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News | May 25, 2022

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Spotlight: Julie Tsao

By DLA Information Operations Communications

Editor’s Note: May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a time to recognize the history, contributions and distinct cultures of the AANHPI community. In a memo announcing the monthlong observance, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros noted that Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders represent about 8% of the Defense Department’s enlisted force, 6% of the commissioned officer corps and 12% of civilian employees as of 2021.

Julie Tsao remembers well her journey to be a federal employee.  

The Defense Logistics Agency Research and Development program manager grew up on the island of Taiwan. Her parents were originally from mainland China and, like thousands of others, relocated to Taiwan following the Chinese Communist Revolution. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the National Taiwan University.

Tsao came to the United States to attend the University of Tennessee, where she earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

“In the past, there weren’t many opportunities for female engineers in Taiwan,” she said. “There were more opportunities for me in this country. That is why I decided to pursue my graduate degree at Tennessee.”

Tsao worked in the manufacturing industry as an industrial engineer for 10 years.

“The private sector is often narrowly focused on the bottom line,” she said. “I desired to work on meaningful projects with a wider scope; this led me to a career in the federal government.”

Tsao worked as a project manager at Federal Prison Industries before joining DLA in 1991 as the first woman to serve as a DLA R&D program manager. While leading the Military Unique Sustainment Technology Program for the past 30 years, she’s worked to solve some of DOD’s most complex military clothing and textiles issues by establishing knowledge-based collaboration on the development of combat uniforms and individual protective equipment.

Reflecting on her DLA career, Tsao said she is most proud of several technologies that were implemented DOD-wide. In 1994, she and her team created the DLA-sponsored Apparel Research Network, which includes over 300 manufacturers, third-party logistics providers, the DLA Troop Support clothing and textiles supply chain and military recruit training centers. Members collectively help focus R&D on efforts that improve costs and lead times while also enhancing quality in the design, production and distribution of defense clothing.

Tsao also championed the DLA Customer Driven Uniform Manufacturing Program, leading research and development efforts to identify, test and evaluate how item-level radio-frequency identification technology would affect fabric suppliers, combat uniform manufacturers and distribution warehouses. The program confirmed that tagging individual uniform items improved item tracking and operational efficiencies throughout the military clothing and textiles supply chain. The effort was one of DLA’s first large-scale uses of RFID and established the agency as a pioneer in the then-new technology, Tsao said.

Part of Tsao’s legacy also includes the development of the Supply Request Package, a capability that electronically collects and manages the technical and logistics data for new items transitioned from the military services to the C&T supply chain for sustainment. The SRP improves the management of technical requirements among the military services and the Defense Industrial Base.

Tsao said she is grateful for her supportive R&D colleagues and the creative autonomy she was given to run a successful, leading-edge program.

“DLA R&D has been as good as I could have ever hoped for,” she said.

Tsao added that she always felt welcomed and valued as an Asian American woman engineer during her time at DLA. She also appreciates the recognition of her culture’s diverse contributions to the nation during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.