Gochenour leaves his mark at DLA

The Defense Logistics Agency last week lost an integral component of its data center operations. Lee Gochenour a DLA computer specialist retired at the age of 77 after 19 years of civil service. He spent the last 17 years at DLA's data center in Richmond Va.

Gochenour left the facility - now called the Defense System Design Center - a very different place than he found it. Not only was he responsible for bringing in a dozen mainframes - all excess government equipment so they were of no cost to the taxpayer - but he helped refurbish the facility itself more than doubling its size and improving its overall design.

Along the way Gochenour had a hand in nearly every aspect of the center's operations from writing software and moving hardware to dealing with power supplies and air conditioning systems.

Gochenour who grew up during the Depression in rural Virginia before going to the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet School in the early 1940s explained his versatility simply enough: "On the farm you have to know how to do everything " he said.

People who had worked with Gochenour respect him not just for his technical prowess but for the dogged persistence with which he did his job. William Finefield who first hired Gochenour at DLA in 1982 recalled the Fourth of July weekend in 1989 in which the staff at the Richmond data center moved their equipment from the old side of the facility to the new one.

At one point Finefield learned that Gochenour who was moving equipment and crawling around under the new raised floors to run cables had worked 16 hours nonstop. "I literally had to order him to go home and escort him out the door " Finefield said. But "within two hours he was back on the job."

Gochenour also proved to be a wizard at finding equipment for the center. Although he made it a point to bring in the latest technology he did it by tracking down excess government equipment.

The Air Force gave him his first exposure to technology. Gochenour trained as a commander on a B-17 and flew more than a dozen missions to Germany during World War II.

He stayed in the Air Force for eight years but in the early 1950s he decided to join the Air Force Reserves. He later organized the reserves in Virginia. "I've always liked the government I've always liked the military " Gochenour said. "I had a regular commission but my wife didn't want to move around." He remained in the Reserves for 23 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Leaving active duty Gochenour studied accounting and later business administration slowly moving into the field of data processing. During the next several decades he developed an expertise in IBM Corp. mainframes particularly in writing software. He attended a series of IBM "schools " or training courses.

"I [attended] enough schools to have a master's degree but I never got it " he said.

For several years he worked on a "hush-hush" project at Fort Detrick Md. but otherwise worked primarily as data processing manager in the private sector for such Virginia companies as MFG-OxFiber Brush Co. Richfood Inc. and Southern States.

By the time Gochenour then age 62 applied for a job as an ADP security representative at DLA in 1982 he had compiled an impressive resume.But oddly Finefield said he was "generally discouraged" by his bosses from hiring Gochenour. "The feeling was he would put in five years and then retire " Finefield recalled.

By 1984 Gochenour was focused on obtaining equipment and building the Richmond Information Processing Center into a world-class data center. He and his team expanded the floor space from about 7 000 square feet to 19 000 square feet and added a slew of new mainframes storage systems and other equipment.

When the Defense Department began consolidating data centers in response to the Defense Management Review Directive 924 "we were the only [consolidated center] to finish on schedule and we operated more efficiently than anyone else " Gochenour said.

However DMRD 924 was not the end of consolidation. In 1995 DOD decided to consolidate further into 16 megacenters. Richmond did not make the list. The center was decommissioned and Gochenour put in for retirement.

At the last minute Thomas Knapp Gochenour's boss and now DLA's chief information officer asked him to withdraw his retirement papers and stay on for at least another year to help refit the data center for its new mission as a test bed for DOD applications.

The processing duties were being transferred from a Columbus Ohio facility which would continue to monitor the operations remotely after the move. Gochenour put the capabilities in place to handle the tasks and managed the workload transfer throughout the course of a weekend last November.

Gochenour has greatly enjoyed his years at DLA but has been somewhat discouraged by seeing the Richmond center enmeshed in DOD politics.

Gochenour knows that given the continued push to consolidate or eliminate operations across the department the center's fate is somewhat uncertain. "What the future holds is beyond us it's in the political arena now " he said.

Viewed from Gochenour's standpoint as a data processing manager the whole scenario is frustrating because technical and business concerns are taking a back seat to politics.

In particular many DOD agencies are being pushed toward putting processing on midrange computers rather than on data center mainframes. "In DOD we should be the leaders [technologically] not the followers " Gochenour said. "We [in Richmond] were the leaders but we weren't [the] political favorites."

Gochenour's frustration reflects what Finefield and colleagues describe as a fierce commitment to his work at DOD.

"In my 35 years in government I don't know if I have ever known anyone else like [Gochenour] who was so dedicated to his job to DOD and to the people he worked with " said Finefield who now is the chief information officer for the Navy Exchange Service Command.

Although Gochenour has retired from government he does not plan to quit altogether quite yet. He has no specific plans but figures he probably will pick up some contracting work before too long. People who know Gochenour said they would not expect something like retirement to slow him down.

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