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News | Oct. 24, 2019

Retiring deputy’s career comes full circle with latest recognition

By Justin Zaun DCMA Garden City

John Westerhaus chuckled as he recalled a moment early in his 42-year federal career when, as an administrative contracting officer, he negotiated a multi-million dollar contract modification to upgrade the computer system for a submarine-launched missile program. The upgrade called for increasing the computer’s cache memory to 64 kilobytes.

“These days, even toys have more memory than those computers had,” said Westerhaus, who is the departing deputy director at Defense Contract Management Agency Garden City.

That computer memory upgrade was part of the navigation subsystem for submarines under the Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile program, and although he may not have known it at the time, Westerhaus would eventually devote half of his career to providing various types of contracting support to all phases of the FBM program, including the previous missile systems Polaris, Poseidon, Trident I, and the latest iteration, Trident II.

During a recent ceremony in Uniondale, New York, Navy Capt. Keith Fahlenkamp, commanding officer for the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs shipboard systems detachment, recognized Westerhaus for his service in support of the FBM program and presented him with a certificate and a service pin. Westerhaus has provided contract administration support for the FBM program in some capacity for the equivalent of 20-plus years that spanned almost all of his 42-year career at DCMA and its predecessor organizations.

“It was my pleasure to present the service pin to John,” Fahlenkamp said. “SSP is lucky because many people who work within the enterprise have committed a large part of their lives to the important mission of strategic deterrence.”

The Trident II D5 is the latest generation of the Navy’s submarine-launched fleet ballistic missiles under the FBM program. The navigation subsystem uses gyroscopes, accelerometers and computers to continuously determine a submarine’s position and velocity, which is vital when tracking long-range targets.

“The navigation system is crucial,” Westerhaus said. “The system is not only navigating the ship, but it’s also telling the missile where you are. You need to have pinpoint accuracy.”

Westerhaus received a Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1990 for his work on the same Trident weapon system, which he says makes the latest recognition a fitting bookend to his career as he prepares to retire at the end of the month.

“The Trident program was a core part of my service, so it’s satisfying to end my career where I started,” he said. “It was especially nice to receive the award from a military captain. Working with the military leadership reminds you directly who the customer is.”

Westerhaus began his career with DCMA in 1977 as an industrial property specialist trainee. At that time, the agency was an organization under the Defense Logistics Agency, and its field offices were known as the Defense Contract Administration Services Management Areas. Since then, he has held positions such as administrative contracting officer, team leader, group leader, and his current position as deputy director of DCMA Garden City.

He admits to being somewhat conflicted about his impending retirement, but he’s also looking forward to other pursuits.

“I’ve got mixed feelings because I enjoy the work, but life is finite,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve attempted to play the piano and the accordion, so I can dedicate more time to music. And the church has tagged me to be the treasurer, so that’s going to be interesting. I’ll have to make a five-year plan, I guess.”

Westerhaus says the award commendation holds added significance for him considering he does not work directly for the SSP office, and he attributes the Trident program’s success to the dedication of those within it.

“If you’re involved with that program, you really feel committed,” he said. “It engenders a remarkable esprit de corps. Hopefully, I’ve helped in a small way.”