By Ms. Kari Hawkins ( Redstone)May 23, 2013
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For 32 years, Cathy Dickens has worked for an organization known for its ability to change, evolve and adapt to the nation's worldwide military actions and policies.
And now, as the Army prepares for its most significant transformation, Dickens is in a position to influence change, push the evolution and assess such adaptive capabilities as budgets, technology, sustainment and the organic industrial base at the Aviation and Missile Command.
Dickens, who assumed the responsibilities as deputy to the commander for AMCOM on May 6, brings a wealth of experience in acquisition and logistics to her new role in managing a multifaceted and diverse organization with an annual budget of more than $4 billion, and a global work force of over 11,000 military and civilian employees. She also offers skills in relationship building, leadership training and work force development.
"One of my strengths is in building relationships," Dickens said. "I am a people person. There's nothing I enjoy more than to be out and about, and listen to people and understand their challenges.
"I want to bring that to this command. As a life cycle management command, we have relationships with the program executive offices and the Soldiers that must be maintained if we are to continue as the provider of choice for helicopters and missile systems, and if we are going to continue to excel in the areas of war fighter support, work force development and stewardship excellence."
Dickens' new position with AMCOM came quickly on the heels of her appointment three years ago to serve as Team Redstone's top acquisition authority, leading the 900 employees of the Army Contracting Command-Redstone as the contracting authority, consultant and adviser to both the commanding general of AMCOM, and the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. Although her acquisition role was difficult to give up, Dickens knew the leadership opportunity at AMCOM would allow her to have a positive impact on a larger scale.
"It was a difficult decision. There were still a few things I wanted to do at ACC-Redstone. But this move was an opportunity to broaden my knowledge base and to work on new challenges," Dickens said.
"With the budget constraints we are facing, the Army will be transforming. It's critical to have the continuity of leadership in place that can embrace those changes while still providing support to the war fighter. I can be an advocate for contracting in this role. My job is to help make sure we are reinforcing the vision and mission and path ahead established by our commander (Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar). It's absolutely a great opportunity to shape change and lead people from a new level."
Dickens' role at ACC-Redstone, where she managed and directed an acquisition program consisting of contract awards of $25 billion annually and active contracts of $110 billion, built on experience she gained in such roles as director of AMCOM's Logistics Modernization Program Integration; and director of the Aviation Logistics Directorate, and the Maintenance and Special Projects Directorate, both within then AMCOM's Acquisition Center.
While at ACC-Redstone, Dickens directed the execution of a $1.9 billion Fort Rucker contract for the maintenance and support of more than 600 aircraft in support of the training mission, and more than $15 billion in contract awards for critical aviation systems that include the Apache, Chinook, Black Hawk, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Air Warrior, and Light Utility Helicopters. In addition, she managed the awarding of an $11.7 billion Black Hawk multi-year contract for 650 Army, Navy and foreign military sales helicopters.
In the area of missile development, she was involved in the awarding of a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System contract at a savings of more than $44 million over a five-year period, and a savings of $900 million in research and development costs associated with Patriot missile production contracts valued at more than $6.5 billion. She was involved in the awarding of the Hellfire II missile contract valued at $82.3 million and $7 billion in contracts to modernize and maintain TOW, Javelin, Hydra, Hawk and other legacy systems for U.S. and foreign military partners.
But beyond such impressive contracting milestones, Dickens' goal was to bring her brand of effective, sincere and transparent leadership to ACC-Redstone, a goal she aspires to as well at AMCOM.
"A leader wants to leave an organization better than they found it," she said. "I hope I was able to provide the kind of leadership that made ACC-Redstone better by focusing on building those customer relationships that are so important to success.
"Building good relationships starts with building the right team. When you are leading a large organization, you can't do everything yourself. You have to have a great team of leaders in place to make the organization better. And you have to have employees who understand that the focus needs to be on building customer relationships, understanding the mission and knowing how they can bring value to those customers."
