Brig. Gen. Darren Werner assumed command of the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in a unique ceremony that was live-cast on the web. The audience at the ceremony was small, consisting of immediate family members, a few other TACOM leaders and a couple of visitors representing the greater Detroit civilian community. Social distancing due to COVID-19 concerns had become the new normal.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Werner to learn a bit more about his thoughts on his first 100 days as TACOM commander and having launched his command in unique circumstances. This is the second part of that interview. (Part one of the interview can be found at army.mil/tacom.)
Sir, to date, you've had the opportunity to visit Rock Island - Joint Manufacturing Technology Center, Sierra Army Depot, and Watervliet Arsenal. What were the key takeaways from your visits to each of these TACOM locations?
Werner: (I have) a couple of high level takeaways and then some specific (takeaways). The high level takeaways are really the fact that when you travel all the way from Herlong, California, to Boston, Massachusetts, the culture is different at every location, from the fires that were happening out in California to the COVID response to what's going on in the east coast and a heavily populated dense location, (everyone) has different challenges. Everybody has a different point of view. It's great to be able to hear those different points of view from all the different locations and to recognize that every place isn't the same; there are no “cookie cutter” operations within TACOM.
I recognize that where the workforce is (geographically) identifies what's important to those diverse communities. I understand that it's incredibly fortunate for us to be able to have “little dipsticks” into the American culture all the way across the country so that we can kind of better understand different points of view (within) the big picture.
When you dig in and you start looking at the operations level where execution is happening, the results that are coming out of our depots and arsenals — specifically Rock Island, Sierra, Watervliet — we have great results and they’re delivering exactly what they say they're going to deliver, but we have some challenges.
In each location, there are infrastructure challenges. Rock Island (JMTC) started operations somewhere around 1862 and Watervliet (Arsenal) started in 1813. Sierra (Army Depot) is the young kid on the block and has been around since 1942.
Think about Rock Island and Watervliet producing tack for cavalrymen, producing tank cannons, just constantly producing from then to now with no break, all the while continually evolving and re-defining their mission to support the Army. It’s a constant challenge.
For instance, we're in the middle of a major overhaul in Rock Island, transitioning from industrial age manufacturing to a technology-based, information-age industry. They're producing materials using additive manufacturing while still keeping a foot in the door of traditional manufacturing operations.
We’re asking a lot of our arsenals. They’re the arsenals that will guarantee our democracy as we move into the future. We're in the midst of a significant transition at Rock Island and Watervliet and we're working hard to enable them to move into the future and to help the Army modernize.
We're investing in a new chrome plating improvement program (at Watervliet Arsenal) and working to improve those facilities through significant contracts being worked by the (Army) Corps of Engineers. Another contract is being worked by the Corps of Engineers to build a furnace to extend the length of our cannon tube so that we can we can deliver to the army and extended range cannon that will increase our capabilities for the Army. Those two programs in particular are going to really contribute to the greatness of the Army.
At Rock Island’s Center of Excellence for Advanced and Additive Manufacturing, we're working to add the right equipment and capabilities while still leveraging what (the center) can do as a foundry with traditional manufacturing.
Sierra is a wild card for us. It's one of those (organizations) that we can pretty much throw anything at, and they can solve the problem. What I found interesting about Sierra is the fact that they've “evolved the change” themselves; they've morphed based on the needs of the Army. They went from (producing) ammunition back many years ago to taking on the responsibility of storage of materials and serving as the Army’s End of First Life Center.
The equipment that we have out there — countless numbers of tanks and other types of equipment and salvage material — they’re also ready to contribute those to industry to produce new tanks and Bradley's and infantry fighting vehicles if we need to use those shells that are out there on the ground,
They also have the finest supply support activity in the Army. Their AJ1 supply support activity has been value-engineered into an extremely effective organization that can meet or beat anybody's standards for operation, so much so that I invited the entire Forces Command to use (Sierra Army Depot) as a training location. If they have supply support activity personnel that need training, they can go to Sierra to see how supply receive, store and issue of materials is supposed to happen.
