Christy McDonald talks with Brigadier General Darren Werner about what it’s like coming back to Michigan to command TACOM in Warren, MI, the kind of leadership qualities people are looking for today, and what to remember going into Veterans Day.
Christy McDonald, One Detroit: We’re over a week away from recognizing Veterans Day and in that spirit, we have the opportunity to speak with a new commanding general at TACOM who joins me now, Brigadier General Darren Werner, it’s good to see you sir.
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner, Commander U.S. Army TACOM: Thanks, it’s great to see you too.
Christy McDonald: You know, your service with the Army is expansive. You served in Afghanistan and Iraq among other places, but you are from Michigan, from Mayville. So, coming to be a commander here is kind of like coming home and that was in June correct?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: That’s right, yeah, it was a great, great news for me to hear that my next assignment was going to be here at TACOM. As a Michigander, born and raised here, I spent all my life all the way up until I entered into the Army on active duty. It was the first opportunity I had to serve our nation from home. So, it’s exciting and not only is it exciting for me personally, but it’s exciting for my family. Who now I have an older, my oldest son is a CMU student who happens to be my college as well, where I went to school.
Christy McDonald: That’s excellent, and again, after being all around the world to be able to land here. But you were actually here in the springtime helping with logistics in the field hospital at this TCF Center in April during the covid cases. Can you describe your experience there?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: Yeah, so I was, my command, 13th Expeditionary Command was assigned to U.S. Army North, which was responsible for establishing all the field hospitals across the country. And my assignment was to support Task Force Center, which happened to be a Michigan command, the 46th Military Police Command and provide sustainment support to them as they set up hospitals all the way from Detroit down to Baton Rouge, Dallas, Chicago, all throughout the center part of the United States. And what a rewarding opportunity that was for us as we looked at how we could distribute personal protective equipment, as well as assist the local officials in establishing the alternate care facilities that were established back in March and April.
Christy McDonald: You know, we take for granted that TACOM is located and Warren, but the work really that the U.S. Army is doing there with technology and engineering is pivotal to U.S. security. Describe for people and I guess maybe refresh our memories of the expanse nature of the Detroit arsenal and the work that’s going on there that you’re doing?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: Yeah, so TACOM is the centerpiece of a combination of three different major army commands. TACOM is a part of Army Materiel Command, which is the sustainment headquarters for the Army. We deliver everything that a soldier would need in the field or at home, at their home station. The other two elements are Army Futures Command, which is a new command that is established, it does experimentation in engineering and develops what our future Army is going to look like. And then the third part is our acquisition command, (ASA(ALT)), which is called the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
I know it’s a lot of words, but that organization combined with our Futures Command and Army Materiel Command in the shape of TACOM, delivers to the Army everything that you see that a soldier has, whether it’s the clothing they wear, the rifles they carry or the vehicles they ride in. And here at TACOM and at Detroit Arsenal, we are working collaboratively to develop the new equipment that you’ll see in the future. One of the newest organizations, one of the newest pieces of equipment that has been acquired, is the infantry squad vehicle.
Which was developed by General Motors defense and was purchased through an acquisition contract agreement through one of the (ASA(ALT)) or acquisition command. An Army Materiel Command to TACOM has been critical in the acquisition process and then the sustainment of that equipment once it’s delivered to the soldiers in the field.
Christy McDonald: You have so much going on there and walking into a command post like this. And during covid, how is this different from any other assignment that you’ve had and how did you have to adjust?
Well, I can first tell you that I’ve not seen my full workforce here since I’ve been in command. Since I took over in June, a majority of the headquarters personnel have been on telework and have been doing an incredible job working through distributed means. Using different systems including Microsoft Teams and other systems such as that, to virtually check-in and execute their work. So that’s been interesting, and I never thought we’d be at a place where we’d have to count on our workforce to be working from home. But it is kind of unique as I sit in a lot of meetings using Zoom or some other method. And, you know, one of our great talented workers will come up on the screen and one of their children will walk behind them or the dog will bark. It’s a strange new world, isn’t it?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: It is, but you know I find some pleasure in that, in the fact that, you know, even though we’re in this very difficult time with a pandemic in place, we still, you know, the world still goes on and our people can be at home. And not only can they deliver great work, but they can also take care of their families, which is just as important as the work they do for us.
