News Stories

Code name: Field General

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tom Secrest Defense Information School


Recently, the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, added a wing with 22 classrooms, plus offices for instructors.

Rob Phelps, the information technology help desk operations manager at DINFOS, oversaw the movement and reconstruction of all the IT equipment for the classrooms and offices.

Phelps had only a short time to move more than 1,000 computer work stations from temporary classrooms – which had been used for three years – into the new wing and set it all up without interrupting instruction.

He got it done, said his boss, Dennis W. Cornell, the director of planning and technology at DINFOS.

Phelps, whose efforts led to his recognition as the DINFOS Civilian of the Quarter for the second quarter of fiscal 2016, shows his leadership skills every day.

“He’s kind of like the little field general,” Cornell said.

Phelps didn’t always work with computers.

After joining the Army in 1990, he trained and worked as a dental lab technician. During the early part of his career, however, computers were taking on increased importance in the workplace.

“Windows 95 came out, and I was getting into it,” he said. “I was helping my command out with it, and they recognized that.”

Recognizing his true calling, he requested a new military occupation and became an Army IT specialist.

Phelps served in the Army for 24 years – 15 in the Dental Corps and nine in the Signal Corps – before retiring in 2014 as a sergeant first class.

Soon after his retirement, Phelps applied for an information systems service support position at DINFOS.

Renee Castleberry, the chief of the IT support branch at DINFOS, said she intended to join with other members of the hiring board in providing challenging interviews for all of the candidates.

“I was a stone face,” she said.

Phelps had no trouble whatsoever.

“He walks in the door; he knew his stuff,” Castleberry said. “I was looking for something to be wrong with him, and I couldn’t find anything.”

Soon after being hired, Phelps was given the job of organizing the movement of IT equipment to the new wing. Responding to a personnel shortage, he asked the service detachments to augment the IT staff with students awaiting training.

Working with a variety of service members – one at a time and in groups of up to 20 – gave him an opportunity to put his leadership skills to use, Phelps said.

“I get in here, and I’ve got these groups of service members, and it feels like I’m a team leader again,” he said. “Not only did they come here as students, but they helped build DINFOS. That was my way to instill pride in them.”

He said some of service members under his supervision got code names.

“You don’t get to pick your own code names; I pick the code names,” he told them.

“Nat Geo came in very lively, very positive and kind of found out she was here doing photography,” he said. “She wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic. So I said you’re going to be Nat Geo.” 

Other students on his teams were named Wannabe and Shouldabe.

He said he’s had students volunteer to assist him in future work details.

“They go, ‘Rob, call me,’” he said laughing. “‘Your work details are so much fun.’”

A student even thanked him at a graduation ceremony once.

Phelps said he believes his experience as a senior noncommissioned officer helped him to become a mentor at DINFOS.

“Yelling at everybody doesn’t work for everybody,” he said. “So, you learn different strokes for different folks.

“But I’m going to get quality,” he said. “I’m going to get motivation.”

Phelps has proved himself to be an excellent leader and an essential member of the IT team, Cornell said.

“I wish we had five of him,” he said.

Phelps said he was humbled by the Civilian of the Quarter award.

“I came here to do a job, and I do a job,” he said. “I’m just a cog in the wheel.”