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News | Sept. 25, 2023

New Central Region commander excited to lead, embrace change

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Central Region Public Affairs

Army Col. Kenneth Darnall assumed command of Defense Contract Management Agency’s Central Region July 27.

He is not new to the agency, however, and has served in the Western, Eastern, and International Regions, Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations, and within the headquarters element.

Prior to his new position, Darnall served as commander of DCMA Boeing Philadelphia. As the Central Region commander, Darnall introduced himself to the region staff and others around the agency.

Q: You have been a part of the DCMA team for quite some time. How have your previous positions prepared you for this leadership role?

A: I am fortunate that when I started working for the agency, I had great mentors at DCMA Boeing Mesa who taught me not just the “how to” of the job, but also the “why.” For example, Kent Schvaneveldt, who is the deputy commander at DCMA Boeing Mesa, is great. He has provided leadership and mentorship to me while I was assigned there and has continued to help me to this day.

In addition, my year spent as the agency’s executive officer was the single largest growth year I had in my career, short of only maybe when I was in flight school. I went from working at the administrative contracting officer level to the agency’s front office, which was a significant jump. I spent every day with the director and listened to numerous conversations, including at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment level. This experience shaped how I thought about what DCMA does, how it does it and why. The connections I made at headquarters and across the agency helped my growth as a leader. Many of those connections are still there today, and I greatly appreciate those leaders’ continued mentorship and advice as I move into this next role.

Q: Who are some of your mentors? What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

A: My current and previous mentors include DCMA directors. Air Force Lt. Gen. Wendy Masiello influenced how I lead and who I am more than anyone. Navy Vice Adm. David Lewis shaped and challenged my thoughts and perspectives, and Army Lt. Gen. David Basset’s words of wisdom echo through my thoughts.

My father is my mentor, and he is my sounding board and my first call for most anything. All my previous deputies at DCMA mentored me: Nick Verna, Todd Gallagher, Rod Williams and as mentioned earlier, Kent Schvaneveldt. 

Some of the best career advice I have received is to do your current job to the best of your ability and your career will take care of itself. I also learned to be passionate about our mission and remove emotion from engagements and decisions. We need to focus on facts and data and make timely decisions rather than perfect decisions.

Q: As you work with senior leaders around the agency, what are some of the important initiatives employees should understand?

A: Vision 2026 is something to be excited about and not feared! The Resource Workload Models are here to stay, so we need to become experts on them and ensure we are utilizing the data in our decisions. We need to talk about our mission more with our contractors and think critically. We should leverage tools, along with data, to assess risk and deploy our resources. We must focus on agility for Vision 2026.

Q: What is your vision for the Central Region?

A: I want the Central Region staff to be a team of trusted professionals who build meaningful and lasting relationships with our stakeholders to accomplish the agency’s mission.

Our workforce is dedicated to their profession and our warfighters. Through my travels around the agency, I have met so many of our civilians at all levels. I am impressed with not just how they perform their duties, but also who they are in their communities. Regarding our military personnel, we get some of the best talent the military services have on hand, from the command-level down to our government flight representatives and government ground representatives.

As a part of the operational unit staff, I want to break down barriers around policy and processes to empower our contract management offices. I want the CMO staff to continue to be the voice to the program offices we support and be the watchful eye of the contractors we oversee. Our mission is to influence through oversight and to ensure a quality product is delivered on time while supporting affordability. Often, we think of those things as we issue corrective action reports or participate in contract negotiations, but influence can best be accomplished through relationships. We must maintain professional relationships with our program offices, contracting centers, contractors, and those within the agency.

Q: What do you want team members in the Central Region and around the agency to know about you?

A: I love our agency and our mission. I believe in our agency leaders — past and present. I believe our senior leaders are passionate about what we do and care about our employees. I fully support Vision 2026, and I look forward to conversations on how we can make the agency better for our mission and our people. It’s an exciting time at DCMA, and I hope I can bring that excitement to all levels of the Central Region.

Q: As we maintain a hybrid workforce, how do you plan to maintain and enhance teamwork and collaboration?

A: I want to focus on relationships across the Central Region and agency. As Army Lt. Gen. David Bassett said, “You can’t build trust on Microsoft Teams.” It takes work, creativity and to deliberately select which platform — Microsoft Teams, telephone, text, email, or in-person — will best suit each engagement. This is an area I am working to get better at personally. I also believe in leadership by walking around, so it is my intent to get out into the CMO’s as often as I can to talk with our workforce and leaders. I want to find out what is working and what is not. I want to know where we can become better and adapt and learn while we are in a rapidly changing communications’ environment. 

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: My leadership style tends to be relaxed and adaptive.

Q: Why do you enjoy working for the agency? Why do you believe in the agency’s mission?

A: When Lt. Gen. Bassett initially called me for the position at DCMA Boeing Philadelphia, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough. I left what is most likely the best O-6 position an Army aviator could ever ask for at DCMA Boeing Philadelphia. It is truly a special CMO.

The Central Region position will challenge me as a leader. The breadth and scope of the CMO’s across the region will bring with it challenges from program offices and contractors alike. I was part of the region when I was the AIMO Eglin commander, and I toured it as the executive officer. I also knew some of the region’s leaders and staff, so I knew I was joining a great team.

I love our independence as an agency. I feel that we provide senior leaders across the Department of Defense with a unique lens to view our economy, the defense industrial base, and our joint military readiness. A strength of DCMA is our veterans and active-duty military who have been or are our current customers. I have been on the receiving end of needing critical equipment that had to function properly in combat in the worst of environments and situations. It is easy for me to get behind taking care of our most important customers — the warfighters.

In accepting the Central Region position, it was also a family decision. No decisions at this point in my career are easy, so I naturally turned to the expert, my wife, Alexandra. The opportunity to continue to serve not just our nation, but also DCMA, coupled with being closer to Alex and my three girls who live in Florida, was one we decided was best for our family.

Q: Do you recommend any books that you have found beneficial?

A: Alfred Lansing’s Endurance is one of my favorite leadership books. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: You need to know what provides you energy, relief and tranquility. For me, that is being around my wife and daughters and fly fishing. I know that when I start to feel anxious, my mind is clouded and there seems to never be enough time, so I need a break. Over the course of a one-week trip filled with hiking, campfires, good friends, and most of all, standing hip deep in cool water, my stress goes away. By the end of the week, difficult decisions seem easy again, hard to understand topics become clearer, and it is magic for my introverted soul.