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News | Nov. 1, 2021

A high quality career

By Connie Braesch DLA Energy Public Affairs

Mike Purkey will always remember that fateful phone call he received back in 1994. 

That call which opened the door to the second part of a career spanning nearly 50 years of public service. 

Raised in rural East Tennessee, Purkey joined the U.S. Army in 1971 with a few friends in the hopes of broadening his future. 

“We joined the Army on the ‘buddy plan,’” Purkey said. “My friends didn’t last more than a few years, but here I am.”  

After completing five years in the infantry and air defense, Purkey wanted to change his specialty to something more useful in the civilian world. He switched to fuels working as an Army petroleum laboratory specialist until he retired as a master sergeant in 1992.  

“When I retired, people were making a direct transition into federal service under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act, but I didn’t qualify,” Purkey said. “I missed that by a few weeks.” 

Then, he received that life-changing call.

“A mentor I had in the Army called me one day. He had retired and went to work for the Defense Logistics Agency as a quality manager in Italy,” Purkey said. “He asked me if I would be interested in joining his team.”

Purkey laughed as he thought back to that conversation. It was a split-second decision before saying yes. 

Packing up his family for their 15th move since beginning military service, Purkey reported to Naval Air Station Sigonella where, as a DLA Energy quality assurance specialist, he was responsible for oversight of the NATO Storage Facility operated by the Italian Navy at Augusta, Sicily.  

Mike Purkey examines a fuel sample
A High Quality Career
Michael Purkey, quality assurance specialist from Defense Logistics Agency Energy Americas East, checks a sample of fuel during the 2016 Quartermaster Liquid Logistics Exercise on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Battle, 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Photo By: Sgt. William Battle
VIRIN: 160620-A-PY026-800
Jumping forward 27 years, and 14 additional moves for his family, Purkey has traveled the world sharing his knowledge, experience, and leadership to serve the warfighter. 

“The petroleum quality assurance world has brought me in contact with foreign refineries and working with many different nationalities from Korea, Spain, Greece, and Italy,” he said. 

One of his biggest career highlights was supporting DLA Energy’s Secured Fuel Support mission. It was Purkey’ s job to ensure Air Force One’s fuel was tested properly and deemed safe before it was pumped into the president’s aircraft. Purkey performed pre-visits to airports worldwide in advance of Presidential travel to ensure the fuel was tested, on specification and then secured until loaded on Air Force One. 

“I’ve supported every president since Reagan,” he said. “I test the fuel and then it’s placed under military guard until used.”

Since 2012, Purkey has been a part of the DLA Energy Americas East team managing fuel quality at Defense Fuel Support Point Selma, North Carolina.

“Mike is an example of the experienced workforce that DLA Energy brings to the table in support of the warfighter,” said DLA Energy Americas East Commander Army Lt. Col. Christopher Masson. “With over 40 years in fuels positions both in and out of uniform, his talent can’t be massed produced.”

Shona Lawrence, Americas East Deputy Director, said quality assurance specialists like Purkey are the backbone of our organization.  

“The knowledge and extensive experience they provide ensures that our customers always receive on-specification products, but they also serve as a kind of quick reaction force for us,” she explained. “They respond to all sorts of issues from assessing damage from natural disasters to expertly handling fuel quality problems.”

Although he loves being “in the field,” it’s time to make room for younger generations to get the experience and opportunities, Purkey said. 

In what will be his 29th and final move before retirement, Purkey has packed up his family once more to move to DLA Energy Headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to serve in the Quality Technical Directorate where he will work as a staff quality assurance specialist on the policy team. 

Spending more than 80% of his life working in fuels, Purkey said he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. 

“I love the job,” he said. “The work has been meaningful, enjoyable, and I’ve loved the people I’ve met along the way from coworkers and those supporting us at fuel points Joint Force allies and our contracted partners.” 

As the adage goes, “if you love what you do, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” 

If you’re interested in the DLA Energy quality mission, you can learn more in the stories linked below and on the DLA Energy Quality Technical Directorate’s website. If you want to learn more about DLA Energy quality assurance internship opportunities, go to the DLA Pathways to Career Excellence Program website