If speeding tickets kindled his Army career, then an act of generosity provided the spark. For a 20-year-old young man from Suffolk, Va., this was the case when his father’s best friend paid the traffic citations barring him from serving his country.
In the early 1990s, a suspended driver’s license and roofing job were not going to support Master Sgt. Darnyell Parker’s future that was about to deliver a baby boy. Catching rides between home and work, and even walking at times, would lead the young Parker to a revelation that would set him on a path to excellence.
“Knowing where my life was at, I just needed to do something better,” Parker said, currently the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Military Contingency Contracting Team at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District.
His older brother serving in the Army inspired him to look further into joining the military during those floundering days. The Air Force rejected him for those pesky tickets, but their loss was the Army’s gain despite the fact he still could not enlist with a poor driving record. Enter his father’s buddy who paid the approximate $500 that was racked up in speeding violations.
More than 20 years later, Parker reflects on that moment in his life with gratitude. The Army helped shaped him into the 40-year-old man he is today and one that will be promoted to sergeant major within the next year.
“There are two big moments in my life right now,” Parker explained. “In May I finish my bachelor’s degree in business and the feeling of making [sergeant major] is huge because I started at the bottom and worked my way through.”
Soon-to-be one of the highest-ranking enlisted soldiers, he puts a premium on obtaining a quality education from Wayland Baptist University.
“The degree is the most important thing for my career as a whole because that will open up doors in the future,” he said.
In 1993, Parker started as a petroleum supply specialist. He deployed to Iraq twice during the years 2003-2005 and once to Afghanistan in 2010. After Iraq, Parker sought a career that could bring new opportunities after military life.
His leaders encouraged him to become a contract specialist as part of a military contingency contracting team. The profession was a new and developing Army career in 2006. The transition developed a newfound passion as he realized the influence of contracting in daily operations and the support it provides to Soldiers.
“Everything starts with the contract and getting it awarded,” Parker said. “Look around the installation and it’s everything from the grass getting cut, snow removal or a simple port-a-john on the battlefield.”
Having visited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects while deployed, he was immediately enlightened to the organization’s professionalism and esteem. Feeling inspired, Parker knew he wanted to join the Corps.
“You’ve got to stand out to be a part of something so great,” he expressed. “That’s how I look at being with the Corps.”
Parker was only one month into his year-long deployment in Afghanistan while serving in the new job when he learned he had orders to Alaska to join the district’s military contingency contracting team.
“The things that I’ve been able to accomplish here,” Parker said rhetorically of his assignment in Alaska. “This has been the best move for me.”
The team’s primary mission is to provide contracting support to the Alaska District’s humanitarian assistance program. Since 2009, the district has constructed schools, medical clinics and cyclone shelters for the U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for providing humanitarian assistance to 36 countries across Southeast Asia.
“Parker has really been the backbone in contracting for the district's humanitarian assistance program,” said Maj. Ryan Zachry, commander of the Military Contingency Contracting Team. “With the personnel changes and deployments from the team, he has provided the continuity and daily efforts needed to make the program a success while it has tripled in size over the last five years.”
The humanitarian assistance program mirrors what the Army’s contracting teams train for – entering theaters of war, natural disasters or other dire situations with minimal access and resources.
“What they do is a fantastic mission to train on,” said Chris Tew, chief of the Alaska District Contracting Division. “It translates very well into common requirements in a contingency environment like Afghanistan.”
Tew added that the military contracting team has been a beneficial addition to the Alaska District’s culture as well. As an Army command mostly staffed with civilians, having soldiers embedded within the organization connects the civilian staff with the larger Army. Likewise, soldiers gain experience working with civilians they will potentially serve with again after their military careers.
For Parker, the district has given him valuable training in the field of contracting.
“We are doing almost every aspect of contracting with the humanitarian assistance program,” Parker explained. “A program like this existing throughout the Corps of Engineers would be extremely valuable.”
While this father of three continues to procure the needs of the Army, his retirement dream after the military is vast. His ambitions are to remain in the contracting field, open his own barbershop and to coach or counsel young adolescents.
What might be his first lesson to those youth? Drive the speed limit.
(This story was written by John Budnik.)
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