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News | Feb. 28, 2024

DLA senior enlisted adviser highlights Black history, shares goals

By Beth Reece

Alvin Dyer got his first Black history lesson from the back seat of a car while riding around Memphis, Tennessee, when he was just 10.

“That’s the very spot where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated,” Dyer’s father told him and his older brother, pointing to the Lorraine Motel, where King was shot on the balcony of his second-floor room in 1968. The civil rights activist was in town to support sanitation crews striking for better working conditions and higher wages.

“It was a very sobering moment as I came to understand what Dr. King was striving to achieve and what ultimately happened at that motel,” said Dyer, an Air Force command chief master sergeant who became the Defense Logistics Agency’s senior enlisted leader in August.

The motel became part of the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991, and learning about its past was just the beginning of Dyer’s quest to grasp the reality unfolding around him and discern his role in it, especially as a military member. Twenty-seven years into his active-duty career, he spurs others to stay connected.

“Pay attention to world events and domestic events, because they play a part in how we take care of the nation’s business,” he said. “I’ve talked to individuals who have no idea why they’re going on a particular deployment and come back still not knowing. But if you stay connected and informed of what's happening, you can be all-in on the mission."

Ensuring DLA's employees are ready to respond to the nation's needs is Dyer's No. 1 priority as the senior enlisted leader – whether that's service members who can be called to combat 24/7 or civilians pulling the strings of logistics support for forces around the globe. Training is a crucial component of that readiness, he said, and so is health and morale.

“It’s just as important to create a climate and culture where people want to come and work, to be their very best every day of the week,” he said.

The word “enlisted” in Dyer’s title may lead some to think enlisted troops are his sole focus, but he said it refers instead to him being an enlisted person, as opposed to DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Mark Simerly, an officer, and DLA Deputy Director Brad Bunn, a member of the senior executive service.

“Leader” is the word in his title that he said should matter most to others. He patterns his personal style on experience and reading books on leadership by pros like Abraham Lincoln and former Army Gen. Colin Powell, the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among Dyer's favorite Powell quotes is, "The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

“No matter who you are or what your role is at the agency, you can come to me with issues and problems,” Dyer said, adding that he aims to be approachable and listen with empathy. “The director has a lot of things on his plate, and I’m here to help address things that don’t necessarily need his attention.”

Dyer is also determined to help lead DLA into the 21st century as it upgrades business systems and processes. He interacted with DLA as a member of engineering teams stationed at air bases around the U.S. and in countries like Japan, Germany and South Korea. Now, he’s learning how industry affects DLA’s ability to increase material availability and deliver supplies faster so he can help lead changes that increase readiness.  

At 6 feet, 3 inches tall, Dyer initially hoped to play pro basketball. Instead, he followed his brother into the Air Force after graduating high school in 1995. His recruiter encouraged him to pick a job that would be good during and long after his military career, so he became a heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration specialist.

“I love the critical thinking part of it,” he said. “Even more, I loved being able to teach young airmen how to troubleshoot and fix something so it ran more efficiently.”

Dyer admitted his career has been marked more by the self-imposed struggles that come with a hunger to succeed than by being Black.

"I'm harder on myself and will push myself harder than anyone, so if there's a time when I fall short, I take it as a challenge to be better," he said.

But Dyer isn't impervious to the trials Black people have faced. He watched his dad wrestle with inequity and racial treatment after returning from the Vietnam War, the first conflict in which Black and white service members were fully integrated. After the war, Black veterans often had difficulty finding work and were denied benefits by Veterans Affairs.  

"It was tough seeing him try to find his niche and discover where he could go and get a job. Vietnam was not a popular conflict, and it wasn't as welcoming of service members returning from war as it is today," Dyer said.

For him, racial harmony comes down to a simple concept: respect.

"If we get down to understanding each other and having respect, then that can change a lot of things for good," he added.

For more of Dyer’s story, watch this edition of The DLA Rap.