The director of DLA’s Joint Reserve Force talks about service, leadership and the unique benefits Reservists offer

By DLA Public Affairs

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First, let’s learn a little about you. What prompted you to join the Navy Reserve? And how did you come to the Defense Logistics Agency?
I fell in love with logistics when I was in college, but it wasn’t called logistics then; it was “transportation and distribution management.” And that sparked my interest. “What organization has a global reach?” At that point, I thought of the Navy.

So I became a GS-3 co-op student employee at Patuxent River [Maryland] Naval Air Station and then went on [as a civilian logistician] through an intern program. A few years later, I joined the Navy Reserve through the Direct Commissioning Program, after I got married to a Navy Supply Corps officer.

Within my family, I’ve had many examples of military service. My father was a World War II C-47 pilot in the Army Air Corps who dropped paratroopers over France on D-Day. He became an Air Force Reservist after the war. And my brother was an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam. So I grew up around the military and had a lot of patriotic role models. So joining the Navy was a combination of patriotism and the natural direction for my interests.

After a civilian job working in international logistics for the Defense Contract Management Agency, I moved to DLA, while moving along with my Navy Reserve career. That has included holding six commanding-officer positions and mobilizing three times. 

Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven, director of the DLA Joint Reserve Force, observes the process of picking bin materiel from Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elsa Cervantes.
Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven, director of the DLA Joint Reserve Force, observes the process of picking bin materiel from Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elsa Cervantes.
Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven, director of the DLA Joint Reserve Force, observes the process of picking bin materiel from Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elsa Cervantes.
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Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven, director of the DLA Joint Reserve Force, observes the process of picking bin materiel from Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elsa Cervantes.
 I did everything backwards. [Laughs] My path was not a straight one; it had a lot of sideways moves. But that’s often what happens with people in the reserve force — and that’s OK. I just enjoy the logistics business. So being director of the DLA Joint Reserve Force was an opportunity to continue to serve in the global logistics business. 

What habits or interests have helped develop you as a leader?
I read about leadership all the time, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal or podcasts from the Harvard Business Review and all sorts of leadership books. I am currently reading “Humility is the New Smart.”

But most of all, doing what I love is fun. I really enjoy it. But I also realize that it’s a serious business. 

I’ve been lucky enough to combine logistics with being in a senior-leader role in an organization that I believe in, serving the nation and the military. It’s complex and global — a great experience.

How would you describe the DLA Joint Reserve Force for someone who’s not familiar?
The DLA Joint Reserve Force is the largest reserve organization among the civilian defense agencies. We have 662 billets; about half are filled by Navy people, about 30 percent are Army, and 20 percent Air Force, with a small but mighty group of Marine billets. Most come for at least two years; some people stay five, six years or longer. We have units in each of the major subordinate commands, but DLA Distribution and DLA Disposition Services have the most billets. 

And they’re all volunteers, with a breadth and depth of capabilities — as well as enthusiasm for serving the warfighter and the nation.

What kinds of work do DLA’s reservists contribute to?
Since 9/11, we’ve had about 1,800 reservists mobilized in the [U.S. Central Command area of responsibility]. At any given time, we have 50 folks on mobilization orders, which are usually for six months; some deployments are longer. And then we have about 50 people working in some other sites throughout DLA — whether it’s what you call Title 10, their regular two weeks, or 18 weeks, doing [regular] mission work. Or it’s through Defense Working Capital Fund — like those working on this [spring 2018] real-property inventory project. 

We also have people working in the Joint Logistics Operations Center full time, often overnight, since the JLOC has to be manned 24 hours. Our reservists work in the warehouse. They actually [help demilitarize equipment] on the weekends. And we have a lieutenant colonel in additive manufacturing doing presentations for DLA.

Those MSCs have realized, “If we make a small investment in training these reservists, we get a big return.” 

And we’ve been given some special projects, like condition Code L: materiel that’s in the warehouse that someone needs to sort through to figure out what the problem is. Maybe there’s some kind of contractual problem; maybe the packaging wasn’t marked right. It takes a lot of [attention]. It’s similar to when you return something to Amazon; you have to put it back in the package and fill out the form. 

