FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- As the Mission and Installation Contracting Command's chief of staff prepares to retire in August after 36 years of service, the significant contributions he's made to the Army and the contracting community will long impact Soldiers serving today and in the future. But few people know that his budding career in contracting came long before his accession into the Army Acquisition Corps in 1995.

During his junior and senior years of high school in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Col. Shane Dietrich liked working with his hands. Spending numerous weekends helping his father in the yard made for a natural transition into landscape work. After learning of the disparity between his hourly wage and what his employer was charging for that effort, he made the move into the more lucrative heating and air conditioning trade where he learned to work with sheet metal. It wasn't until he worked on dumpsters that he would become a government contractor.

"Winning the contract to refurbish dumpsters at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., was one of the best and worst jobs I've ever had," Dietrich said. "I was the guy inside scraping the paint, manure and all of the garbage out of there, and then going around with the grinder on the inside knocking off doors and steam cleaning them. That was a job that kept me going during my formative years."

As high school graduation approached and prospects to play middle linebacker at the collegiate level were ruled out, conversations about future plans between Dietrich and his father -- a World War II Marine aviator -- became more pointed.

"My dad gave me that lecture, 'Shane, I anticipate that you're going to get a job and move away from home, you're going to go to college and move away from home or you're going to join the military and move away from home,'" he recalled. "The recurring theme was that I was going to move away from home."

It was soon after that Dietrich found he had a vulnerability to military recruiters and enlisted.

Having been raised in Monterey, Calif., he was first interested in joining the Navy. However, an Army recruiter persuaded him to become a Soldier and take advantage of the only three-year enlistment available and GI Bill before Congress took it away.

It didn't take much convincing as patriotism and community benevolence run deep in Dietrich's family.

He spent his first three years of enlistment as a medical specialist where he learned all of his basic Soldier skills and spent many days in the field training. In 1979, a re-enlistment NCO then sold him on the idea that air traffic control was the right job in which to move. Whether or not it was the right job, it eventually turned out to be the right time and place as he met in 1983 and then wed fellow air traffic controller Della St. Louis in April 1984.

Over the six and a half years Dietrich spent as an air traffic controller, his leadership skills would flourish. He served as a shift supervisor, tower chief, squad leader, platoon sergeant and acting first sergeant.

"I loved that job because it was a lot of responsibility," he said. "I learned a lot of valuable lessons and was fortunate to have had leaders that gave me the flexibility, top cover and support to let me lead."

His more than nine years as an enlisted Soldier and experience as a platoon sergeant would serve him well upon his 1985 selection to attend Officer Candidate School. After being commissioned a second lieutenant in air defense artillery, he served in a variety of positions to include a Vulcan platoon leader; Stinger platoon leader of 48 Soldiers; and brigade air defense fire support officer in Germany where he got to see how the staff and planning process worked as well as learn from the exposure to all of the other combat arms and combat service support organizations inside of a division.

His chance to become a battery commander wouldn't come until he completed the rigorous course at Ranger school.

"I had the chance to take a medical drop on three different occasions, but I had a battalion waiting for me to come back with a Ranger tab and take command of a battery. I was driven to finish at a time when air defense had a really bad attrition rate," Dietrich said.

He credited a lot of his success in Ranger school to a first sergeant in Germany who took the time to train him in navigation, swimming and running so that when he would arrive at Fort Benning, Ga., during the hot summer, he would be 30 pounds leaner and in the best shape of his life.

"Ranger school is a leadership school. It's a series of leadership positions through which you rotate for a chance to work with different people and be tested on leadership skills," Dietrich said.

Ranger school has had the greatest personal impact on his life and career.

"I learned a lot about myself and got injured in every phase of training; it was a true test of my metal as an individual, a leader and a Soldier.

"I learned discipline, whether it's making an MRE last an entire day or staying awake at a time when you haven't slept in a couple of days," Dietrich said. "Ranger school provided an understanding of the formalized leadership process that included planning and orders, but the biggest thing I walked away with was a better appreciation of what I could tolerate and how far I can push myself. And that has kind of stuck with me since."

After earning his Ranger tab, he returned to 4-3 Air Defense Artillery as a battery commander. Two years later, he was an instructor at the Army Aviation Center, where he had the chance to teach a variety of courses and became one of the few non-aviators selected as Instructor of the Year.

A member of the Army Acquisition Corps since 1995, Dietrich's experience spans contracting, operational testing, developmental testing and acquisition advisory assignments. Among his most memorable assignments was commanding the Army's Desert Environment Test Center at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. There he stood up a counter IED test facility and tested automotive and armored systems, armored door kits, armored vehicles, body armor, weapons, the Excalibur and lightweight Howitzer.

"It was 1,100 people, 1,300 square miles of real estate, 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace and one of the most diverse missions in the test community," he said. "It was a fantastic experience to be at the test center because it gave me a better appreciation for the acquisition workforce."

Dietrich believes that the Army acquisitions community is a great place to make an impact on the Army.

"Whether you're a contracting officer, contingency contracting officer, contracting specialist or test officer, it's a great place to really support Soldiers," he said. "Much of it is taken for granted because most of the operational force doesn't understand the acquisitions process. It's a great place to make a contribution to the Army."

He points to his previous assignment as commander of the 408th Contracting Support Brigade in Kuwait as evidence where he had the greatest direct impact on the service.

"I owned my environment and was embedded in the U.S. Army Central staff; I shaped outcomes and saw my work come to fruition in Afghanistan and Iraq, probably the most rewarding job I've ever had" he said.

Dietrich considers himself an example of the success of the Army's education program -- from picking up night-school classes wherever possible and Officer Candidate School to Command and General Staff College and a master's degree in administration from Central Michigan. He gained his greatest perspective during the Army War College fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin.

"For a kid who started off to do three years, get the GI Bill and get out, here I was among a group of officers who have accomplished quite a bit," he said. "Acquisitions has been a fantastic and very rewarding job."

He described his last two years at the MICC as the classic game of Whac-A-Mole since his duties have chiefly involved putting out fires and making things happen. Personally, it's provided a chance to be closer to his wife and home near Fort Hood, Texas, reconnect with old friends assigned to the MICC, and fully appreciate the outpouring of community support that defines San Antonio as Military City USA.

Army needs have forced Dietrich and his wife to be apart the last nine years and 18 of the 28 years they've been married. As a veteran, St. Louis knows all too well the hardships of separation in the Army. She retired in June 2011 after 32 years of service as a Soldier and lives at their little rock house on three acres just outside of Copperas Cove, Texas, where she stays busy participating in horse shows and competitive trail rides when not looking after their two beagles, rat terrier, cat, chickens, roosters and three horses.

Now 55, Dietrich will join his wife at their home while "taking the month of September off" before leaving for Idaho where he'll help his brother put his barn up for the winter and take some time to relax over fly fishing and dusting off a Harley motorcycle he had shipped to his brother's home in 2009. After that, it's on the road again to Louisiana to visit his son and grandchildren, then Ohio to see his sister and mother.

Page last updated Fri July 13th, 2012 at 14:42