Making a career from fortunate accidents

Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System Web site

It is said that good things come in small packages. If that is the case, the Navy is about to lose a very good thing. Capt. Valerie Carpenter, program manager for the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS), is ready to end her 27-year military career.

That career has been marked with accidental decisions and extraordinary circumstances to bring the 5-foot-1-inch Carpenter to where she is today.

Carpenter is a native of the Pittsburgh area and a graduate of Shippensburg University with a degree in elementary education. After teaching fourth grade for one year, Carpenter, ever self-deprecating, said she was fired. "I was a lousy teacher," she said.

She took a job as a medical secretary. After three-and-a-half years, Carpenter said, she decided she didn't want to be in the same position 25 years later.

So she opted to join the military. At the time, she said, it was one of a few career options giving women equal pay for equal work. How she chose the Navy, however, was not such a logical process.

"The Air Force recruiter was out to lunch," she said. "I knew I didn't want to go into the Army or the Marines, because they do the dirty jobs." So she went into the Navy office, took the qualifying test and found herself training in Newport, R.I.

Carpenter spent her first tour as an administrative officer. She developed a taste for information technology and computers, something that would play a prominent role in her career.

Many years later, Carpenter was stationed at the Naval recruiting center in Albuquerque, N.M. There, she decided to pursue her fondness for technology and received her master's degree in management information systems.

With her new degree, Carpenter entered the world of IT, working for the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. She then volunteered for a second sea tour, this one aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, the most technologically advanced ship in the fleet at the time.

After returning from her second sea tour, Carpenter said she wanted to become the program manager for the Navy's Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSPIS), the Navy's predecessor to DIMHRS.

"I went in to see [the former Navy program executive officer for information technology] about the NSIPS job," Carpenter said. "But [I] was told, 'You don't want to do NSIPS, it is going to be replaced. You want to do DIMHRS.' And I believed him."

Jon Jensen, the DIMHRS program acquisition executive with lead developer Northrop Grumman Corp., said Carpenter possesses an infectious energy that inspires others to work hard.

"Capt. Carpenter faced a very difficult challenge in bringing together all of the services, Defense Department staff and the [Defense secretary's office] requirements and keep them all moving together toward one goal," Jensen said.

The Navy will have to find someone to fill her shoes because Carpenter is retiring in September. "I'm going to spend time with my husband and take up golf," she said. "I'm really proud of my husband and my son, and that's now where my focus shifts."

The Valerie Carpenter file

Rank: Captain, U.S. Navy.

Current job: Program manager for the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System.

Education: Bachelor's degree in elementary education from Shippensburg University, master's degree in management information systems from Webster University.

Family: Her husband is a former Navy surface warfare officer and current vice principal of a public school. Her son was recently sworn into the Navy — by Carpenter — and is at boot camp.

Outside interest: Whitewater rafting. "I never knew you could have so much fun on the water."

Last good book read: "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown.

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