Story by Karen Iwamoto on 02/24/2017WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD When most people think of the Directorate of Public Works, it's because something is broken and they want it fixed.
In reality, building maintenance is only a small part of what DPW does to support the Army's mission.
"I think people are surprised to learn we are involved in all land-use lease negotiations, we are involved in environmental reviews and cleanups, we have architectural specialists for our historic properties, and we oversee the largest subsidized housing program in the Department of Defense," said Sally Pfenning, acting deputy director of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii and former director of DPW.
As DPW director, she oversaw about 300 workers whose responsibilities span USAG-HI's 22 military installations, which serve approximately 100,000 Soldiers, civilians and family members.
For her leadership and the accomplishments of her directorate, she was awarded Installation Management Command's 2016 William C. Gribble Jr. DPW Executive of the Year Award.
It's something she said she couldn't have done without her workers.
"There's no way, with the amount of stress that comes with DPW, that I could have done what I have done without hundreds of people holding me up," she said. "There's no way I could do the jobs that they do. What I can do is understand the problem and bring the right people to the table to get things done," Pfenning said.
Despite the stress that came with attending to daily emergencies with dwindling resources, she found fulfillment and excitement in tackling the challenges that came with her role.
"I tell people I finally found a job hard enough for me," she said, with a laugh. "We solve big and small problems, from plumbing to land-access issues to meeting with Native Hawaiian consultants. It's everything from someone filling in potholes to someone with a Ph.D. in the sciences or engineering."
She also credited her success to the support and leadership of Col. Stephen Dawson, commander of USAG-Hawaii, who nominated her for the award.
"He's a unique leader and I enjoy working with him," she said. "There are some leaders who get to where they are because they're focused on one goal, like (Senior Executive Service). He's where he is because he excelled at every job he's done."
Dawson described Pfenning as a go-getter who finds a way to make things happen, regardless of the obstacles.
"She finds a way to yes," he said. "Some people hit a speed bump and treat it like a brick wall. It just slows her down and then she continues on her way."
He cited her innovative use of Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization funds to make up for a shortfall in military construction funding, as one example of how she maneuvered around a setback. With no money for new construction, she found resources to repair and restore existing buildings to meet the garrison's needs.
"She did a lot of innovative things to win this award," he said. "There aren't many people like her out there. She's a real standout. She's going to go far in her career no matter what she chooses to do."
Pfenning attended the University of Miami. She has a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences and a master's degree in environmental engineering. A passion for the outdoors and a love for environmental restoration drew her to her field of study.
After graduating, she was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to help restore the Florida Everglades. She then accepted a job at a DPW in Germany, where she held several positions, including director.
She arrived in Hawaii in 2013 as the deputy director of DPW and was promoted to director in 2015. She became acting deputy director of the garrison earlier this month.