NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. –
Over 40 years ago, while still in college, Twila Coleen Gonzales, Senior Executive Service, embarked on a remarkable journey. The journey began in her native state, California, with her first federal position as a GS-01 clerk typist at the former Sharpe Army Depot — now part of Defense Logistics Agency Distribution San Joaquin, California. Gonzales rose through the ranks from clerk typist, concluding her 40 year federal career at the SES level as deputy commander of DLA Distribution.
“DLA has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities and the awesome experience of working with a tremendous team. Being part of this amazing organization for the last 30 years—it just doesn’t get any better. I will always be grateful for the friendships and for the trust the Agency provided me. It’s been an incredible journey,” said Gonzales.
During college, she worked two summers at Sharpe Army Depot; the first summer in the Consolidation and Containerization Point (CCP) and the following summer in the Directorate of Resource Management. The following year, after graduating and getting married, Gonzales returned to Sharpe as a full-time employee in May 1981 as a GS-03 supply clerk in the receiving department.
“I wasn’t there very long before being detailed to another position and from there I was promoted to a GS-04 in security — taking fingerprints, issuing decals and making badges,” Gonzales said.
Recognized as a tremendous asset to the agency, she was selected for a GS-05/07/09 management analyst position in the Directorate of Resource Management, the same office where she worked as a GS-01 summer hire. There, Gonzales learned to develop engineered standards, a skill that would prove useful during her career.
Gonzales fulfilled her upward mobility agreement and was promoted to a GS-11 management analyst position. A few years later, she was offered a temporary promotion to a GS-12 supervisory management analyst position which later became permanent. Gonzales’ first supervisory position was division chief of Manpower Management and Force Development. During that time, Sharpe Army Depot and Tracy Defense Depot consolidated in 1990 as part of Defense Management Review 902.
“I was very fortunate to be part of those initial consolidation efforts…helping to bring service legacy distribution functions into DLA,” said Gonzales.
She was eventually selected to a GS-13 supervisory management analyst position, providing a variety of manpower/force development/analytic support to the newly created Defense Distribution Region West. Gonzales served in that position a little over two years and was then selected to a GS-14 supervisory management analyst position overseeing the division and working two rounds of base realignment and closure.
When further consolidation occurred and Defense Distribution Region East and West collapsed into one organization — DLA Distribution in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, — Gonzales was again part of the consolidation effort. Her journey then led her to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1998 to lead the commercial activities (A-76) effort where she was eventually promoted to GS-15. In this position, she oversaw the commercial activities program from 1998-2006. With the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act, a second SES position was created at DLA Distribution to lead and oversee the implementation of the BRAC recommendations. And so, in June 2006, with over 25 years of federal service under her belt, Gonzales joined the SES ranks. The following year, she accepted the position of DLA Distribution Deputy Commander.
In 2008, Gonzales took the helm of DLA Disposition Services in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the director, serving in the position for over five years. Gonzales then returned to DLA Distribution as deputy commander in December, 2013, where she served the final seven years of her career.
Gonzales has seen a tremendous amount of change throughout her 30 years with DLA.
“Certainly from a support perspective, DLA has moved much closer to our military customers. Where once we may have supported from key logistical hubs, we’re now next door if not embedded with them,” Gonzales said.
DLA has become much more adaptive and able to tailor solutions to best meet customer requirements. Technological advancements over the span of her career have enabled logisticians to be more predictive and more responsive to service partners.
Offering a bit of advice as she departs, Gonzales said, “While DLA is a combat support agency, we should not forget the amazing expansion we’ve seen in the Whole of Government sphere where organizations like FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the U.S. Forest Service rely on DLA for our logistics expertise. We live in an inter-connected world where global supply chains are now the norm. Resources are finite and it just makes sense that the knowledge and resources of the Defense Department are leveraged to help aid in Whole of Government solutions.”
The key to her success? Gonzales credits taking on challenging and, in some cases, unpopular assignments and working very hard to ensure needed results. She was willing to take on jobs that perhaps no one else would — and the leadership chain saw her commitment, dedication and results.
Gonzales often drew upon her college degrees in education and human resources/ organization development to develop frameworks for leadership development.
But, most important of all, Gonzales says she was blessed with exceptionally smart and talented teammates with their own diverse skills and abilities, which made coming to work every day a sheer joy.
And always, always treat people with dignity and respect, she adds.
Gonzales is impressed with the level of collaboration and teamwork that is prevalent now; the ability to work with a multidisciplined, diverse approach just brings richer solutions to very complex problems.
What about her mentors? Gonzales says she was certainly influenced and shaped by many different people, including Army Col. Jim LaBounty, who led the initial consolidation effort with DLA. He gave Gonzales the opportunity to be a part of those efforts and also hand-picked her and Jean Benner (a close friend after all these years) to develop an inaugural leadership development program sparking her deep commitment to effectively developing leadership skills.
Phyllis Campbell, SES, the first female DLA Distribution deputy commander was also a huge role-model.
“She just has this presence—calm, measured and a real problem-solver. She was hugely supportive and always provided wisdom and sound advice. She also afforded me the opportunity to expand outside my regular job and be part of leadership development opportunities as well,” Gonzales said.
Army Brig. Gen. Barbara Doornink and Army Lt. Gen. Kathleen Gainey were also tremendous role models with different leadership styles. Army Maj. Gen. Mike Lally and Navy Vice Adm. Keith Lippert selected Gonzales to her first SES role. They both have great minds and were always challenging me to think beyond the current state, said Gonzales.
Mae DeVincentis—the first civilian female DLA vice director was a wonderful visionary and strategic thinker. And Paul Gonzales, her husband, was also a tremendous advisor throughout her federal career journey.
“Without his encouragement and support I would not have had the career and opportunities I’ve had. I’m blessed to come from a family who have answered the call and Paul encouraged me to a life and career of public service and there was no looking back. Being a career civil servant himself, he served as my one constant sounding board…we’ve had some lively debates throughout the years,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales is grateful for the opportunity to see firsthand the crucial role of DLA in the greater supply chain and how truly interconnected DLA and the military services are. Being able to witness the supply chain in action in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Japan and here stateside will remain with me always, Gonzales said.
A catalyst in her career was being a part of those early consolidation efforts, which gave her the opportunity to learn firsthand the goodness DLA could provide to the logistics and supply-chain communities. Standardizing processes and singling up disparate systems into one architecture set the stage for a lot of the things she would become involved with. Leading the Commercial Activities effort certainly had its share of rewards and challenges and another highlight was operating a little outside of her comfort zone when she left DLA Distribution and served with the tremendous team at DLA Disposition Services—making her a more effective leader for her time with the reverse logistics community.
Her thoughts on DLA employees? The men and women of the Defense Logistics Agency are the most professional and dedicated team I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. They’re smart, talented and truly committed to providing extraordinary support. I am convinced there is nothing they can’t achieve.
Of her incredible journey, Gonzales is beyond grateful for the many opportunities DLA provided her — and there is no greater satisfaction in knowing that she played a part in supporting our nation’s warfighters. It is humbling and doesn’t get any better than that.