HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Maj. Gen. Dwyer Dennis retires April 13, 2018, after 35 years as an officer, having served in acquisitions for more than 30 years.
On his desk sit two reminders of the heritage he has used to inform the decisions he makes as Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks here.
One is a daily bible verse devotional box of cards from his father, a retired Air Force radar technician and computer operator whose career included Navy service. His father retired in 1974 and died at the age of 51 of a heart attack shortly after Dennis commissioned, in 1983, after attending the Air Force Academy. The box and the cards are weathered from daily use and the twelve permanent change of station moves Dennis and his family have made during his career.
“Heritage tells us not only our achievements, but our failures,” said Dennis. “And when you’re in acquisitions, as in our personal lives, learning from those failures and building upon our successes is so crucial. What we do is not guaranteed to always work out, so those who can pick up and move beyond failure are the people who will overcome and will do best going forward.”
Dennis has seen successes and failures in acquisition within several programs. He points to time and materials contracts, which gained favor during the 1980s and early 1990s as a flexible way to empower contractors to produce weapons systems that responded to evolving needs during development. Government accountability office reports recommend these types of contracts as last-resort options, but Dennis argues they’re useful tools when agility is needed.
“If we can train people to know how to use all the tools available within the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation], and empower our people to pick the right tool, we’ll be making a significant difference by delivering these systems quicker, and for less,” said Dennis. “It means we have to be doing two seemingly contradictory things at once: keep our ears open to the warfighter so we know their needs, and how they’re changing; while also maintaining discipline and appropriate oversight of our programs and keeping them within bounds.”
The second object on Dennis’ desk is also a daily devotional, but this one is a well-traveled book, marked by an American flag, which has been to the Pacific and European theater during World War II. It belonged to his maternal grandfather, who was an Army chaplain and served in both theaters. The opening pages bear dulled signatures and significant dates of commissioning and separation from a family who served.
Dennis’ retirement ceremony will be in the Aero Club hangar here, Friday afternoon. All four of his children will be in attendance, three of whom either served or are serving in the Air Force. The fourth is a former Marine.
Dennis talks a lot about family, and sometimes it’s unclear whether he’s talking about his personal life or his work life. The two overlap significantly. His son is a second lieutenant in the Battle Management Directorate here, working in a program office for AWACS that closely resembles Dennis’ second assignment after commissioning. He was a program manager at Hanscom in the formerly known Electronic Systems Division from 1984-1989.
“We often make fun of the lightning bolts you see on our briefing charts,” said Dennis. “Regardless if it’s sending ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] data, commands from aircraft to weapon, weather, mission planning or only sending an email – the Air Force depends on the work done here at Hanscom. Those lightning bolts between satellites, or between aircraft, are the connective tissue.”