone
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
Communication and flexibility are two key skills that have served Col. Robert Yates, director of contracting at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, throughout his career.

“Leadership involves communicating, down and up,” Yates said. “But a lot of times, it is communicating down and making sure people understand what they are doing, why they are doing it and why it is important to our nation.”

Yates said it is important to him that everyone in his chain of command understands the purpose behind their roles and tasks. He started his career as an enlisted Airman, and he said he did not always understand the reasoning behind his assignments or the decisions made by those above him in his chain of command.

“Knowing what is happening around us, and what are some of the impediments to what we do, is going to make you a better person and a better-skilled expert,” he said.

Prior to joining AFNWC, Yates served as an executive assistant and joint exercise planner for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He is an Acquisition Professional Development Program Level-III certified contracting officer and Level-II certified program manager who has held various acquisition positions, including contracting officer for operational and major weapon systems, program element monitor, life cycle logistician, and Headquarters Air Force procurement analyst.

Flexibility is another key skill he’s learned during his Air Force career, Yates said.

“I hate to be cliche, but you know when they talk about how flexibility is the key to air power? That truly is a skill that I have taken with me from the start and looking back on my whole career,” he said. “We do not have complete control over a lot of our assignments. A lot of things change and go through cycles, and your ability to be flexible and maneuver through that space will prove well for you and help with your success.”

Yates grew up in a military family; his father worked in aircraft maintenance for the Air Force. He said his father has been an important role model throughout his life, teaching him perseverance and dedication.

“I think the real thing that I learned from my dad is just perseverance — seeing how everything that you have planned does not always work out,” Yates said. “It’s not about the things that knock you down. It’s how you get back up and get going. He did not let obstacles take him down or stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He has always been able to maneuver past life’s hurdles and keep moving forward.”

Yates has worked in contracting throughout his career, and he said he has often encountered confusion about what he and others in his career field do on a daily basis.

“A lot of folks really do not understand what we do,” he said. “When you think of anything out there that we buy: any major weapons system, anything that we purchase to support the mission, hiring contractors, workspaces, etc. There is a contracting officer behind that, and that person’s role is pivotal to getting what is needed, whether it is through negotiation or the paperwork needed to ensure we have a viable contract.”

Yates said he also wanted to take the opportunity to brag about his crew at AFNWC.

“We have some highly trained and skilled people out there,” he said “They are tirelessly executing our mission every day. They are vital to the mission of the center, to what we do.”