The team out there is incredibly professional, and they're ready to demonstrate that to anybody that wants to go out there. But, in particular, they're meeting or exceeding the standards for receive, store and issue well beyond anybody else.
I've learned a lot about all three locations and, you know, I think Sierra is pretty impressive. Rock Island is doing some cool stuff and so is Watervliet.
The Detroit Arsenal community has a lot of heavy hitters in terms of Army acquisitions, support and developmental operations. As the senior commander of Detroit Arsenal and the newest member of its board of directors, how would you rate Detroit Arsenal organizations in terms of strategic partnering and coordination?
Werner: Coming on board, I didn't know how important the relationships were at the Detroit Arsenal to the strategic readiness of our Army. I didn't see how those relationships worked, but I can tell you that having Tim Goddette of the (Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support) and Major General Cummings of the (Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems) as partners with Army Materiel Command’s TACOM is invaluable.
I could see where all the benefits come in by having us all here together and functioning as a single organization. Then you throw on top of that the engineering support that we get from Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center and from Army Futures Command, it's just incredible.
Add in the matrix support relationships that we have with Wendy Saigh and our legal department and how she supports all those agencies and Dan Gallagher and his team with Army Contracting Command and how they fit in on top, we have all these unique pieces at the Detroit Arsenal that all come together perfectly and deliver great results.
Mr. Goddette traveled with me to Rock Island and to Natick, and as I go through and see how we are delivering capability to the Army, he's there with me because he's the requirements owner — he's the one who says this is what we need — and having him standing next to me as we discuss how effective we are with our systems and how we're executing the work that he needs done so that we can deliver the best possible material into the hands of our Soldiers. It's a great, great relationship.
I also want to put extra emphasis on our Cross Functional Teams. Here (at Detroit Arsenal), Brigadier General Ross Coffman runs the Next Generation Combat Vehicle CFT. I want to create a closer tie with the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, Long Range Precision Fires and the Soldier Lethality CFTs so that we can better envision where we need to focus our industrial base to support unique capabilities.
I want to ensure that our industrial base can “slide in” with them to identify those critical capabilities, and, if we don't already possess them in our industrial base, that we plan for future capabilities so we can be there with the PEOs and with the Cross Functional Teams, and be there to meet the Army's needs.
The uniqueness of our arsenals and depots enable us to have a one-off capability that no one else delivers in our country. When we can deliver (those unique capabilities), it creates a security to our nation that is really important. We know that no one else is out there making gun tubes right now for M1Abrams or Paladins; that's only done at Watervliet Arsenal.
The future will bring us additional, similar requirements. With our unique capabilities, we can guarantee that, when the need is there, we'll be producing for the nation. No one will be able to influence that. That's how I see our relationship.
The CFTs are going to help us envision that future so that we can invest. Every penny that we spend today is spent not just for the result that we need today, but is also going toward an investment in the future. We can't lose sight of that. We don't want to spend dollars today that simply satisfy the quick need of what today may require. We want to make sure that those dollars that we get today are not only invested in what we need today, but are also setting conditions for tomorrow's needs.
Do you have anything you'd like to add?
Werner: It's been great to be back in Michigan and to reconnect on a personal level with my family that still live in the area. You know, I've been on active duty since 1989, and I've only been back for short visits over the years. Now I’ve been able to reconnect more fully with my family and friends.
I went golfing with my brother out at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, now I have that opportunity to do that. That's personally, for me and my family, a great opportunity, but, even more importantly, it's just being back in Michigan, and there are not a lot of places like this state. You can definitely find some enjoyment outdoors in this area. It's called a Great Lake state for a reason.
You can go in any direction and you’re going to find a vista that is unlike anywhere else. Whether you go to the morning side — the sunrise side of Michigan — or you head off to the sunset side of Michigan — either side — you can find plenty of things that really enhance your quality of life. So, we're fortunate to be back here, and we’re also fortunate just to be back in the state where I grew up and I know real well.