Christy McDonald: You know, when anyone comes into leadership you always wonder what’s their style? How will you motivate staff and reach goals and especially under these new working conditions when you haven’t been face to face with a lot of the people that you’re leading and working with? And I think we’re at a time that we’re thinking about leadership and its most effective ways and aspects that can have a detrimental effect. How do you look at leadership?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: So, in this time it is so important that we look at our, those that we work with and those that we lead as teammates. And I’m a huge believer that to be successful, you have to create a team that is capable of executing its mission with or without you. And to give, have the confidence in those individuals that are part of your team that they’re going to deliver the best that they can deliver.
A kind of relate to one of my favorite pastimes, which is baseball. And I think about how, you know, the best teams out there are made up of the individuals that are paid the most, but they’re made up of those individuals who work the best together. And I love being part of an organization that everybody’s down the field, everybody’s engaged and part of what’s going on. Nobody sitting on the sidelines, but everybody is engaged. They all, everyone know their position and they play their position extremely well. But they always look out for their teammates, they back up their teammates and they provide that depth to the organization that you always know that regardless of what’s going to happen, there’s always going to be someone there to take care of the mission.
Christy McDonald: Go ahead.
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: Yeah, I’ve shaped my life in that manner and understanding that as a team, you will you’ll always be able to get the results you’re looking for; individuals can’t always get there.
Christy McDonald: I would say that baseball also takes patience and strategy. And when you look at the world, what kind of leadership style do you think we’re missing out there in the world?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: So, you know I would say that number one it’s the ability to listen and to take what you hear and turn that into a positive result. I believe that as leaders today when you can listen to your team, when you can pay close attention to the things that are going well, as well as those things that aren’t going so well and listen to those individuals who are out there who are providing their insight.
I think that some of the things I’ve learned in my time in the Army have been that if you can listen to those people around you and actually use their ideas, use their thoughts, even if you know that they might not be the best, you get the confidence of those individuals. And you become, you know, it gives you a sense of ownership and teamwork and the whole organization gets better. If you can get the confidence of your employees and those that you work with and they trust you, just because you’ve given them the opportunity to demonstrate that you have confidence in them, you really create a great environment that really you will thrive.
Christy McDonald: You know, I think it’s really interesting what you said about listening and hearing other people’s ideas that maybe don’t agree with yours. I think we’ve all seen management styles where people are surrounded by the people who just say yes to the person in charge all the time and never challenge maybe with a different idea. And the balance of challenging or surrounding yourself as a leader with some very smart people who can bring something different to the table, then I think sets up the organization in different ways well.
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: I agree. I think I’ve been told by a lot of my leaders as I’ve grown up in the Army, that to surround yourself with people that look like you, who act like you, who do things like you is only going to give you one result. And that isn’t always the best result, but when you can have a diverse group of individuals who are around you, who can provide their candid assessment and their view, you really get the best organization you could possibly want and I fully agree with that.
Over my career, I’ve been part of many diverse organizations that have been able to thrive in very stressful and demanding environments. And to have a whole group of individuals who you brought along with you and you developed and grown up with isn’t always the best thing. So, I really am a big fan of reaching out and pulling people in from different organizations, from different cultures and different experiences to really make your organization rich with diversity.
Christy McDonald: And really understanding that we are working in different times now and we’re really reshaping what that work looks like and how we collaborate together and work together, whether it’s by Zoom or whether it’s something else. I want to close with this with Veterans Day coming up, where we really recognize the service that men and women are giving to our country. What’s the one thing that you would encourage us all to remember on Veterans Day?
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: I would offer up that we all show just look around us and recognize that as Americans, there are many people every day, whether they’re veterans or even our first responders, who give to the nation willingly without hesitation. And that’s a great thing to see in our world today, that people are so selfless that they’ll give their lives in the defense of their nation. And there are hundreds of thousands of people who have made that dedication right now that are serving today, but our veterans, millions of our Americans have served our nation throughout the years and they’ve done it willingly and they’ve done it because of what our nation stands for.
When you see a veteran, when you see our first responders, when you see those people who give back and really, you know, they give back for one reason and then it’s patriotism, it’s the commitment to our Constitution. I think we all should thank them, and we should do it not just because it’s a cliche of, you know, thanks for your service, but because we really mean it. And I appreciate it, I appreciate those I serve with, I appreciate the veterans who I’d love to talk to, to hear their stories. And I really appreciate those that provide services to our brothers and sisters here at home, our first responders.
Christy McDonald: Thank you for that. The new commanding general at TACOM is Brigadier General Darren Warner. It’s good to see you and hopefully we get to meet in person sometime soon. Thank you, sir, so much for your time.
Brig. Gen. Darren L. Werner: Thank you and I look forward to meeting you as well.
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