By Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum
11th Wing Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Washington D.C. - Within every career field across the United States Air Force, Airmen strive to reach the peak of their chosen military profession.
The unlimited warrant, or the ability to create and sign contracts of any dollar amount with taxpayer money on behalf of the government, signifies the pinnacle for enlisted and officer contracting Airmen.
Master Sgt. Marlese Yelardy, 11th Contracting Squadron contracting officer, recently accomplished this career milestone.
At the start of her military career, Yelardy would never have seen herself obtaining this achievement, let alone having more than 16 years of service under her belt.
“Going to college and being a mother was very difficult to balance, so I joined the Air Force,” said Yelardy. “I wanted a career and an education, and the Air Force gave me both. Once I got my degree and that box was checked, I realized I was enjoying this. So I continued my journey, and here I am 16 and a half years later.”
While Yelardy never intended to spend this long in military service when she joined, her excellence in the squadron is not something overlooked by her leadership. Less than 1 percent of contracting Airmen achieve the unlimited warrant designation.
“I feel I can empower her to make the decisions, and she does a great job of understanding my vision and communicating to her team,” said Maj. Ruben Arredondo, 11th CONS commander. “It can get very complex, and one thing I've been impressed with is just her technical knowledge. The ability to understand contracts, even the subtle nuances that occasionally get glossed over, and help us to minimize the risk anytime we were awarded a contract.”
The process for gaining an unlimited warrant is a tedious one, but also one that allows the 11th CONS flexibility in completing their mission.
“In order to acquire goods and services on behalf of the government using taxpayer dollars, you have to be what's called a contracting officer,” said Yelardy. “In order to be an unlimited warrant holder you have to meet certain milestones, including experience, a degree, and your leadership has to have the faith in you.”
Once obtained, the unlimited warrant, in theory, allows the holder to sign a contract on behalf of the government with no limit to dollar amount, according to Yelardy.
The process for obtaining the warrant may seem simple on paper, but it required sacrifice on Yelardy’s part as she dedicated her free time toward studying to prepare for this achievement.
“I'm extremely proud of myself, and I will say that I have not been prouder of any other single goal accomplishment in my life – to include degrees and joining the military, which was a highlight, but this surpasses them all,” said Yelardy.
The ability to acquisition so much taxpayer money comes with a higher standard and added level of responsibility Yelardy embraces.
“It requires me to stay on top of my game,” said Yelardy. “I'm not spending my money; I'm spending tax dollars, and those are something we're accountable for. Everything I do, every time I sign a contract and obligate those funds, I'm being held accountable to citizens that pay taxes.”
The highlight is not one that rests solely on her shoulders as her leadership echoes the sentiments of pride with Yelardy’s achievement.
“I think as a CONS community, it's something we like all of our folks to strive for,” said Arredondo. “You do all the mock boards, all the training, and all the studying and it doesn't guarantee you're going to get the unlimited warrant. For her to have achieved this, I'm excited for her.”
Spending her entire career in contracting squadrons, the idea of striving for the ultimate warrant was one of not only self-improvement, but also a wish to pay it forward to the Airmen she leads.
“It was never a goal of mine, up until recently,” said Yelardy. “I'm having fun, and I see the value in what I do. I want to pass on the knowledge that I have and make sure I complete that circle before I take off the uniform.”
The remainder of her military service is not the only area that Yelardy plans on utilizing her achievement, as she has looked to how this will impact her future.
“With reaching this milestone, I have now thought about going into civil service, and continuing to serve in the Air Force as a civilian,” said Yelardy. “I have a deep desire to pay it forward, to teach, and pass along my knowledge. I've had more time to practice and execute what I know, and that's the only difference.”
Regardless of where Yelardy choses to go in her future service, the unlimited warrant will only amplify her value to any team she joins.