Chris Setley, F-35 international logistics lead at the Department of Defense, is a decorated Marine veteran and former intern to an assistant secretary of the Navy. Setley now works on developing advanced aircraft for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. allies. Although conservation is not his profession, Chris has always found ways to support it and is very proud of his time serving with SCA at Cedar Breaks National Monument.
You have said in the past that you attributed the foundation of your commitment to service and value of diversity in part to your time as an SCA volunteer. Can you elaborate on this?
While serving as an interpretive park ranger at Cedar Breaks National Monument, I developed an understanding of diversity by working with the rangers and interacting with the park guests. I guided short hikes and told stories about the park while sitting around fires in the campground. I still remember how grateful a group of German park guests was when I explained the geology of the amphitheater and pointed out some “hoodoos” that the rangers had named. I also witnessed a systematic approach to protect and preserve the environment and biodiversity of the park. This experience has stayed with me as I built my professional career in government.
Did you go directly from your SCA experience into the Marines? What made you decide to enter the military? Was that something that was always in your professional plans?
I found myself in Parris Island not long after college graduation by way of the Peace Corps. I long wanted to make a career out of federal service. My initial attempt—that of a Foreign Service officer—didn’t get off the ground. Fortunately, I met someone who recommended that I establish some personal structure by serving in the Marine Corps. It worked. Though not what I had envisioned as a young person, I have grown into a military aviation professional with certain specialties that add value to any project team I join.
Have you traveled much either in the armed services or personally and, if so, what are the places that caught your attention and why?
I have traveled around the world a few times while serving as an active duty Marine and as a Department of Defense (DoD) civil servant. The places that have stood out to me are the countries that seem geo-politically isolated, like Israel and Japan. Both of these ancient cultures are located in strategically important areas for the United States. It has been fascinating to work with these partners on matters of national defense.
Late last year you received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. What is that all about?
The Assistant Secretary of Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RDA) gave me this award for my contribution to F-35 strategic sustainment planning. For the F-35 air system to remain affordable and ready for use, maintenance capability must evolve to allow for legacy techniques to optimize field-level sustainment. We buy this jet to fly it. When we fly it, systems tend to break. How and where we fix these systems is the aspect of system sustainment that I specialize in. My MCSA resulted from over three years of leading three of eight aspects of F-35 sustainment planning.
What do you do in your role as F-35 international Logistics Lead? How have you always found ways to support conservation in your different positions?
At the DoD, we generally refer to the resources needed to sustain a weapon system as the integrated product support elements (see: Integrated Product Support (IPS) Element Guidebook (dau.edu)). As the F-35 International Logistics & Sustainment Lead, I facilitate information transfer across the tri-Service (US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps), multi-nation enterprise that leads to solutions for the operational fleet. My job is to prevent wasteful use of the resources needed to sustain the F-35, so in a sense my job is conservation. Indeed, all of my DoD positions over the past 18 years have involved this kind of resource management. The goal of which is to optimize system performance and minimize total life cycle cost.
When you retire from your military career, what do you hope to do next? Is there a dream for conservation to play more of a part in your next role?
After I served a four-year tour on active duty, I transitioned to civil service with the DoD. A three-year federal internship with ASN RDA established my understanding of DoD weapon system acquisition. It became clear to me early on that I could commit myself to improving defense acquisition. My approach from the beginning was to optimize the limited resources we had available to preserve the air system we were using. Although I do not deal with natural resources, I apply the same principles of conservation to my profession.
My dream, or medium-term aspiration, is to apply these same principles to the mission of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency in Luxembourg.
What role do climate action, environmental justice, and conservation play within the military? Have you seen more or less emphasis on conservation values now than a decade earlier in your military career?
The Navy will continue to procure weapon systems. This requires the maintenance of existing facilities, or to build new facilities to sustain them. Over the past decade, I have witnessed a move toward a “green Navy.” This has come on mainly in the form of facilities engineering. Renewable energy generation systems at bases are at the vanguard of this movement. Power sources that can be replenished naturally offer game-changing possibilities for military operations. The need for this has become even more apparent during the supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent Russian aggression in Ukraine. It is a strategic imperative for the Navy and the United States to utilize renewable energy sources.
We see that in the past you have served as a mentor to others, specifically those who are disabled. Disability inclusion continues to be a challenge in the outdoors. Based on your experiences with people who identify as disabled, how do you think we can overcome this narrative?
In my experience, creating space for those with disabilities is the key. I believe an organization does this by overtly stating the measures in place for such individuals. This begins with a point person and a team that dedicates time to meeting disabled individuals where they are at. This comes in many forms, and unfortunately often falls short of complete accommodation. However, I believe the clear commitment is a valuable start. Furthermore, hosting regular, planned disability access events is another solid practice. Mustering the right resources on a daily basis is nearly impossible because of the wide range of disabilities, so planning a quarterly event may be the best for everyone.
When you look at the caliber of the SCA100K Ambassadors and their achievements, what does that say to you about this group, SCA alums in general, and SCA’s impact on aspiring young leaders?
The SCA is an invaluable American institution preparing young people with the skills and experience to contribute to our culture in many meaningful ways. It provides them with a lasting ethical foundation that values diversity and teamwork. It instills an appreciation of conservation that is much needed in our greedy, selfish culture of mass, reckless consumption.
What are some lessons learned from that SCA experience that you still rely on today?
One of the most important lessoned I learned from my SCA experience is to have fun with the team you work with. It was not difficult to find enjoyment in such a beautiful natural environment like Cedar Breaks National Monument. I also found joy in the work I conducted with the National Park and Forest Service rangers. This diverse group of individuals taught me the need for conservation and methods to conduct it.
I continue to appreciate diversity. People from all over the world visited the park. I was fortunate to engage with many of them as an interpretive park ranger. I found it rewarding to be the one to explain the geological formations exposed at the park. This required me to quickly learn about this field so I could answer the guests’ many questions. Being knowledgeable on a scientific subject and then being able to communicate this to a diverse group of people are skills that I continue to rely on in my profession. It is central to my current role.
Visit the SCA100k page for more information on our ten ambassadors.