News | June 26, 2017

Warfighters wanted

By Stephen Hickok DCMA Public Affairs

Editor's note: This article is featured in the Defense Contract Management Agency's 2017 INSIGHT Magazine. Read more about the agency, its return on investment and support of our national defense efforts at the link.

FORT LEE, Va. — The term “tip of the spear” is normally associated with America’s elite forces fighting in a far-off hostile environment. It may sound unusual as a definition for maintaining government and industry relationships and yet, leaders at the Defense Contract Management Agency see it just that way.

“We can’t project power without industry,” said former DCMA International Commander Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven. “This is the tip of the spear with connecting industry to our warfighter. The impact we have on major weapon systems by streamlining the relationship with the supply chain, reducing costs and reducing production times can have an incredible impact on the Department of Defense’s budget and our nation’s ability to project power around the world.”

As a majority of the agency’s workforce is civilian, DCMA is lesser known within military communities. For Haven and others formerly assigned to DCMA, and the service members who currently make up 5 percent of the agency’s 12,000 personnel, DCMA duty assignments are career shaping.

“This agency has more command billets than any other agency,” said Haven. “So if you’re an aspiring leader, and I believe that every military officer should be aspiring to command, this is the place to be.”

DCMA was a unique career experience for Haven, who now works as the Defense Logistics Agency director for the Navy Joint Reserve Force. “Well, I came in as a captain and I’m leaving as a two star, so I guess it had a huge impact,” she said.

In addition to career advancement, she said her agency time was professionally fulfilling. “It was incredible to be able to lead a team that is multifunctional — engineers, administrative contracting officers, quality, pilots, safety experts — and then take that powerful knowledgeable team and apply it on a global basis to our partners around the world.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Ron Simmons is a government ground representative with DCMA International in Wiesbaden, Germany. He began his seven-year tour without any knowledge of the agency.

“I had never heard about DCMA prior to my selection for the special duty assignment,” Simmons said. “Honestly, I don’t think many service members within the different branches of the military know about DCMA. Unless they have a DCMA office on their military installation, I don’t think service members see it as anything other than another DoD agency.”

He soon realized how important his role would be.

As a subject matter expert for aircraft ground operations, or as he calls it “an aviation insurance agent,” Simmons approves and oversees contractor maintenance ground operations at nine U.S., NATO and foreign military sales sites. Leading the maintenance, training and tool control programs in Wiesbaden, his contractual oversight spans over 14 million square miles on three continents and $7.7 billion in U.S. government contracts.

Interactions with technical experts like Simmons helped shape Haven’s understanding of DCMA before her first assignment with the agency.

“I knew that once you got under the hood and got to the right people in DCMA they could be very very effective for supporting the contracts and making sure the parts were getting to the warfighters,” she said. “I understood the value, but of course, after you’re here, you really can see the power. So I’m very excited about that as I go back to DLA where I will be working with other services and can help them leverage the talent that DCMA brings to the warfighter.”

Air Force Col. Alex Stathopoulos also had previous experience with the agency before becoming the DCMA Lockheed Martin Fort Worth commander.

Starting as a lieutenant, Stathopoulos saw the significance of the agency while working on the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, the A-10C Thunderbolt program, and the first acceptance of production F-35s. “These professionals were essential acquisition teammates bringing necessary skills and insight to the table to establish and execute win-win business deals for the taxpayer and warfighter,” he said. “All of these positive experiences happened prior to me becoming part of the agency.”

He says that the greatest benefit personally was seeing how defense contractors actually approach and execute programs. The DCMA Lockheed Martin Fort Worth team introduced Stathopoulos to what he calls the most knowledgeable acquisition warriors in the world. “These people understand the systems, challenges and warfighters need as good as anybody,” he said. “They are dynamic, creative and inspirational.”

Stathopoulos has moved on to become the deputy director of global power programs for the office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Logistics, but still leans on lessons learned at DCMA. “DCMA can make you the smartest person in the room when dealing with industry issues.”

But as with any senior position, challenges are always present. Stathopoulos regards the leadership challenges unlike any other. He explained that balancing the factory realities, the demands of the program office customer, and warfighter expectations are a daily challenge.

Simmons agrees. With his background in aircraft maintenance being instilled by the “Air Force way,” adapting to DCMA’s operational demands has taken some effort. “Being a part of DCMA and working with contractor personnel in ground operations, I found out things are much different.”

The high operating tempo challenges, however, can sometimes prove to be the greatest benefit of an agency tour.

“Everything is how you react to it,” said Haven, who explained that successful leaders have to work hard, have a positive attitude, take initiative, be accountable and look for opportunities.

The opportunities are there. As a GGR, contracting or quality assurance specialist, acceptance pilot, or senior leader, DCMA global assignments deliver experience, training and expertise in the acquisition world.

Agency offices are strategically placed where the workforce can sit down with senior leadership in civilian companies and learn their processes. Haven said those experiences are career shaping. “I think that I knew nations were trying to emulate the U.S. but to hear it one-on-one from around the world in different companies, that was pretty powerful to me. I just can’t imagine a more exciting place to be to support the warfighter from the contracting aspect.”

The point of DCMA is to ensure those at the tip of the spear have the right equipment and support so they can accomplish their mission and come home safe. “That awesome responsibility is fundamental in our combat edge across the world,” said Stathopoulos. “If you want to truly understand industry’s role in the DoD, DCMA is a great experience.”

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