JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Feb. 3, 2023) -- For almost as long as Dugway Proving Ground has been operating in Northwestern Utah, the family legacy of the Mission and Installation Contracting Command director there has played a role in helping prepare the nation's defenders against evolving threats.
Established in 1942, Dugway Proving Ground today is the Army's premier science and test facility responsible for testing and evaluating nearly all Department of Defense chemical and biological defense equipment and capabilities. Spanning over nearly 800,000 acres, the MICC contracting office there, led by director Jim Keetch, provides support for many of its state-of-the-art laboratories, unique test chambers and extensive field test grids. Additionally, Dugway supports training for military and first responders and the development, testing and integration of unmanned aircraft systems.
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Having served almost 22 years with federal government, including time as a summer hire, Keetch began his contracting career with the U.S. Army Robert Morris Acquisition Center at Dugway Proving Ground, then part of the Army Materiel Command. Upon excelling as a contract specialist, a promotion opportunity to supervisory contract specialist eventually led to the competitive selection as the director of MICC-Dugway Proving Ground in 2015.
However, his combined 40-year commitment to the Army profession stems even further back from the lifelong influence of his parents. Much of not only his youth but also adulthood has been spent at Dugway Proving Ground, having attended both elementary and high school there. Born at the Army hospital on Dugway, the MICC director was raised there by his parents, Alfred “Jim” and Kitsy Keetch, who between the three of them have a cumulative of more than 130 years of service to the Army at Dugway.
Growing up on Dugway
Dugway Proving Ground affords all the opportunities of small-town America. The MICC director spent his childhood years taking full advantage of limitless extracurricular activities that included Little League baseball and basketball. In high school, he played football and basketball all four years, ventured into to tennis and golf for a year, and tested his speed on the track for two seasons. In seventh grade, he joined the band and played trumpet the next six years as part of the prep, marching and concert bands. As halftime approached during Friday night football, Keetch and a few fellow players would continue to line up on the field, but instead to perform in cadence with the marching band.
“These were great experiences, but none of them were anywhere near career options or considerations. The trumpet did result in a scholarship that helped to pay for a portion of my college education for four years,” he said. “Someday, I am going to pick my trumpet back up and play on.”
After graduating high school, the junior Keetch attended the University of Utah in nearby Salt Lake City. The 80-mile stretch in the middle of the Utah desert and flanked by mountain ranges between the university and installation was a familiar trek, considered a short family excursion due to the availability of shopping, medical appointments, family visits as well as other needs year after year.
“During my college years, I would frequently go home on long weekends or holidays to spend time with my family, do laundry and enjoy a homecooked meal,” Keetch said. “Then each summer I would go back to Dugway and take advantage of the robust summer hire program and was fortunate to get a job each year. Wages offered in these federal positions was much better than jobs available in Salt Lake City.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Keetch returned to Dugway for what he thought might be his last carefree summer. He landed a summer job as a material test operator with Lockheed, which was coincidentally the first mission support services contractor for the Army Test and Evaluation Command’s West Desert Test Center.
“I had been accepted into the University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture and had plans to return to school in the fall,” he said. “However, as the summer wound down the program manager, who was very impressed with what I was able to accomplish over the summer, offered me a full-time, salaried position with an enticing benefits package that sounded better than going back to school.”
In the 19 years that followed, Keetch progressed with Lockheed from material test operator to engineering technician and eventually business manager. His duties as business manager often called for participation in the contract process, follow-on competition strategies, proposal writing and regular engagement with the Dugway contracting office. It was through that exposure and increased understanding of the Army acquisition process that compelled him to apply and compete for a contract specialist position with the Army.
Building a legacy
Kitsy began her Army career at Dugway in September 1959 as a GS-3 clerk typist following her wedding to the senior Jim earlier that year in July. Over the next 42 years, she served as stock control clerk, Army clothing sales store clerk and manager, chief of stock record management, supply system analyst, computer specialist, supervisory computer specialist and eventually director of telecommunication and automation for the directorate of information management. She retired from federal service in August 2001 as a GM-14 and highest-ranking female on Dugway Proving Ground at that time.
