By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 21, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today honored career civilian employees from throughout the department, crediting them with providing extraordinary support to warfighters and their families while improving efficiency and saving taxpayer dollars. Gates presented seven employees the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the highest department honor recognizing exceptional contributions by a civil servant. He also presented the David O. Cooke Excellence in Public Administration Award that recognizes a nonmanagerial department employee who exhibits potential as a future federal executive.
"It has been an honor to work with the people in this department – professionals whose overriding priority is the defense of our nation," Gates told the honorees.
He noted the broad range of pursuits in which the group has excelled: providing housing for troops, fielding new weapons systems while ensuring support for troops in the field, teaching safety training to foreign partners, helping to stand up U.S. Africa Command, negotiating treaties with allies and training new leaders.
Gates conceded that it's not always fashionable in Washington to honor federal government employees, and that some politicians have been elected by criticizing the people they seek to lead.
"During my career, however, I have dealt with governments all over the world, and have found that the United States has the most dedicated, most honest and most capable public servants of any," he said.
The secretary praised dedicated career employees he said provide stability through leadership changes. "You are the foundation that allows the Defense Department, the largest and most complex organization on the planet, to operate smoothly and efficiently," he said.
"Public service can often seem to be a thankless job," he said, adding that he counsels young people to accept the challenges because, "in truth, the satisfactions far outnumber the difficulties."
Gates told today's honorees their decision to dedicate themselves to public service "is to the betterment of our 2.7 million men and women serving in the active and reserve armed forces and to our leaders here."
Michael L. Rhodes, acting director for the DoD Office of Administration and Management and host of today's awards ceremony, said the award recipients demonstrate the tremendous dedication public servants take on every day.
The winners were selected through an extensive review process that culminated in 25 nominations, Rhodes said. Ultimately, those chosen for honors today "have truly set themselves apart and proved themselves worthy," he said.
Honorees awarded today were:
-- Stephen A. Fleet, director of Missile Defense Agency's Warfighter Support Center, who was recognized for excellence in leading the center through rapid changes while providing vital support to the warfighter community;
-- Steven M. Huybrechts, a director in the DoD Networks and Information Integration Office, for championing the strategy that provided precision targeting, secure unmanned aerial vehicle operations while denying these capabilities to the enemy;
-- Frank D. Kenlon, a director in the DoD Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Office, for his roles as the lead negotiator on the Joint Strike Fighter memorandum of understanding and in drafting and negotiating the U.S.-United Kingdom and U.S.-Australia Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties.
-- Claudia S. Knott, the Defense Logistics Agency's acquisition management director, for leading programs that transformed the agency's business practices while improving customer service in its global logistics mission.
-- Barbara Estock Mays, deputy intelligence enterprise manager for the Defense Intelligence Agency, for applying innovative approaches to transfer responsibilities and design an intelligence enterprise for the new U.S. Africa Command.
-- John K. Russell, tactical safety specialist for Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Base Safety Center, for developing the Marine Corps' forward-deployed ground safety program during Operation Iraqi Freedom II that provided a model for follow-on operations there; and
-- Edmund G. Zelnio, an engineer in the Air Force Research Laboratory's Sensor Automatic Target Recognition Technology Division, for contributions leading to the successful deployment of new sensor and sensor exploitation technologies in numerous weapons systems.
Gates also presented Umit A. Spencer the David O. Cooke Excellence in Public Administration Award. Spencer, housing maintenance contract monitor with the 354th Civil Engineering Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was honored for excellence in improving and maintaining 1,474 military family housing units, 48 playgrounds and five athletic courts.