Dickens hopes to help build on relationships already established by AMCOM. She hopes to continue the work of two of her mentors and staunch supporters who also helped to lead AMCOM as deputy commander -- Dr. Richard Amos (now president of COLSA Corp.) and his successor Ronnie Chronister (now deputy commander at the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
"AMCOM provides world-class support. They are a world-class organization in terms of the readiness of our aviation and missile systems," Dickens said.
"That readiness has been made possible with the ability to solidify support through the program executive offices and program management offices to provide a high level of sustainment. One of the things I am looking forward to is being able to learn about AMCOM from the perspective of the military. I want to work within the command to really understand the operational side. Previously, I've been focused on the administrative side."
The challenge for AMCOM and throughout the Army, she said, is to ensure that the right talent and the right skill set are available to continue a high level of support to the war fighter.
"The challenge is to maintain our work force. We could easily lose focus of what that right work force looks like. We need a work force that is experienced, flexible and affordable," Dickens said. "We need to focus on our core tasks and eliminate redundancies. We need to make the right choices so that we provide support to war fighters that is more affordable."
Dickens doesn't take it lightly that she is the first woman to be named AMCOM's deputy commander. She admits to "feeling a lot of pressure" to make sure she gets it right, and she often thinks of women like Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the Army's first female four-star general, and Heidi Shyu, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, for inspiration.
"The Army, over the past several years, has really proven that they do embrace diversity and they do support good leadership in women as well as men," she said. "I've been given opportunities, training and support over the years from the people and the organizations I've been associated with.
"I want to do things right because I want to be a role model, too, just like other leaders before me. That's important to me and to many others who are public servants. Other women are looking for opportunities to be leaders in the Army. I really want to show what I have, what it takes to do this job."
The senior executive does admit she's had to make sacrifices over the years. She began her DoD civilian career as a GS-2, working her way through a growing level of responsibility in acquisition. Along the way, she picked up advice and coaching that shaped her leadership style. Her first supervisor when she was a contract specialist taught her to not settle for mediocrity and to strive to always do better, lessons that she holds to heart today.
As her Army civilian career continued, Dickens and her husband raised two sons, and, over the course of 10 years, Dickens managed to complete a college degree with high scholastic achievement in business management at Athens State University.
"Balance is so important in life. I had a wonderful and supportive husband who sadly passed away a few years ago. He and my family all encouraged me to be the best at my job," she said.
"I did miss ballgames with my sons and I wasn't able to go to all their school events. I wasn't the mom who could bring cupcakes to school at the drop of a hat. Sometimes you have to prioritize. You can't always be there when you want to be. Sometimes family comes first. Other times the job comes first. But whatever the family structure, you need support, and you are a better employee if you find the right balance."
She admits her aspiration during those early years of her career was not to be a deputy commander or even a director. Her aspiration was to be a good employee.
"My family taught me about ownership, work ethic and doing the right thing. They felt that being a public servant was something to take pride in. None of that has changed over the years. Those are qualities that are timeless," Dickens said.
As the senior civilian at AMCOM, Dickens has three goals -- to continue to build on AMCOM's relationships with its customers and its partners; to continue to grow the experience and expertise of AMCOM's civilian work force; and to understand the challenges and roles of AMCOM's civilian work force.
"I have a background in acquisition and a lot of AMCOM's work falls in the acquisition process and sustainment, and the dollars associated with life cycle management," she said. "We want to shape the sustainment of our systems so that they continue well into the future and so that they are affordable. The Army so definitely requires that from us."
AMCOM must also maintain its organic industrial base and its organic depots. That is possible, she said, by continuing to develop a vibrant foreign military sales program that further grows the U.S. aviation and missile industry.
But most of all, AMCOM's future success will rely on its employees and the relationships they build for the command.
"The major goal is to grow the work force and to put the right people in the right place to move this organization forward," Dickens said. "With the right vision and the right people, everything else falls into place.
"This position gives me the opportunity to build even better relationships across the command, and with the Army Materiel Command and the program executive offices and all the way to the Department of the Army level. We will focus on growing the right talent and experience so that we remain adaptable, flexible and the best civilian work force in the Army."