In addition to taking on greater responsibility with each position she served, not to mention raising a growing family of three, Kitsy carved away time to actively participate in programs essential to the installation’s mission needs while also supporting the early efforts of workforce diversity. She served as the coordinator of the Dugway Proving Ground Federal Women’s Program from 1971 to 1976, which hosted the first Women’s Week in 1973 – the first for both ATEC and State of Utah – attracting approximately 200 participants and leaders serving as guest speakers. Garnering the attention of the commanding general for the former Test and Evaluation Command, the groundbreaking event led to subsequent endeavors focusing on women’s roles, issues and opportunities with the Army.
Her success as program coordinator and guiding women to improve their professional skills for advancement opportunities with the federal government led to her selection as the representative for Dugway Proving Ground at the 1975 International Women Conference in Mexico City and First National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977.
Kitsy’s commitment to serving others extended to the Tooele Board of Education for which she served eight years as the first woman president. Made up of eight schools over 200 miles, she leveraged her knowledge of the area during several trips with fellow board members and superintendents to Washington where they lobbied members of Congress for funding directly benefitting Dugway Proving Ground schools. Those efforts contributed to the construction of two duplexes by the Tooele High School shop class, which were then relocated to Wendover, Utah, for residencies to entice teachers to the remote city and meet the growing demands of the student population. She also served as an advocate for both boys and girls sports programs ensuring smaller schools benefitted from the same quality of education, programs and accommodations for special needs and challenged students.
She was the first woman to serve as president of the Dugway Federal Credit Union Board, which served the installation, and remained a board member for five years. Additionally, Kitsy was appointed and served as acting inspector general for Dugway Proving Ground from 1993 to 1997.
While leading the Dugway directorate of information management, she successfully defended an A76 Study of DOIM in 1997 that would have converted federal civilian positions to contractor support; one that has remained intact for the past 24 years. She was also instrumental in obtaining the first cellular service contract at Dugway Proving Ground with AT&T that enhanced quality of life at the installation as well as offered another layer of safety and security in response to local or national emergencies.
After hearing about the potential for a job opportunity at Dugway, the elder Keetch took a leap of faith shortly after graduating high school and hitchhiked two days to the remote Army post. That prospect paid off as he began his federal service in June 1952 as a laborer. In five years, he progressed to field work and then chemical test unit operator only to be disrupted for two years in 1957 after being drafted to serve in the Army Ordnance Corps. Following his honorable discharge, he resumed his job as test unit operator on Dugway in 1959.
Over the next 33 years, his federal career path would include electrician leader, proof technician lead foreman, test officer, chief of the weapons branch, project officer, senior project officer, and finally as the chief of the test conduct division for the ATEC West Desert Test Center. He retired from federal service in 1992 as a GM-13 supervisory physical scientist.
Much like his wife, he sought out opportunities to become involved in efforts to improve the Dugway community. His fellow residents at Dugway’s Fries Park trailer community relied on him for their Saturday fuel oil deliveries to keep their homes heated. When necessary, he was also called upon to make emergency deliveries in the middle of the night. As an attendant armed with a modest knowledge of auto repair at Dugway’s full-service gas station in the early 1960s, he utilized his skills to assist the less mechanically inclined in his community.
At an Army hub for testing, Keetch Sr. was among the first on site to respond to a helicopter crash that took the life of the military test participant, for whom the West Desert Test Center’s Kuddes building is named after. He rendered aide and assistance at the time of the incident and in the days that followed for Soldier’s family who lived on the post at the time.
Having become a prominent subject matter expert on Dugway’s solid waste management units, installation officials often turned to him during his time at the post and following his retirement for essential information. His knack for retaining and recalling details on treatment, storage and disposal procedures at the facility proved highly valuable in ongoing management efforts. In 1992, he accepted a position with Lockheed on Dugway as a test officer for another nine years. It was during that time that the younger Keetch had an opportunity to work together with his father.
“This time was rewarding, entertaining, interesting and fun. It is not every day that a son gets to work with his father,” the MICC director said. “I recall when the company secretary would receive a call for Jim Keetch and the response was always, ‘Do you mean Jim Senior or Jim Junior?’ Some did not know how to answer that question.”
Both of his parents retired in August 2001, leaving Dugway in the very capable hands of their son and moving to South Jordan, Utah. Kitsy still resides in South Jordan but declares that had they been allowed to live at Dugway after retirement, they certainly would have stayed. The senior Keetch passed in 2015.
Preserving the heritage
Having been born and raised on Dugway Proving Ground, Jim Keetch Jr. credits the small-town feel, security of a military post and freedom it also provided for an amazing childhood experience. Little did he know then that he would also follow in his parents’ legacy by spending an entire career there.
“My parents have always been heroes in my eyes. Their sacrifice and willingness to give and serve were instilled in me from my earliest years and are part of my core beliefs and attitude to this day,” he said. “Perhaps their dedication and drive were influenced by the significant military presence at Dugway during those years. Being a part of their everyday lives, being neighbors, having kids in school together, and being a part of a well-rounded community of civilians and military create a synergy that has gone beyond the boundary of Dugway and the years that have passed.
“There was something magical created and nurtured back then that is difficult to describe, but it is amazing to have been a part of it and to have it in my life even today in so many ways,” the MICC director continued. “My parent’s willingness to go the extra mile to support and ensure the mission success of Dugway Proving Ground has continued in me over the past 22 years since their retirement.”
For Keetch, that extra mile also includes his use of lessons learned and experience gained to offer the best business solutions for meeting mission requirements by Dugway mission partners.
“With nearly 40 years of direct WDTC mission support experience, one might think this would make me somewhat of a subject matter expert when it comes to the mission requirements and procurement actions,” Keetch said. “However, DPG’s mission, objectives, technology needs and customer demands are continually morphing to meet DOD requirements. Over the years, I have seen and been involved in many contract requirements, and our customers and senior leadership respect my opinion and input when sought.”
He added throughout those years, he’s been fortunate to have benefited from mentors who made a difference, and he strives to incorporate best practices learned to develop and motivate the staff at MICC-Dugway Proving Ground to foster a cohesive and inviting environment that encourages them to thrive.
“I have seen many teammates come, and I have seen many teammates go,” he said of his past 22 years with the contracting office. “As the director of a small MICC office at the most remote installation in the continental United States, we have our fair share of recruitment and retention challenges that are always present. I have always encouraged my staff to grow and develop, and if that means they eventually leave for greater opportunities or a higher grade, I have never and will never stand in their way. Having so much experience in the office has helped me to understand the needs of the newest recruit to the most seasoned professional.”
As a major range and test facility base in chemical and biological defense for the Army, Dugway is often involved in real-world scenarios, testing and training that have made a difference in the defense of America. Keetch firmly believes that being able to serve the U.S. warfighter without putting on the uniform is what the acquisition career field has given him along with a sense of what he accomplishes day in, and day out matters. He finds affirmation of his commitment in the words of former Senator Barry Goldwater who held, “there’s no greater service to this country than the defense of its freedom.”
He also subscribes to the words of a famed Army general as well as the values outlined in the Army Civilian Creed – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage – as foundational in his commitment to service.
“George S. Patton Jr. declared, ‘The highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.’ Yet there are some who do not wish to or cannot bear arms for our country but desire a way to serve,” Keetch said. “Federal service is certainly one.”
It is that vow to the nation and its Soldiers that Keetch hopes others find as an inspiration to serve whether in uniform as a fellow civilian employee.
“Knowing that acquisition decisions and procurement actions completed by my office may have contributed to safeguarding our warfighters and nation is what gets me up each morning and continues to fuel my desire to serve,” he said.
And as Dugway Proving Ground prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary on March 1, deeply woven in that history is the dedicated commitment of the Keetch legacy for 68 of those years.
About the MICC
Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,300 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. As part of its mission, MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.