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"Crossroads of the Marine Corps"

Unit News
Base honors civilians who ‘serve in leadership’

By Mike DiCicco | | January 31, 2014

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Against a backdrop of furloughs and a government shutdown that created uncertainty for federal civilian employees over the last year, last week’s civilian awards ceremony provided an opportunity “to recognize those civilians who have excelled and stepped up and really demonstrated a level of performance, a level of caring, a level of commitment to their job, to the Corps and to the Marines that makes them unique,” said Col. David Maxwell, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The 2013 civilians of the year, the civilians of the fourth quarter and their runners-up were presented their awards at The Clubs at Quantico on Jan. 29, 2014.

Few civilians were more intimately tied to last year’s budget turmoil than Dave Newman, director of the base’s Civilian Manpower Branch and the 2013 senior civilian of the year.

Quantico’s manpower leadership was expecting a quiet year in 2013, said Bill Taylor, head of the Manpower Division. “Well, it didn’t turn out that way.”

First there was a hiring freeze, and when hiring began again, there was little money to do it, Taylor said, adding that Newman knew how to “work the levers” to hire the right numbers of employees at the right times. Then, when the furlough hit, it fell to Newman to decide who was exempted, send out and retrieve letters of notice, and make sure everyone took the right number of furlough hours and that they were logged for the correct pay periods. The shutdown required similar preparation and recovery.

When a 10 percent reduction was imposed on labor costs, Newman wrangled with directors about how the cuts could be made and finally drew up his own list of positions that could be cut.

“And that’s above and beyond getting up every day and doing the 400 things you need to do in manpower,” Taylor said.

What defines Newman, though, is his dedication, his care for others and his integrity, Taylor said.

“If I was giving him a [fitness report], he’s the star at the top of the Christmas tree,” he said. “There’s nobody better, period, end of story.”

Newman credited his team with the branch’s success. “I was on sick leave for a little while, and they took advantage of it,” he added. “Because if I had known about this, I would have derailed it.”

Rebecca Childress, prevention and education specialist for Marine Corps Community Services, was named junior civilian of the year for her development and tailoring of new and existing programs for Marines and their families over the last year.

Reading over the list of her accomplishments, said Mary Hicks, director of MCCS, “I said, ‘My goodness, most people wouldn’t have accomplished this in a career, much less a year.’”

Childress developed three new workshops last year — one for single Marines, another for couples and one for children and their fathers. According to her certificate of commendation, she used the feedback she sought out from Marines and families to develop programs that resonated with them and then made them more accessible by providing childcare and scheduling evening and weekend sessions. Attendance increased “tremendously.”

Hicks said Childress sometimes found programs on her own, got trained and gave a seminar, “and immediately there was a need for more.” She said Childress’ experience in the Army and the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office informed her service to Marine Corps families. “She just has an ability to know what is needed,” she said.

Michael Smith, deputy command inspector general for Quantico, and runner-up for senior civilian of the year, has only been at the base for about a year, but spent almost all of that year filling in as the acting command inspector general. During that time, he overhauled administrative processes in the office and trained the staff in new ways of conducting business to make the organization more efficient, according to his certificate. He accomplished all this while navigating several high-interest, complex and sensitive investigations.

“He has just been the epitome of what you want in that type of environment,” said Col. Blake Wilson, the command inspector general. “We didn’t miss a beat while Mike was in there.” He said Smith devoted time and dedication to training and expanding the roles of the office’s personnel, to the extent that one of them has already moved on to a higher position.

Cmdr. Erik Breitenbach, public works officer for the base, compared the job of public works customer service clerk to that of the person in charge of lost luggage at an airport. “When anybody’s coming to see you, they’re not very happy,” he said.

Not only that, but there were supposed to be two clerks doing Jacqueline Tyson’s job last year.

“She performed the work of two people for virtually the entire year last year,” Breitenbach said of the runner-up for junior civilian of the year.

He said the work involves assessing the problems those unhappy callers report and determining who can fix them, as well as much coordination to schedule power outages in support of construction and other projects. She also dedicated dozens of hours in addition to her normal duties to training the new work reception clerk.

In October, the chief of the base fire department was out, and the government shutdown was in effect. Assistant Chief Tracy Wheeler, the senior civilian of the fourth quarter, filled in as the fire chief.

“He saw that as an opportunity,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Ringvelski, commanding officer of Security Battalion. “He was hungry for the challenge.”

During the fourth quarter, Wheeler established maintenance and training plans for the department and improved fire department planning for the next several years, according to his certificate. He also recruited two paramedics and six firefighters, and he coordinated maintenance and cleaning of the fire breaks.

“He got the wheels turning on a couple of initiatives people had been wanting to get going for a while,” Ringvelski said.

The junior civilian of the fourth quarter was also an employee of the base fire department, Firefighter James Thacker, who was instrumental in installing dispatch computers in all emergency vehicles and helping to produce and install emergency vehicle warning packages in several of the department’s vehicles, according to his certificate.

Contracting the work out would have taken the vehicles off the streets for days and would have cost a considerable sum, Ringvelski said. “He’s been able to save our budgets so we can use that money for other things,” he said.

Thacker also ensured maps and street files were up to date and built working relationships with surrounding fire departments.

“One of the things that stand out is this concept of ‘serve in leadership,’” Maxwell said, noting that the awardees were people who don’t put themselves above others or seek attention but rather ask how they can help.

— Writer: mdicicco@quanticosentryonline.com


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