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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Lt. Cmdr. David R. DeMille

Interview with Lt. Cmdr. David R. DeMille
Officer in Charge, SPAWAR Systems Facility Pacific
By CHIPS Magazine - April-June 2006
The Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Facility Pacific (SSFP) provides engineering and installation services for both afloat and ashore systems supporting FORCEnet in the Western Pacific. SSFP's assigned area of responsibility (AOR) is immense encompassing Singapore, Diego Garcia, Australia, American Samoa and New Zealand. Guam's strategic location generates a lot of military interest at all levels up to the Secretary of Defense.

CHIPS asked SSFP Officer in Charge Lt. Cmdr. David DeMille to discuss the facility's mission and its strategic location.

CHIPS: Who are SSFP's customers?

Lt. Cmdr. DeMille: One of best things about working out here in the trenches is the extreme variety of customers we get to work with. It is always professionally satisfying to work directly with fleet units, from the submarines stationed in Guam to visiting aircraft carriers. We may be called to help on any of our fleet platforms.

We also provide a wide gamut of services for the many Navy regional commands in support of their missions, from designing the emergency operations center for the Commander, Naval Forces Marianas, to extremely high frequency (EHF) troubleshooting at Naval Computer and Telecommunications Sta tion (NCTS) Guam, to ONE-NET support for Naval Hospital Guam, or even SIPRNET conferencing for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twenty-Five (HSC-25).

Our customers are not limited to Navy commands. We also support Military Sealift Command (MSC) and Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS). We have worked with various Air Force commands on Andersen Air Force Base supporting the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), and we are working with the Army to support the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands' efforts to develop an emergency operations center.

We have worked with MSC and the U.S. Coast Guard in Singapore. We are looking forward to working with the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Force when the MEF moves to Guam.

In addition to all that, we have also worked with the Republic of Korea Navy and Indian Navy supporting real-world operations patrolling the Straits of Malacca. We have participated in international exercises like Tandem Thrust, Foal Eagle and Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). We were involved in homeland security tasking for the Ministry of Defense in Singapore. We even received a request from a visiting Mexican ship for technical assistance last year.

CHIPS: How can you respond to so many customers with a staff of just 20 civilian employees and 2 contractors?

Lt. Cmdr. DeMille: That's such a great question, I'm glad you asked. The answer is twofold, and it really highlights the strengths of the entire SPAWAR team: individual acumen and teamwork. The engineers and technicians in Guam are forged through high-tempo, wide-ranging, hands-on requirements into extremely effective instruments.

Our people are well-traveled, professional and highly skilled, spending more time in the field than behind a desk. However, it is important to remember that we are not just an office of twenty-something people, we are the face of SPAWAR in the region. We could not succeed without our ability to draw on that vast pool of resources.

The fundamental foundation of our success is the outstanding teamwork of our supervisors, Regional Shore Installation Manager and Ship Supervisors combined with our customers, sponsors and 'TEAM SPAWAR.' I cannot emphasize enough the tremendous support we (and our customers) enjoy from the SPAWAR teams in Hawaii, San Diego, Calif., Charleston, S.C., and around the globe.

A few of SSFP's major teammates include the Installation Management Divisions on both coasts, the In-Service Engineering Agents (ISEAS) and many subject matter experts.

CHIPS: What are the advantages of having a SPAWAR presence in the Western Pacific?

Lt. Cmdr. DeMille: There are many benefits to being collocated with critical fleet assets near the front lines. Two of the most obvious benefits involve cost savings and rapid response times. Being locally positioned saves the customers from travel and per diem expenses, which can really add up.

It takes at least a day just to get to Guam from San Diego and that does not account for the administrative time to prepare and pack. Another complication we avoid is the time difference. Right now, Guam is 18 hours ahead of San Diego, noon Monday in San Diego is 0600 Tuesday in Guam. That makes long-distance support a real challenge.

In addition to providing local expertise with an immediate response capability, we also maintain fleet forward deployed spare assets for the submarine fleet. Our direct interaction improves the customer experience through better service resulting in higher satisfaction. It also allows us to provide valuable feedback to the SPAWAR community on what's really happening out here at the tip of the spear.

Another critical function we serve is to support SPAWAR personnel traveling in the AOR. SPAWAR personnel on travel are required to notify the local SPAWAR office of their itinerary. This provides many benefits to the traveler, including coordination of local security requirements, customer liaison, and support for personal safety or health concerns. For example, if a typhoon were to hit, we would ensure all visitors are safe, have food and water, and provide accountability information back to headquarters.

On the other hand, failure to coordinate travel increases a project's risk. I recall an incident a few years ago when we discovered a team in Guam that had come to work on a submarine, but were unable to do so because the sub was underway. Close coordination precludes unfortunate incidents like this from occurring. We also provide tangible work benefits to visiting personnel like a safe, secure place to have material shipped, network access, or other resources like tools, labor or local cell phones.

There are other, less obvious, benefits. For example, we provide an opportunity for personnel to come to Guam for a few years on permanent change of station (PCS) orders. It's a great chance for motivated people with a lot of potential to really grow and interface with customers 'where the rubber meets the road.' When they return to their previous positions, they bring with them a new wealth of experience and perspective that benefits our entire organization.

CHIPS: Can you talk about some of your strategic partnerships, for example, how you work with Naval Sea Systems Command?

Lt. Cmdr. DeMille: This is another area where I think Guam is leading the way (of course, I might be slightly biased). We have a working partnership with NAVSEA to provide BQQ-10 sonar system support to the submarines.

We were asked to assist with the NAVSEA Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion installations during the availability of local submarines. The partnership worked so well that we have been retained to help provide rapid technical assistance and support to the submarines for these sonar systems. We have also teamed with NAVSEA navigational aids folks to support the Ring Laser Gyro Navigation system on submarines and USS Frank Cable (AS 40).

Our relationship with these NAVSEA systems has worked so well that new opportunities are opening left and right. For example, we are looking at partnering to provide local support for the submarine AN/BYG-1 Combat Control System.

CHIPS: Many would envy your duty location. What's a typical workday in Guam like?

Lt. Cmdr. DeMille: I'm not sure I can define a typical workday here. We often have folks on travel to Singapore, Diego Garcia or elsewhere. An engineer might spend one day working on a shore system at NCTS and the next working on the waterfront with a submarine or an MSC ship. I can say with certainty that the work is both rewarding and challenging.

The weather in Guam is always warm, and there are often short rain showers. The relaxed atmosphere on the island extends to a refreshing camaraderie in the office. We often share lunch together, almost like a family potluck gathering. I've even been known to step outside the office with a machete to harvest fresh coconut to snack on during the workday.

Let me just wrap-up by saying that we are proud of the opportunity we have to sharpen the edge out here at the tip of the spear. And, on a personal note, it's the people of SPAWAR Guam that have made this one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I have had in the Navy.

For more information about SPAWAR, go to www.spawar.navy.mil/.

Aerial view of Guam.
Aerial view of Guam.

Back row, in uniform, left to right: Officer in Charge SPAWAR Systems Activity Pacific Cmdr. Paul A. Herbert and Officer in Charge SPAWAR Systems Facility Pacific Lt. Cmdr. David DeMille with SSFP personnel.
Back row, in uniform, left to right: Officer in Charge SPAWAR Systems Activity Pacific Cmdr. Paul A. Herbert and Officer in Charge SPAWAR Systems Facility Pacific Lt. Cmdr. David DeMille with SSFP personnel.
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