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News | July 19, 2016

DCMA Operations QA director speaks at Air War College

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. - Darren Blackwell considers himself an ambassador for the Defense Contract Management Agency, and takes great pride in telling the DCMA story.

Blackwell, DCMA's Operations quality assurance acting director, said everyone who works for the agency should always be ready to tell its mission.

Blackwell sat on a panel May 2 and told the Air War College students in Montgomery, Alabama, about the agency. Three years ago, he was a student sitting in the same auditorium listening to panel members after he was nominated for the 10-month program by Louis Borno, director of DCMA Orlando. At the time, Blackwell was the deputy commander at DCMA St. Petersburg, Florida. He served in that capacity from 2010 to 2013.

After graduating from AWC and keeping in touch with staff, Blackwell was nominated by his previous professors to come back and speak. He joined an Air Force colonel, Navy captain and another civilian in two discussions. The panelists provided advice to approximately 100 military and civilian students as well as professors to include ethical and moral dilemmas faced and how their leadership styles have evolved over the years.

"It's important to tell the DCMA story to these individuals because they may be future DCMA commanders," said Blackwell. "They could also be future program managers, so I want them to have insight into what we do as an agency and the support we provide to the Department of Defense's acquisition enterprise. I also wanted them know about future leadership challenges they may face, so I offered my advice and shared my experiences with the students."

Blackwell said participating in the AWC program three years ago helped him become a better leader.

"The experience allowed me to hone my strategic-thinking skills," he said. "I went from looking at things from a tactical perspective to a broader strategic perspective, which helped a lot once I transferred to DCMA Operations' headquarters in 2013. I enjoyed going back to AWC to let the staff know how much I benefited from the experience and welcomed the opportunity to give back."

Blackwell currently supervises 21 people, mostly quality assurance specialists and engineers. He encourages all of his employees to take advantage of the professional development opportunities available such as the AWC.

"My goal is to provide my team with the tools they need to be successful," said Blackwell. "I want to enable and empower them to their jobs to do the best of their abilities."

Blackwell, who has been with the agency 15 years and participated in multiple leadership development programs, said mentorship is important. One of his protégés is John Thomas, a QA supervisor at DCMA Santa Ana's Ontario, California, office. Thomas, who was promoted to his current position last November and supervises 12 people, asked Blackwell in March to be his mentor.

"Mr. Blackwell is a busy person, but he takes the time to talk to me and give me guidance," said Thomas. "He's very positive and a good mentor to have. I wanted a mentor who could help me understand more about the agency, especially from a headquarters' perspective."

Thomas said Blackwell encourages his protégés to take on additional responsibilities so they can grow as leaders and provide greater support to the agency.

"He always tells me to 'dig in, not out,'" said Thomas. "He stresses that it's important to do the job right the first time and that accuracy is important."

According to Blackwell, DCMA employees should always remember why their jobs are important.

"If the mission fails here, the mission will fail in theater," said Blackwell, who served nine years in the Navy. "As DCMA employees, we need to strive to always be better. We need to remember that each person plays a role, whether directly or indirectly, to enabling our warfighters to win on the battlefield."