Gwendolyn “Gwendi” Miller
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District
TITLE: District chief of contracting
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 17
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting
EDUCATION: B.A. in political science, University of Central Arkansas
by Susan L. Follett
Every spouse knows that marriage can be difficult. Army spouses have it a little harder than most, especially when it comes to career development. “It is sometimes challenging to build a career while also moving all over the country every few years to support your spouse’s commitment to the nation,” said Gwendolyn “Gwendi” Miller. “I’m extremely blessed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE] and the contracting profession have allowed me to do just that.”
Now district chief of contracting for the USACE Kansas City District, Miller has been with USACE for nearly 14 years. “Once you start looking for that Corps castle, you might discover that our presence is around you more than you realize,” she said. USACE’s work includes flood risk mitigation, hydropower program administration, and a hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste removal program. “The work we do makes a significant difference in quality of life and positively impacts our world,” said Miller, “and our programs require a significant amount of acquisition support to deliver the mission.”
Miller leads a team of more than 70 contracting professionals who execute military, civil, environmental and mega-programs—large, big-budget, high-visibility programs with a considerable degree of complexity and requiring close coordination with higher headquarters. In fiscal 2019, the Contracting Division executed more than 1,500 actions valued at more than $1.028 billion, including a new hospital at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, valued at approximately $300 million; and a new headquarters for the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis, valued at roughly $712 million. “We executed this very large and dynamic program while fighting two major flood events on the Missouri River that required fast action from contracting for emergency response efforts,” Miller said.
Miller also is involved in projects to improve recruitment in the region. USACE partnered with Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis to revamp the district’s marketing and branding and to generate career interest among college students. “We found there were a lot of people who didn’t really understand what USACE does,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s all hard hats and construction sites; that image doesn’t really appeal to students at business school, nor is it accurate. In looking to fill contracting positions, what we’re really looking for is business advisers.”
Miller is part of a team that visits colleges and universities around the country to talk about USACE, the contracting profession and opportunities within the organization and the Army Acquisition Workforce. “We’re seeing some returns on our work, in the form of new internships and lots of interest in the work we do. But this is a long game, not a short one; what we’re trying to do is build our pipeline and impress on people that the Corps has opportunities to be part of an organization that has a big impact on the region and the country.”
Miller got her start in acquisition directly out of college, starting as a COPPER CAP intern for the U.S. Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “After 9/11, my husband felt a calling to serve in the Army and decided to enlist. We moved to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and I was presented with an opportunity to work for the Savannah District Corps of Engineers.” As a lead contract specialist, she was quickly engaged in several large programs, including work related to base realignment and closure and global contingency efforts. “The work was fast-paced and challenging, and I knew we were making a meaningful impact on our Soldiers and their families,” she said.
Miller has since worked in four USACE districts across the country. “I was fortunate to continue my career with USACE and build my contracting knowledge while moving around with my husband while he was on active duty,” she said. “The longer I’ve stayed with the Corps, the more I discover about the huge impact we have on our Army and our nation, and that is why I continue to stay with USACE—our mission is awesome.”
Before taking on her current role, she spent six years as the military contract execution chief in the Little Rock District Corps of Engineers—“the single most transformative experience in my career,” she said. It was her first formal leadership position, and in addition to a wealth of experience, she gained a valued mentor in her chief of contracting, Sandra Easter. “Ms. Easter’s guidance and genuine interest in my development made my time there both challenging and very rewarding,” Miller said. During the assignment, the chief of the Business Oversight Branch retired and Miller was asked to take on those responsibilities—including supervising several more employees, running the district’s Government Purchase Card Program and ensuring that compliance reviews took place—in addition to her other duties. “It was daunting, to say the least,” Miller said. “But I said yes and learned as much as I could, and I think that experience made me a better candidate for the position I am in now.”
Easter is one of several mentors that have played important roles in Miller’s career. “Those relationships are another big reason I’ve stayed with USACE,” she said, noting that Denver Heath, USACE senior contracting official in Dallas, has also been an important mentor. “Without his faith in me and his encouragement through tough challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “My network of trusted mentors and coaches is one of my greatest treasures.”
On the other side of the mentoring equation, Miller provides formal and informal mentoring to contracting professionals and other members of USACE interdisciplinary teams. “For junior acquisition professionals, I have a few big pieces of advice. First, take advantage of every single opportunity afforded to you—even if it doesn’t fit what you think you want out of your career. Opportunities to excel are everywhere, and while they aren’t always fun, they are almost always worthwhile. Second, always do your best and look for ways to give back to your organization,” she said. “Live the Army values and, lastly, find a cause you are passionate about outside of work and give back to your community.”
For Miller, who has three children, that cause is Girl Scouts USA. Leading a Girl Scout troop “has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and nearly every experience has made me a better Army civilian,” she said. Troop leadership “has helped remind me of what it means to be a good and effective leader, and encouraging the girls to get outside of their comfort zone requires me to get outside of mine as well. As members of the Army Acquisition Workforce, we need to get outside of what is familiar and comfortable and be innovative in how we go about solving the nation’s toughest challenges.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce.