FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
It’s no coincidence that Billie Keeler spent more time at the Defense Logistics Agency than any other organization in his 43-year federal career.
“The reason is that DLA is a really great place to work, and hopefully my contributions made it an even better place,” said Keeler, who’s served as deputy director of DLA Human Resources since February 2014.
Keeler will retire July 31 with what he said is enduring awe and admiration for the agency’s mission and people. Those people are the very reason he’s strived to find efficiencies that enable his team to provide more help and better support.
“I’ve recognized that a lot of people depend on us to make their jobs and personal lives better, whether it’s in areas like employee relations, personal benefits or professional development,” he said. “When people ask us questions or submit requests, it’s because they need answers or they want actions processed, and they don’t want to waste a lot of time waiting.”
The oldest son of a Korean and Vietnam war veteran, Keeler entered the Army with an ROTC scholarship planning to fulfil his time obligation and get out. He chose a military career field that aligned with his college studies at the University of Missouri in business administration, and his first assignments as an HR officer were at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and Izmir, Turkey.
Keeler was just a young captain in 1988 when he was selected to backfill a lieutenant colonel – two ranks higher – as the secretary of the general staff for the U.S. Tank-Automotive Command in Warren, Michigan. Part of his duties included overseeing protocol, so he helped prepare for former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Colin Powell’s visit to Detroit when the NAACP presented him its highest honor, the Springarn Medal.
“I got a nice note from him and actually ended up riding back to the airport with him. He asked about my job and what I’d done. It was pretty neat,” Keeler said.
Leading the Army’s Retirement and Separations Branch during the height of the service’s force reduction in 1997 was one of his toughest assignments.
“We were processing thousands of early outs and struggling to keep up. It was really a lot of pressure,” Keeler said.
He and his team revamped the process and got rid of the backlog, then suddenly a call came in to stop processing early outs effective immediately.
“That created a lot of complaints from people who already had their request in and had made plans, so it was pretty tough,” he said. “I’m proud that we helped a lot of people through that time.”
Keeler retired as an Army colonel in 2005 after serving as deputy director for manpower, personnel and security at the Defense Information Systems Agency. Then as DISA’s civilian personnel officer from 2009 until his arrival at DLA, he planned and executed the human capital portion of DISA headquarters’ move from Virginia to Fort Meade, Md.
Two-and-a-half decades of taking care of soldiers and civilians prepared Keeler for his role at DLA, where he said change management is a constant theme.
“We’re always changing here at DLA, whether it’s through initiatives like the Digital Business Transformation or the Warehouse Management System. Big changes like these affect employees and the way they do their jobs, so we partner with leaders to work through potential issues and things like new operating procedures or training for new skills,” he said.
The pandemic also brought change, and Keeler and his staff refined tools to help employees adjust to a virtual workplace while setting policy for things like masks and use of sick leave while also tracking infection and vaccination rates. In the middle of the pandemic, he stepped in as acting DLA HR director for six months, bridging the gap between Brad Bunn’s selection as DLA Vice Director and the arrival of current DLA HR Director Sharyn Saunders.
“There was some pressure, but I had tremendous guidance and support from leadership,” he said. “I also knew we have a ton of folks who love their jobs and do their best every day to get things done.”
Saunders attested to Keeler’s impact, saying, “His love for the team and the mission is obvious, and his sage advice was always on time and comes from years of experience. He is a legacy at DLA.”
Keeler’s advice to his replacement: Don’t rest on laurels.
“It’s like grass and plants; if they’re not growing, they’re dying,” he said.
Keeler already has a packed schedule post-July 31. Travel, golf and helping his wife with her Mary Kay business are among his to-dos, and in August he plans to drive his 91-year-old dad to Missouri to fish and visit friends.