DISA leaders reflect on assistant to the director’s positive agency impact
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
April 25, 2022
As the assistant to the DISA director prepares for his April 28 retirement, Army Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee's colleagues and teammates reflect on his positive impact in improving DISA's mission, vision and services.
Yee provided leadership for the agency’s $13 billion information technology and cybersecurity portfolio, and a 19,000 combined military, civilian and contract workforce that provides IT support to the president, secretary of defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders and Defense Department components.
He also championed persistent senior leader engagement with the services, combatant commands and industry as the agency's customer-facing executive and senior procurement executive, resulting in improved trust and communication.
"In the Army, you hear the motto ‘Mission First, People Always.’” Yee said. “I always try to put myself on the other side of a discussion and ask, 'how would I want to receive information or how would I want to be treated?'
“You can't get a job done without people -- they are our most critical resource,” Yee said.
Improving trust, communication
Frank Gonzalez, Mission Partner Engagement Office chief, acknowledges Yee's aptitude to improve relationships across partners was a vital part of DISA's current success and growth.
"If you look at the number of mission partner engagements back during fiscal year 2019, DISA conducted 50 two-star or above level engagements with partners," Gonzalez said.
"During fiscal year 2021, that number went up to 157 -- followed by 250 during fiscal year 2022. In just two years, Maj. Gen. Yee helped increase the contact points with major mission partners at least fivefold, which is significant."
In many cases, Yee would facilitate conversations with other organizations to help them understand the battlespace and make DISA's capabilities easier to understand, Gonzalez added.
"He was setting the stage for us to improve our engagement processes with industry, and he is forcing us to take a hard look at the way we've done business in the past," he said. "What DISA provides is a weapon system that enables decision makers to pull the trigger faster than our adversaries. Maj. Gen. Yee's role as the mission partner executive has been critical to enhancing that aspect of the DISA mission."
Yee also had a fundamental desire to focus on continuous improvement, especially as the senior procurement executive, said Douglas W. Packard, DISA's procurement services executive and director of the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization.
"If a problem were to arise, Maj. Gen. Yee always wanted to know the root cause to determine how we should go about fixing it. He would also adapt his leadership style to focus on an issue," Packard added. "He was always genuine and pushed us to be better tomorrow."
Yee maintained a common-sense leadership approach and provided a depth of perspective well versed across DISA's portfolio of programs, said Debra D. Daniels, the vice procurement services executive and Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization deputy director.
"Maj. Gen. Yee understood the role of our contracting officer representatives in how they supported the entire agency and portfolio," Daniels said. "If there was an issue or hole in the process, he was probably already tracking it.
"But more importantly, [Yee] welcomed everyone and possessed an ability to connect diverse communities to accomplish the mission," she added.
Empowering the workforce
Coinciding with his primary roles and responsibilities, Yee purposely set aside to focus on the workforce and personnel initiatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, he launched several internal communications initiatives – including "DISA In The Know," a widespread live virtual lunch-and-learn engagement that averaged more than 1,000 viewers per month.
"He was shaping the workforce long before COVID-19 came and interrupted our lives," said Lori Ramirez, the Workforce Services and Development director. "He thinks about the people, the mission and partners all the time, and he just radiates out in all directions to support, which is neat to watch."
Yee also spent a lot of his time thinking about the agency’s military personnel, Ramirez added.
"As we bring the military in, they learn DISA -- and we make them as 'purple' as we can before they go back to the force. When they return, we want them to be able to relate what DISA does and connect the military with the agency's mission," she said.
When the pandemic forced 80% of the DISA workforce to operate out of their homes, DISA In The Know became a consistent means to engage with the DISA workforce while making leadership accessible and willing to discuss challenging topics.
"DISA In The Know was just another way I could help the workforce and promote other people doing great things for the agency," Yee said.
"The work here is never done. The mission of DISA is always evolving," he added. "With the next challenge, DISA will need to find ways to integrate as people start to come back into work."
It will take a balanced approach to build cohesive in-person teams, all while maintaining the same high caliber of work by teleworking personnel, Yee added.
"The tone that Maj. Gen. Yee set is essential, as it was always at the right time for the agency," Ramirez said. "He is always observant and constantly thinking about the workforce. He is also engaging and always looks for ways to influence and support.
"His leadership style reminds you of all of the good things a leader can do, and he strives to do that every time," she added.
The past three years at DISA and his combined 35 years of Army service have been a long but grateful journey, Yee said.
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