For PAA Dawn Rosarius, Managing Change Was a Constant
Over the course of her nearly 30-year career with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, Principal Assistant for Acquisition Dawn Rosarius found herself more than once leading an organization through a significant transition. Not coincidentally, many of those changes were instrumental in strengthening MRDC's role as the U.S. Army's go-to resource for medical materiel development, enabling the Army to better serve the unique medical readiness requirements of its Warfighters. In each instance, Rosarius succeeded because she charted her course using the organization's mission as her North Star.
"Military medicine is in my heart," says Rosarius, who retires this week. "As I tell my team, we're not the doctors or the nurses, we're not treating the patients, but everything we do will help save a life or prevent illness and injury. It's always in the back of my mind that every day, we're doing things to bring back sons and daughters and wives and parents and husbands. That is extremely meaningful for me."
Rosarius' dedication to the mission of saving lives began when she came to Ft. Detrick as a college student intern while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Loyola University. It was there that she experienced an "aha moment" and realized that medical acquisition was where she belonged. After graduation, she accepted a contractor position supporting the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency. Five years later she transitioned to a civilian employee as chief of USAMMA's Technology Support Division and then director of its Materiel Acquisition Directorate.
Right away, she set about reinvigorating the directorate's sense of purpose. Prior to her taking the helm, the organization had been without a director for six months, which had left team members feeling isolated and adrift. By walking the halls regularly to talk with and listen to her colleagues, she boosted morale and motivated people to rediscover their shared sense of purpose. During that time, Rosarius played a pivotal role in developing the Theater Enterprise-Wide Logistics System for procuring and fielding medical equipment sets, which was important for ensuring the readiness of medical units deployed around the world in combat operations such as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, where she took the Senior Acquisition Course, and serving a brief stint on the staff of the Deputy for Medical Systems at the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Rosarius was promoted to MRMC's Director of Plans, Programs, Analysis and Evaluation – where once again she oversaw a major organizational realignment. As the command's new Acquisitions Career Management Advocate, Rosarius managed the transition of USAMMA's project management offices to the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. To help keep morale up during the transition, Rosarius sent handwritten notes of encouragement to USAMMA staff.
"Dawn managed this transition with enthusiasm and a clear vision of what our organization needs to be successful now and into our future," said Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb, then MRMC's commanding general, in 2019 during a ceremony honoring Rosarius. "Dawn is a truly a change agent."
In January 2019 Rosarius became the command's first woman to be selected for the Department of the Army senior executive service and its third-ever Principal Assistant for Acquisition, where she assumed oversight of the program management and acquisition strategies for a wide range of medical product development and procurement programs. These include brain health, expeditionary medicine and treatment, protection (including infectious diseases and commanders' health tools) and acute care (including pain management), organ biofabrication, telehealth, medical information technology and enterprise systems and medical devices to support all Army operational medicine. She also became the Milestone Decision Authority for Army medicine, which gave her the authority to approve acquisition program investments, plans and milestones in the product development process.
As PAA, Rosarius' experience with medical acquisition and change management made her perhaps the ideal person to lead the command through some of the most impactful changes in its history: not only a name change from MRMC to the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, but also its relocation from the U.S. Army Medical Command to the U.S. Army Materiel Command, then to the U.S. Army Futures Command and eventually to the Defense Health Agency. This last change brings with it the potential for restructuring not only the command, but medical program management writ large. Although the transition of MRDC personnel to DHA is still in the planning stages, to ensure it will be a success Rosarius has drawn on all her leadership, vision and business skills – right down to talking with staff one-on-one to ensure they felt comfortable amid the uncertainty of change.
Rosarius also helped lead MRDC through the sudden upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, managing the transition to telework while also ensuring that major program milestones were still achieved while simultaneously gearing the command up to support the nation's efforts to combat the disease and save lives. That, too, required constant communication as things changed daily and sometimes hourly.
Dr. Kenneth Bertram, Rosarius' predecessor as PAA, credits Rosarius' training as an engineer, her dedication to the people served by military medicine and her personable nature as being the combination that ensured her success in managing organizations through times of change.
"She has the ability to lay out a problem, dissect it, figure out its components and then work on a solution that's logical and reasonable," says Bertram. "She is so very dedicated to the Warfighter, to the Warfighter's family, to making their lives better. And the third element is that she is highly personable. She remembers things about people: their kids, their activities."
"There's a saying that goes, 'People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care,'" says Bertram. "I think Dawn's a perfect example of someone who cares about her people and is interested in them, and therefore tends to draw out the best in them across the command."
"The number one thing I've learned about change and transition is that overcommunication is still not enough communication," says Rosarius. "Part of the challenge is that things change rapidly, and as decisions come down it's important to tell people, 'This is what we know as of today. We are still working through this, and we will continue to update you.' People in the Department of Defense acquisition and science and technology communities are change agents, and we need to help folks understand what's happening and help them move forward."
Rosarius recalls the time during the worst of the pandemic when she received a call from the executive assistant of Army Gen. Gustave "Gus" Perna, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command who was at the time serving as the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the White House's effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. The general, Rosarius was told, would like to speak with her.
"I'm like, 'Oh crap, what did I do?'" Rosarius recalls with a laugh. "He just wanted to check in and see how I was doing. I thought: You're running a major program to help the world and you have time to call little old me just to see how I am doing? That is true leadership from someone I will always aspire to be like."
Rosarius likes to tell people that she's a recovering perfectionist, says Col. Michelle Colacicco-Mayhugh, who served as Rosarius' military deputy for three years. While both words are true, Colacicco-Mayhugh says, it's the word "recovering" that reflects one of her greatest strengths as a leader.
"She keenly understands and acknowledges that every leader, no matter how accomplished they are, has room for improvement," says Colacicco-Mayhugh. "She demonstrates this by being open and honest with her team about her own challenges and her work to overcome them while encouraging those she leads to pursue their own development."
Over the course of her own career, Rosarius has learned the importance of being open to change, even – or perhaps especially – when it's hard.
"One of the most important things for an acquisition leader to have is an open mind," explains Rosarius. "The DOD acquisition system is constantly evolving, technology is constantly evolving, medicine is constantly evolving. We must embrace that change and acknowledge that it's never going to be done the way we've done it before if we're going to develop better solutions to help deter disease, save lives and make sure we're bringing our Warfighters back to their families."
Because change is a constant in medical acquisition, "that's the way we've always done it" doesn't fly with Rosarius.
"Whenever I start a new job, one of the first things I say to all my employees is to never tell me that," she says.
As Dawn Rosarius leaves MRDC to embark on the next chapter of her life, which will involve lots of travel with her family, leaders at all levels throughout MRDC can perhaps best honor her legacy and accomplishments by heeding those wise words.