Lt. Gen Kenneth Dahl, center, commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, invites small, diverse groups of IMCOM professionals to have lunch each month to listen, learn, and exchange ideas.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned as commanding general of U.S. Army Installation Management Command is to value the diversity and contributions of Army civilians.

Before taking command of IMCOM and its 50,000-plus cohort of civilian professionals, I had little experience in leading or working alongside them. I was ambivalent about their role in making our Army ready. I had no appreciation for how vital their leadership is to the continuity and success of everything we do.

Now, after witnessing the wisdom, dedication, technical expertise and professionalism of Army civilians in a personal way, I feel obliged to champion their service.

After visiting 80 installation communities around the world, I am as familiar with today’s Army as anyone. It is clear to me that our Army could not do all of what it is expected to do without civilians in nearly every command, in some cases side-by-side in theater.

Civilian professionals provide foundational continuity in times of turbulence; design, test and field our weapon systems; play critical roles in supporting Soldiers and their families; maintain our training facilities; and myriad other critical tasks that give Soldiers the freedom to focus on warfighting. Army civilians are integral to readiness, and a part of the team I have grown to accurately value and appreciate.

Can we improve the system? You bet, but we should not paint all Army civilians with the same brush, based on limited experiences where a small number have made a bad impression or had a negative impact. Detractors of employing civilians should think through the alternatives. Totally contractors? Have Soldiers do everything? These solutions are often more expensive and can negatively and seriously impact Army readiness.

Army civilians are probably the most efficient and effective way to sustain readiness. Their contributions are priceless; our nation simply cannot purchase their level of loyalty and commitment. They are part of the Army’s DNA. I encourage more Army leaders to learn and understand this important truth sooner than I did.