By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneSeptember 25, 2009
When Rick Turner retires in November from his position as executive director of the Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Activity, he will be taking with him a reputation of excellence and commitment built during 33 years of civilian service.
It is a reputation that will be recognized nationwide at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition in October when Turner is presented with the annual Department of the Army Civilian of the Year Award for outstanding service to the Army, its Soldiers, civilians and families.
"I view this award as recognition of the Army value of selfless service. This award is recognition for the USATA team and the other folks at Redstone who support us," Turner said.
"We have 61 different locations in 11 countries, in 26 states and on three different continents. We have great Americans working for us. They are truly supporting our customers, and I have the honor of representing them. This is a team of professionals - 90 percent of which are former Soldiers - who don't care who gets the credit as long as Soldiers get the support they need. That's what makes it easy to come to work every day."
Similar to others who have received prestigious Army awards, Turner said he is "humbled" and "honored" to be chosen for the AUSA award from among thousands of dedicated DA civilians, and considers it a "great honor" to be recognized for the work that's being done by USATA employees in support of Soldiers "who raise their right hand to defend our nation and, possibly, give their life for it."
He also sees the award as an opportunity to promote the work of USATA's 600 employees.
"There are great things going on in this organization that the general public may not understand," Turner said. "We support every weapon system in the Army. We support every unit in the Army. Our job is to calibrate and repair test equipment. Without properly calibrated test equipment, the maintenance of the Army would not be based on sound data and then you would have issues with safety, readiness and down time.
"Maintenance is the lifeblood of readiness. If you don't have good readiness, then you don't have ready forces. It is so critical to have high TMDE (test measurement and diagnostic equipment) availability so that we can keep readiness at 96 percent, and at 97 and 98 percent in southwest Asia in places like Kuwait, Bagram (Afghanistan), Balad (Iraq), Qatar and Kandahar (Afghanistan)."
For three years, Turner has led USATA in its work for 15,000 customers worldwide, including the Army's deployed operational forces, and research and development test sites as well as NASA, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Homeland Security. It's been said "the sun never sets on USATA employees," with 200 located at Redstone Arsenal and another 400 worldwide who work to evaluate 500,000 TMDE items used to perform maintenance on Army helicopters, missiles and weapon systems.
"It is an unbelievable mission," he said. "Some people think you have to go to the Pentagon and make policy to have a positive influence on the Army. But this is one organization that affects every weapon system and every unit in the Army, and provides assistance to Soldiers serving throughout the world."
Turner announced his retirement to USATA employees prior to his selection in March as the DA Civilian of the Year by AUSA's Redstone-Huntsville chapter. He then was chosen for the regional DA award, which paved the way for his selection for the national DA award.
"I know the situation here will be in very good hands after I leave," he said. "I have faith and confidence in the youth of America, and I base that on my own kids and the new employees we have coming in here as interns, co-ops and AMC Fellows."
As USATA's chief administrator, Turner made a personal commitment to the organization's mission and its employees "to take it to the next level" in recruiting, training, mentoring and leading USATA's future work force. When he took over at USATA, the average age of employees was 52 and the organization was facing an expanding mission due to war.
"We have a group of professionals in 35 different job series and nine different career fields representing engineering, science, physics, logistics and acquisition," he said. "It's fun to help these professionals with their careers, to motivate them to get out of their comfort zone, and to set the environment where they can flourish and achieve career goals. Once you do that, you can sit back and watch your employees, and see great things happen."
That philosophy toward mentoring has been encouraged by Team Redstone leaders, including former leaders Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury and Richard Amos, and current leaders Maj. Gen. Jim Myles and Ronnie Chronister.
"I've been involved in over 15 different job development assignments and special projects," Turner said. "That's good for the Army because you can take different experiences to the next challenge. It makes you more versatile."
Turner's career has included a five-year tour in Germany with the 200th Theater Army Materiel Management Center, and numerous positions at the former Missile Command and now Aviation and Missile Command in the areas of logistics and program management. He has served as the deputy executive director for the Integrated Materiel Management Center and as the aircraft team chief on the Army vice chief of staff's Aviation Readiness and Sustainment Task Force. He received the Commander's Award in 1994, the 1994 Ernest A. Young Logistician of the Year Award, and the Superior Civilian Performance Award in 2003; was selected as one of AMC's Ten Outstanding Personnel of the Year in 2002; was nominated for the National Defense Industrial Association's Defense Management Award in 2000; and was nominated for the first time as the local AUSA DA civilian of the year in 2003.
Turner is a frequent speaker at employee development activities, including LIFT (Leader Investment For Tomorrow) and TACL (Tomorrow's Army Civilian Leaders) programs.
In his presentations to new employees, Turner emphasizes several crucial truths that will help them develop into successful DA civilian or contractor employees. They include: treat people with dignity and respect; always have a sense of urgency and a sense of humor; do more than is expected; always be willing to help people with their dreams and career aspirations; use the chain of command for help when needed; if you don't know a Soldier, adopt one; know yourself; listen to others; be willing to talk about your blind spots; tell the truth; when no one is in charge, take charge; and keep the right perspective and attitude.
"If you have a bad situation, think positively. Find a way to turn it around," Turner said. "Like Tiger Woods on a golf course, never be content, always try to do better, always go for the next level."
Early in his career, Turner was walking with his commander - Col. Jarod Lemoine -- when the colonel stopped to pick up a piece of trash. Turner asked the officer why he did that and the answer has impacted his whole career.
"He gave me two answers. The first is that we all live here and have to be responsible for our environment. That second thing was people are always watching us and we have to set the example," he recalled. "Picking up a piece of paper is a small thing, but it translates into bigger and bigger things. It translates into things to consider like 'Do we allow unethical things to occur around us'' And 'Do we worry more about ourselves than in helping the taxpayer and the Soldier''"
Turner has often spoken to the AMC Fellows program at the Logistics Leadership Center at Red River in Texarkana, Texas. He himself was hired as a supply management intern and went through the program in 1976, coming to Redstone Arsenal in 1977.
"When I go there to participate in their leadership panels, I often visit the room where I and 40 other interns had class all those years ago. I always sat in the front row," he recalled. "Recently when I was there, I was running down to the front of the room for a presentation and a young intern was running up past me. He was so eager and energetic. I thought it was symbolic because my career is going down as he is running up into his career."
Turner said he will be spending his new-found free time in retirement with his family - including wife Janice; son Bradley, who is an engineer in support of the Software Engineering Directorate, and his wife Summer; and daughter Angela, who is a University of Alabama-Huntsville senior and who co-ops with the Closed Combat Weapon Systems office. He will also be golfing, working around his home and his vacation home in Fort Morgan, possibly considering a second career, and volunteering with such organizations as Still Serving Veterans, Tennessee Valley Honor Flight and, of course, the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of AUSA.
"I was the civilian representative on the AUSA board a couple years ago. They are an amazing group of people who have a passion for supporting Soldiers and their families, and they have fun doing it," he said.
"That's what my whole career has been about. It's not about me. It's about keeping the mission going. It's about Soldiers and Soldiers will always be here."
Editor's note: Turner will accept his DA Civilian of the Year Award in a ceremony at the AUSA annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. His retirement ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to noon in Bob Jones Auditorium.