DISA’s Defense Spectrum Organization Executive retiring after serving America for 38 years, DISA for 18
It won’t be long before DISA’s Defense Spectrum Organization senior executive is traveling the nation with his wife in their shiny, new motor home.
After more than 38 years serving his country, 18 of those with DISA, Alan Lewis is trading his leadership position for one that’s a little more relaxed — motor-home captain.
“My wife always dreamed of owning a motor home once we retired,” Lewis said, jokingly. “She just has never dreamed of driving one.”
Lewis first came to DISA in 1991, when it was still the Defense Communications Agency (DCA). He was serving on active duty as a Navy lieutenant commander at the time. He returned as a commander in 1997, supporting the global broadcast service. After retiring from active duty and a short stretch working in industry, he returned to the agency as a Senior Executive Service member (SES) in 2005.
“When I came in (to DISA) it was with General Croom, and General Croom was very much an entrepreneur,” he said. “His take on DISA was that we were a business. … Obviously we’re a combat support agency, but many aspects of what we did were businesslike. So the similarities and the capabilities that we provide have to be useful or else they won’t be consumed.”
Lewis said the agency must parallel industry by ensuring the capabilities and services it offers are useful.
“We have to provide useful capabilities and services … services that are needed by our mission partners, by warfighters … services that will be consumed,” he said. “When we’re successful at doing that, it leads to further success.”
Although his heart has always been with service to country, he does say working in industry was a blessed opportunity.
“Industry allowed me to recognize that I was the same person, with the same motivation to do well to deliver regardless of whether I was in uniform, or I was working for a corporation, or I’m back as a government civilian,” he said. “Maintaining focus and the culture of my organization to recognize and appreciate … that as Admiral Norton talks about … diversity of thought … that’s what I really learned. Diversity of thought, diversity of perspective and experience, and embracing that because that’s how we deliver better capability.”
The soft-spoken leader said his career has provided a portfolio of life’s lessons. He offered a small bit of wisdom from the “cup half full” school of thought.
“Understand that everyone we deal with operates with sometimes a slightly, and sometimes a significantly, different set of constraints and requirements in their own objectives and missions of their organization. It’s important we recognize and appreciate that, rather than attribute some sort of mal-intent to them because they are opposed to what we’re doing,” he said. “Instead, seek to understand the opposition … because that’s the other thing that I’ve learned through the years is … virtually everyone does the best they can. People want to do well, they want to succeed, and they want to be fulfilled in doing it.”
Although Lewis is preparing for the next chapter in his life, he still contemplates DISA’s future and what he believes is the clearest path toward success. He said the way forward is a symbiotic relationship between DISA and industry.
“Understanding that for us to be successful, our industry counterparts have to be successful,” he said. “It’s a business relationship where they stay in business doing what we need them to do - by virtue of generating revenue and profit. Recognize it, appreciate it; that’s how they do what they do. We need to do what we can do to work them, and we need to ensure they deliver, because we have that responsibility as well.”
Lewis also discussed how DISA plays an integral role in America’s national defense strategy.
“I fought to come to DISA back in 1991,” he said. “I had no comm background, but I saw what the mission of DISA was … even back then when it was DCA … and I wanted to be a part of that.”
He said this is the third time in his tenure at DISA when the agency’s funding and future is a subject of conversation on Capitol Hill.
“I believe, personally, it’s based a fundamental lack of understanding of the breadth and depth of the missions this agency performs,” Lewis said. “There’s a reason DISA was formed … there’s a reason DCA was formed. It makes sense to have a joint organization that is providing capability that everyone needs rather than having multiple organizations doing it redundantly. It was recognized that it made sense to consolidate and have not only an organization doing that, but also a single network that supports all.”
Philosopher George Santayana said those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and Lewis wholeheartedly agrees. He said he sees a growing need for DISA or a DISA-like organization to meet the enterprise needs of the Department of Defense and do it efficiently and effectively at the very time when fiscal constraints are growing.
“This urban legend (that says) if you distribute those (DISA) functions to the individual services is somehow going to be a better answer, I think we have forgotten history and forgotten why we were formed in the first place.”
Although Lewis will always be an advocate for DISA, he’s excited to see what the future holds.
He and his wife will be assisting both sets of parents, and as an individual, Lewis is motivated to finding new, fulfilling tasks. He is very interested in giving back, even though he doesn’t know what that looks like right now, and he’s enthusiastic about getting reacquainted with himself.
“I would not have done anything differently in my career in terms of DISA because I believe so strongly in what we do and how critical it is, and for me, that’s been my fulfillment. But now, RV driver, maintainer … all of which I need to learn … getting back to reading, continuing to learn and to provide service in some way. That’s what it’s about, and that’s where I’ll get my fulfillment.”
Lewis will retire from federal service May 31 during a ceremony at DISA’s Headquarters on Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.
Posted May 29, 2018