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News | Oct. 26, 2020

Call for volunteers leads to a seat at the ‘big kids’’ table

By Jodi Beard, Business Compliance and Audit Sustainment Division, DLA Aviation

Editor’s Note: Jodi Beard is an acquisition specialist on the Process Health Team, Business Compliance and Audit Sustainment Division for DLA Aviation’s Audit and Process Compliance Directorate. She recently returned from a special assignment to DLA Headquarters where she served as a liaison officer for the Agency Synchronization Operations Center.

In the early part of 2020, my family began planning a family trip to Italy for the spring. We had never been out of the country together. With a son who had just moved back to Virginia and a daughter preparing to move across the country to the West Coast (and pending a husband finally getting his passport), the timing for this vacation felt perfect.

But so did another opportunity.

During a town hall, Chris Collins, the Fusion Operations chief at the time, discussed needing a volunteer to represent Defense Logistics Agency Aviation at DLA Headquarters as a liaison officer for the Agency Synchronization Operations Center, or ASOC. The idea stuck with me. 

It was a résumé expanding experience, of course; an opportunity for visibility, a way to start being known less for what’s on my head (this girl’s got curls) than what’s in it.

But more than that, I realized, “I’ve got 14 years of varied experience in the government and I still don’t know what it’s like to sit at the ‘big kids’’ table.”

This position was also an opportunity to be at the heart of it all, to be around, speak to, and learn from two- and three-star senior military leaders. To forgo the middleman and be THE man (or woman).

Most of all, it was an opportunity to understand the mission we all work toward every day and feel more important in my role than I ever had.

So I bid “arrivederci” to my plans for Italy and said “hello” to a less exotic, yet more exciting adventure at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

When we first arrived, liaison officers, better known as LNOs, from DLA Land and Maritime, DLA Troop Support, DLA Distribution, DLA Disposition and DLA Energy, and I were designated as the “Big Six.” I already had a posse with a cool nickname and were working out of an operation center straight from the movies with the biggest TV monitor I’d ever seen. We were speaking to and briefing then DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams and DLA Logistics Operations Director Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day every day, and we came to work awe-inspired.

It’s impossible to speak about my experience at the ASOC without discussing another abbreviation that dominated my efforts there: COVID-19.

When it became certain that the pandemic would come to the United States fast and hard, we had to work faster and harder to combat it and keep the gears of government moving in spite of unprecedented odds. I’m not sure there was a better place to be. To see how the government works and operates at the ground level is one thing; to see it in action during something as important and enormous as this was something entirely different.

Working with the other LNOs solving agency problems and getting information and requests in real time underscored the urgency of our work and allowed for swift action. Sleep was rare and work was plenty, but the satisfaction of seeing situations handled in real time made it worth it.

It truly was the highlight of my 14 years in civil service and the most important thing I’ve done. I even got to see the packaged petroleum, oil and lubricants, or ChemPOL, contract that I wrote five years ago become an ace-in-the-hole we needed when COVID-19 threatened to halt the movement of our troops and suppliers.

It also reminded me, more than ever, that everything we do is important, and you never know when work long-since completed can be a solution for a future situation.

I felt a camaraderie with my fellow LNOs, even when COVID-19 forced us to form two small teams and my new “Group of Three” had to work around the clock out of makeshift operations centers — including our hotel conference room and the DLA Mobile Command Vehicle — to get the job done.

Part of me regrets having to distance from the team back at DLA Aviation in Richmond, but being “on the ASOC floor” was the fast-paced environment I had always wanted. And while we LNOs were together again on the ASOC floor during the last two weeks of our assignment, I often wonder what else we might have been capable of had we spent the whole time together in person.

And that’s part of why, if given the opportunity, I would do another rotation at the ASOC and do it full time.

My family and I never got to Italy, and we’re not sure when or if we will. (My husband never did get his passport.) My daughter is now on the West Coast and my son is busy not visiting us often enough. But we’re planning a vacation in Hawaii to celebrate a birthday that my son and daughter both share. (They were both born in August, just two years apart). On the plus side, my husband doesn’t need a passport for Hawaii.

Still, if there’s a chance to go back and experience the thrill of working in the belly of the beast … Aloha, Hawaii, and hello (again!) big kids’ table.