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News | Sept. 27, 2021

Marine veteran flourishes as a quality assurance specialist in N.C.

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Public Affairs

Kelly Fender is used to being in an environment with few women, but she still excels and inspires others in the process. She epitomizes the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, which means always faithful.

Fender previously served in the Marine Corps working in special projects and public relations before she was later promoted to a company-level executive officer. She served on active duty for three years. Now she is a quality assurance specialist at Defense Contract Management Agency Hampton, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Approximately 10 percent of DCMA’s QAS workforce is comprised of women, and the goal is to increase that number by making more females aware of the career field.

“Kelly is a true professional,” said Todd Ice, a quality assurance supervisor at DCMA Hampton. “She’s excelled in researching and resolving complex issues and is regularly sought out by other QAS’s to receive training and guidance. She continues to learn new policy and the tools used to conduct quality oversight.”

Fender has been a QAS for almost three years and started her QAS career at DCMA Atlanta. She chose the field due to her prior military service.

“I chose to become a QAS because I have been on the other side of the equation as an active-duty Marine,” said Fender. “I know that getting the correct products on time can make or break a mission. Being a QAS helps me to serve those who serve now. I enjoy that I still get to be involved with and support our troops in a very unique capacity.”

Fender plans and executes risk-based surveillance at two defense contractor locations. She visits contractor facilities and conducts quality audits, processes evaluations, and provides product evaluations. Even during the pandemic, Fender has found success in a virtual environment.

“During the current COVID-19 pandemic, I have been able to work with contractors to evaluate products and processes as diligently virtually as I would in person,” she said. “It was a challenge at first finding methods to adequately still provide surveillance, but by working together we were able to still meet the needs of the warfighter.”

One of the items that Fender inspects is the Army’s tank rack module. According to Fender, the tank rack module is used to store, transport, and issue fuel to warfighters in austere environments.

“My job is vital to the DCMA mission because I am able to monitor and even eliminate risk involved in manufacturing, distributing and shipping products to the warfighter,” she said. “I am able to serve as an independent set of eyes and ears for the customer. I’m able to collaborate with the program offices and make sure they understand the capabilities of the contractor. I also directly give them unbiased information that I am able to gather while on-site.”

Fender noted that communication is key when doing her job. She also stays current with her job skills by taking a variety of technical training, including courses through the Defense Acquisition University. One of the courses that she recommends is on data collection and analysis, which honed her skills.

Fender encourages others to pursue being a QAS because the agency needs more qualified personnel who can support our warfighters.

“DCMA ensures that we have more than enough training to accomplish the mission,” she said. “DCMA is a very team-oriented agency and you are never alone. There is always someone willing to listen and help in any given situation. The agency has evolved immensely over the years and in the changes that have been made, we are truly serving as quality assurance, not quality control when we are on-site.”

Fender said the life of a QAR varies from day to day. “Some days are spent filing through paperwork to check documentation of personnel training, procedures, work instructions, or even different business systems. Other days are spent accepting invoices on behalf of the contracting officer for items that have been inspected. The rest of the time, we are either emailing or calling the program offices to relay information in a timely manner or in the facility talking with line operators, quality managers, production managers, and even CEOs. We have a very unique experience with each contractor because they all have different business models, systems, and processes. Anyone who enjoys learning and seeing new and interesting things would love being a QAS.”

In order to increase the number of women in the career field, Fender encourages more DCMA employees to become mentors.

“Mentoring is crucial for QAS’s because there will always be a new process or system that we are exposed to in the field,” she said. “Having a mentor with more experience helps provide a sounding board. Working with QAS’s who have decades of experience means there is a good chance that they have seen something similar in the past. We can use their experience to help better serve in the current situation.”

Fender said her mentors, who have included current and previous supervisors, have helped her develop in her career and gave her advice to excel in her various positions. While at DCMA Atlanta, she participated in the contract management office’s Tier II NexTIER Leadership Academy and later served as a board member for the next incoming class. She is also an American Society of Quality certified quality auditor. In addition, she currently serves on two IPTs for revising DCMA manuals — DCMA Manual 2501-01 Contract Receipt and Review and DCMA Manual 2101-04 Delegate Surveillance.

“Getting to voice my concerns and have them validated and reflected in policy makes me feel like DCMA headquarters’ personnel are closing the gap between the office and the field environment,” said Fender.

Fender hopes to have a long career at DCMA, and she is proud to be a part of the agency that supports military personnel around the world. It reminds her of when she was on active duty as a Marine. The skills she learned as a Marine help her now as a QAS.

“I feel like I learn something new every day. I get to positively influence contractors to reduce risks and that means that warfighters get the right product at the right time, which ultimately means they are able to accomplish their mission,” said Fender. “The foundation I have of being a QAS is applicable to any future endeavor I encounter. I have learned to stay adaptable, creative, and resilient, which I learned as a Marine.”