Senior Enlisted Advisor Retires: Shares Experience, Advice
Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Director Air Force Lt Gen Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr. and many others bid farewell to Army CSM Donald Manley, former DISA senior enlisted advisor (SEA), during a retirement ceremony held on Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Jan. 11.
As the DISA SEA, Manley was the principal advisor to the director and to the staff in developing policies on morale, welfare, health, training, discipline, and on the use of the agency’s assigned enlisted personnel.
“It’s a team effort across the board when you’re looking at DISA — versus other organizations I’ve been at,” said Manley. “With the agency, it’s truly a global team effort.”
He credits much of his success as DISA SEA to the agency’s senior enlisted leaders.
“I was tasked to go out and find out what goes on in all the different organizations, bring that information back to leadership, and from there try to figure out how to make it better for the whole,” said Manley. “I had 18 senior enlisted leaders globally dispersed who are all E-9s from their services, so they’re the top of their services, as well. That made my job very simple — only to provide guidance and mentorship.”
Everywhere Manley went, he tried to make an impact. His caring attitude encouraged people to open up to him, which was something that enabled him to make a difference. If service members spoke about something that needed to be fixed or changed, they knew they would get results.
“An example of this is morale — you have people that have morale issues or are not sure which way to turn next,” said Manley. “They’ll come sit and talk to me for a little bit and their whole demeanor will change from me just reminding them why they do what they do. You know, we’re all here for a purpose: defense of the nation. Ninety percent of my [role] was getting people motivated and on track when they were feeling at their lowest or just feeling down.”
Manley spoke about the morale boosting importance of taking the time to see people, talk to them, and ask them how they are doing.
“That goes a long way — just asking a person each morning, ‘how are you doing today?’” said Manley.
During his career, Manley has served as a command sergeant major at every level from battalion to three-star organization. He has excelled in key positions at all levels and has made a difference in each organization in which he served. Manley has reached the three highest pinnacles that a signal senior enlisted advisor can get to: he was the NETCOM command sergeant major; he was the SEA to the Army’s CIO-G6 at the Pentagon (the most senior signal enlisted billet in the Army); and he was DISA senior enlisted advisor.
“[When the DISA SEA position came about,] the Army asked me to represent them because each service had to give a representative to come to compete for the position,” said Manley. “As I thought about it, I realized that for 32 years, I have impacted and served soldiers; taught, mentored, and guided soldiers; but I never had a joint assignment … What leader would not want to close out their career [with the chance to] impact the future leaders of tomorrow for all the services?”
When he came to DISA, Manley said it was a learning curve for him because he had to learn the culture of every service.
“I know the Army culture; I’ve been doing it my whole career,” said Manley. “But I had to learn the Air Force culture; I had to learn the Marine Corps culture; and I had to learn the Navy culture.”
For this task, he had a great deal of help from DISA’s senior enlisted leaders. He learned from them and challenged these experts to develop, mentor, and give guidance to the service members not only across DISA, but also within their services.
“As a Senior Enlisted Advisor – Army, I cannot teach an airman how to make it to chief master sergeant; I cannot teach a Marine how to get to sergeant major; or a sailor how to get to master chief. I can’t do that because I didn’t go that path,” said Manley. “The senior enlisted leaders took that challenge and ran with it. From the time I got here until now, on every promotion board that comes out, DISA has a big selection rate. And I don’t attest that to me; I attest that to my senior enlisted leaders across the spectrum of DISA because they are engaged and making things happen globally.”
“When I look across my career, I had a great career,” said Manley. “I was not at DISA long. I had a lot of people to help me get here, to help develop me, that I’ve learned from ... and hopefully I have impacted a lot of people’s lives, as well, not only here these last two and one half years at the agency, but across the 35 years in service to our nation. And it’s been enjoyable.”
Manley also stressed the importance of enjoying each day.
“I’m going to miss the military because it’s something I love doing,” said Manley. “I don’t mind getting up in the morning and coming to do it each and every day regardless of where I’ve been located throughout the 35 years.”
Manley is still deciding if in retirement he will do something in the civilian government sector, in the contracting sector, or something different from communications, such as teaching history at the college level.
“I think whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be something that’s going to build young people; something where I can give back to the community; or something where I can give back to the nation by passing on my experiences, my expertise, my knowledge and guidance to the future leaders of tomorrow,” said Manley.
Manley is also excited to spend time with his family in retirement. His wife retired from the Army in 1999.
“Family has been my driving force for all of this as well,” said Manley. “I’ve always had a very supportive family. My wife […] is my biggest rock, my foundation, to keep me steady. And my immediate family, [including] my mom who signed me up for this adventure 35 years ago when I was a young 17-year-old kid. (She had to sign for me to go.) That’s probably the biggest thing I’m looking forward to doing: to go spend time with family.”
Manley also had many thank yous and best wishes to everyone at DISA.
“To the workforce: thank you for what you do each and every day,” said Manley. “Nothing gets done across any organization without the people. And I can tell you over my tenure, the [people of DISA have] truly been some of the best professional people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I’m going to miss a lot of them. Continue to do what you do; continue to stay focused; continue to grow and learn; and try to find out solutions to the way ahead … because everybody brings something to the table.”
“To the young service members: take every assignment and make it your own assignment; don’t go by what people tell you. Every assignment is going to be different for everybody. Wherever they tell you to go, pack your bags; have a great attitude; and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to make a difference somewhere.’ And if you do that, you can’t help but blossom.”
“To everybody: best of luck. Continue doing what you’re doing — taking care of the nation. Remember, communications plus teamwork equals success.”
Posted January 14, 2013