Figuring out the “why” in what you do and the reasoning behind your purpose is a mindset that will not only inspire others who watch you pursue your career, but it might just land you a very prestigious award. Nathan Parks, deputy chief of staff of resource management G8 at the Security Assistance Command, adopted Simon Sinek’s mindset of “Starting with Why” in his career, and it eventually earned him the Leonard F. Keenan Award at Syracuse University.
This award honors a graduate of the Defense Comptrollership Program at Syracuse University who demonstrates personal leadership, technical competence, dedication to excellence and significant contribution toward improving Department of Defense resource management. It is named after a former deputy comptroller of the Army who was known for improving professionalism and development of career Army comptrollers.
At the time Parks was attending this program in 2009, he was working at headquarters Army Europe G8 in Heidelberg, Germany. His postgraduate follow-on assignment to the headquarters Army Materiel Command G8 was preselected to support headquarters AMC’s Base Realignment and Closure from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to Redstone Arsenal.
Although Parks and his family were geographically separated as they moved from Germany to Huntsville and Parks moved up to Syracuse, this did not prevent him from enjoying his 14 months at Syracuse University. He took advantage of the specialized courses at the Whitman School of Management and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, traveled to D.C. for a week of congressional engagements, conducted over 100 hours of community service, and passed the Certified Defense Financial Manager with Acquisition Specialty examination.
“My goal coming out of Syracuse, and my goal today remains to make a positive impact in my organization, in the service of our nation, and to this incredible profession of arms,” Parks said. “I hope to bring a new energy, a fresh perspective, and a honed set of skills to strengthen our internal and external relationships across the security assistance enterprise and move the USASAC team forward. Bottom line, I hope to make a positive impact to the organization.”
What’s neat about this award is that most of the past award recipients are current and prior senior executive leaders across the DOD with a background in resource management. This inherently brings a certain expectation and credibility in Parks’ current role. He hopes to meet and exceed those expectations, but he wants to start first with strengthening his relationships that empower the team to continuously achieve small wins that will build up over time. From current and past teammates to lifelong mentors, Parks said he is extremely thankful for the consistent and growing support he has received throughout his career.
“I am deeply humbled and honored to receive this gracious recognition,” Parks said. “However, I must acknowledge that this award is not solely a testament of my efforts alone, it is a reflection of the collective work and support of countless individuals who have stood with me on this journey.”
This award recognizes demonstrated achievements that make significant contributions to the DOD resource management profession, and Parks’ efforts in his career path clearly embrace every facet of it. In Europe, Parks was responsible for the Army’s first European Deterrent Initiative resource request. He worked with the U.S. European Command; the headquarters Army; and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation staffs. At headquarters AMC, he led the force structure realignments of Army Futures Command and Installation Management Command and worked on projects that had AMC executive deputy to the commanding general and commanding general visibility.
Early on, Parks implemented a mindset like Simon Sinek’s idea of identifying one’s foundational motivation that drives that person and gets him out of bed every morning. So, rather than knowing “what” Parks does and “how” he does it, he wants to uncover the underlying motivation that lights his fire in his career and move forward using that specific energy.
When he first started as a headquarters Department of Army intern for the Army Civilian Training, Education and Development Systems, he called his job an adventure getting to work in a small closet on the E-ring in Army G8. However, once he left Germany for Syracuse University, he admitted his job became more of a career, which has transformed into his calling because it requires him to focus on the “why” he serves in this profession of arms.
“My ‘why’ is personal to me, but I will tell you that it keeps me inspired, motivated and energized every day,” Parks said.
Retired Lt. Gen. James McCall, former comptroller of the Army, presented Parks with the award at the ceremony. Parks had the opportunity over these two days to hear and speak with McCall; Mike Haynie, Syracuse University vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation; the DCP class of 2023 and 2024; and other inspiring leaders. He especially enjoyed getting to be back on campus to show his family around, visit his favorite spots and see how much has changed since he was last there.
“It was remarkable to be back on campus and to take the opportunity to give my family a tour of the beautiful Syracuse University grounds,” Parks said. “It holds a special place in my heart. I was also reminded of how unique and exceptional the Defense Comptroller Program is, how vital the resource management mission is, as well as the talent and diversity within our very dedicated workforce.”