So we’re helping to do these projects that are important, in that they can reduce backorders and improve readiness. But it’s not the usual work that [full-time] people have time to do. 

I also think of the three back-to-back hurricanes last year; the Joint Reserve Force had 23 people on the ground. First they went to Texas, and some immediately went to North Carolina and Florida to support relief there. Some were even sent to Puerto Rico. So we definitely demonstrated our flexibility there. 

One result of a lesson learned was to set up a “safety level” of support assigned to the MSCs. And we’ll also be collecting a list of “surge” folks, individuals who could surge to be ready if we have another sudden requirement.

What unique skills and experiences do reservists bring to the agency’s mission, versus those of civilians or active-duty military members?
Well, first of all, they’re volunteers. Whether it is the rapid deployment team supporting the Sabre Strike exercise in Poland, or service members working in the warehouse for the real property [inventory] team, they are all volunteers.

I think reservists bring an incredible capability. As a reservist, you have a civilian job. You also have a reserve job. Some have families. And most of these people are very active in their communities, as a soccer coach, Girl Scout troop leader or whatever. So they’re citizens dedicated to making America better.


But they have figured out how to better manage time to get things done — and I think that’s what’s spectacular about reservists. When reservists are brought aboard to assist in another part of DLA, they’re able to focus on one thing, versus full-time employees who may be on a lot of different teams and have to multitask. And then there’s just the energy the reservists have.

Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven addresses DLA’s reservists in a recent training event.
Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven addresses DLA’s reservists in a recent training event.
Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven addresses DLA’s reservists in a recent training event.
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Navy Rear Adm. Deborah Haven addresses DLA’s reservists in a recent training event.
Most DLA reservists come with active-duty knowledge and training but have been out there in private industry. And they bring that lens and experience to our mission. 


Even with that civilian-world experience, it isn’t normally evident that they are reservists. I think most of the time, someone will say “I didn’t even know that person was a reservist. They showed up and they did some great work.”

If a DLA organization wants to get the help of one or more reservists for some period, what’s their course of action?
The important thing is that they give us some notice. If there’s an event, and a leader thinks they want reservists, let us know, as opposed to waiting. It does take a little lead time to get someone. And we can walk them through the process. We have a simple form that’s basically a statement of work. What do you want the person or persons to do? 

If there’s a particular skill needed, we also have the ability to go outside DLA and ask for volunteers. We actually have about 90 reservists who drill with us regularly who aren’t officially part of the JRF. We call them “double stuffed” people. Lots of people like to drill with DLA because it gets them away from the office and into the warehouse, allowing them to get hands-on experience. And some of the people who mobilize are individual augmentees from other sources.

How has the mission of the JRF evolved in the past few years?
In the last year, our focus has changed; we’re not only focused on understanding the support we provide at that MSC, but we’re now moving to understand the global logistics requirements within the regions. And in the DLA Strategic Plan, the JRF has been called out to leverage its expeditionary capabilities. Lt. Gen. [Darrell] Williams has urged us to move to the next level to be ready. The tone that’s set by the senior leaders toward the JRF is very positive and that helps us with our integration.

One way we’re becoming more expeditionary is by engaging in exercises. This year we’re participating in 19 exercises and we have about 150 reservists participating. For the Saber Strike exercise in June in Europe, we’re sending our Reserve DLA Support Team, and we’ll also have reservists on the DLA Distribution Expeditionary teams.

And we’ve created regionally aligned units. These teams will be learning, for example, “What do I have to do if I deploy to Korea? What are the logistics nodes? What are the ports of embarkation and debarkation?” We’re asking all the teams to start thinking globally and become more regionally aligned. We’ve moved some billets to the regional commands and we’re engaged with them and their requirements.

So reservists now have to not only understand the technical but also the regional. This is going to make it very attractive for people to come to the Joint Reserve Force. The soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is going to return to their service with a better understanding of logistics around the globe.

Any closing thoughts?
I think the DLA Joint Reserve Force is respected across the agency because of the high caliber of personnel. And I’m very proud of that. They’re dedicated Americans.