FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz., - From her humble upbringing on the plains of the Red River Valley of North Dakota to living under the shadows of the mighty Huachuca Mountains, Debra Gutknecht (Parra), Chief of the Huachuca Division of the Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving Ground (ACC-APG) spent more than 4 decades working as a civil service employee here in Southern Arizona.
At the time when Jimmy Carter was President and bell-bottom jeans were fashionable, the daughter of two civil service employees came to Fort Huachuca in the 1970's bright-faced and full of enthusiasm. Little did Debra know her parents would guide her to follow a successful career in government contracting which would culminate in over 40 years of dedicated service and her well-deserved retirement during the winter of 2019.
Like most teenagers growing up in the 1970's, the job and educational opportunities were often sporadic or limited to distance and money. However, after arriving here in Sierra Vista, Debra like many youngsters began her long and adventurous journey.
"I had just graduated from Buena High School and was starting at Cochise College, when my parents encouraged me to take a summer job at Fort Huachuca," said Parra.
When asked what her motivation to join the civil service was, Debra credits her parents.
"My parents both worked for the Army and they encouraged me to take the civil service test. My mom, Corrine Gutknecht, worked in personnel and my Dad, Ted Gutknecht, worked in contracting so I'm a second generation contracting person"
I actually started working in the summer of 1978 as clerk typist where I worked in the Plans, Resources, and Scheduling Office (PRSO) of the Army Communications Command (ACC) and a predecessor command to the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) in Greely Hall.
Debra's long civil service career started while in college as with many students she learned to balance home, work and school.
"I worked for the Electronic Proving Ground (EPG) after I graduated from Cochise College and they allowed me to convert to a part time position and work flexible hours around my school schedule. I commuted 2-3 days a week to my U of A classes," said Parra.
Debra would also meet her husband of over 30 years, Ben Parra while working at Fort Huachuca.
"During one of my pre-contracting positions as a secretary of the Electric shop under the Facilities Engineers (now DPW), I met my husband. Bennie (Ben) was one of the electricians," said Parra
After spending a couple of years as a student Debra finally received an opportunity to further her career within the civil service.
"As soon as I received by BA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, I applied to become a Contract Specialist Intern. In order to be an intern you had to have a BA degree," said Parra.
Shortly after entering the intern contract specialist program Debra's career took off to a running start earning praise and accolades throughout the 1990's as the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991 would present profound challenges to the way the Department of Defense (DoD) approached contracting.
"I negotiated the first Information Systems Command (now NETCOM) contract for O&M of a telecommunications facility in Southwest Asia following the Gulf War which I received the Blanche Witte Memorial Foundation Annual Award for my efforts," said Parra.
"The contract for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) of the telecommunication facility in Southwest Asia was in the mid-1990s quite complex because there was no historical cost data. The prior contracts for O&M had been done by the Japanese during the Gulf War as part of a coalition effort and those documents were not available so a lot of research was required for the negotiations to begin."
According to the Blanche Witte Memorial Foundation website the Award Parra received recognizes an individual member or nonmember working in the field of procurement and/or contract management who has uniquely performed one or more exemplary achievements.
Although Debra Parra would be recognized at the DoD level, it is perhaps her peers and coworkers that benefited most of all from Parra's achievements and leadership.
"Ms. Parra is one of the most positive, uplifting women I know. She can find the best in anyone. She is the reason Bosses Day was created. Unicorns want to be her," said Sonya DeLucia, Small Business Professional, Office of Small Business Programs, Aberdeen Proving Ground (OSBP-APG), Huachuca Division.
Debra Parra brought so much joy and cheerful delight to the workplace often sharing her many creative talents with those around her.
"Debra always let us know the glass is always half full, there's always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She always gives people the benefit of the doubt. She is creative, in mind and spirit. She writes, paints, does mosaic work, enjoys going to the gem shows," said DeLucia.
"In her free time she's been known to attend a 'Sip and Create' event. She always finishes first and her paintings make the rest of us look like a bunch of kindergartners trying to stay inside the lines."
Overall Ms. Parra spent over 40 years in Government service, where she held numerous positions in the contracting, operations and policy fields; working as Contract Specialist, Contracting Officer, Procurement Analyst, deputy Director and Chief of the Contracting Office.
In addition, Ms. Parra's accolades include being a member of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy's Front-Line Forum, and serving as a representative of the Defense Acquisition Regulatory (DAR) Council Contract Committee.
"Debra has also published articles in the Contract Management Magazine and other DoD publications on contracting topics," said DeLucia during Parra's retirement ceremony.
Even though, Ms. Parra's success can be measured via her accomplishments she often volunteered to coach and mentor young interns throughout her career. Hence she offers her advice to the young civilian contracting employees.
"When working in contracting, documentation is really important so keeping a notebook on your desk and documenting calls, meetings and events are really important. My notes have come in very handy in contracting legal matters," said Parra.
Not only have Ms. Parra's achievement's and experiences benefited Army contracting and Fort Huachuca but her accomplishments have helped shape NETCOM's goals and objectives.
"Ms. Parra's contracting efforts have ensured our mission partners are strategically aligned with NETCOM's Lines of Effort LOE's," said Walton Cheung, Director, Command Business Office (CBO), NETCOM.
"Ms. Parra's leadership, professionalism and dedication are visible to all. Your expertise and work on contracts have enabled NETCOM to meet our worldwide missions with great success. You have truly been an asset to the U.S. Army Civilian workforce," said Maj. Gen. Maria B. Barrett, NETCOM commanding general.
Adding to General Barrett's remarks about Ms. Parra, Maj. Gen. Paul H. Pardew, ACC, commanding general had this to say;
"Parra's exceptional knowledge and strategic vision were critical in establishing NETCOM's initiatives which significantly helped shaped the fight and postured the Army to remain successful defending the Global Network Enterprise."
As Ms. Parra begins her retirement she plans to settle in Sierra Vista, Arizona and spend time with family.
"My husband [Bennie] and I will be traveling and just enjoying our time together. I also plan to visit our children more often and spend time with them. I'm an artist and a writer so I plan to do that too in retirement," said Parra.