News | Nov. 16, 2016

Commentary: Resiliency not just a buzzword for DLA employees

By Beth Reece

Some of us rolled our eyes when “resiliency” came into vogue at the Defense Logistics Agency early this year. We expected to hear fluffy advice on how to lead our personal lives and cope with pressures and problems that had nothing to do with our jobs.

Instead, we got the opportunity to know and understand each other in a way we otherwise wouldn’t. People like Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Tobin, DLA’s senior enlisted leader, reminded us what it’s like to be human by confessing that he sought solace in alcohol after losing nine soldiers to war and his wife to divorce. It was a gutsy move for someone of his rank, but he wanted employees to know it’s okay to ask for help.

“We all go through difficulties in life, every one of us,” Tobin said in DLA’s “Profiles in Resiliency” video series last month.

Even when we know a coworker has a fatal disease or has been in a deadly car crash, we’re not always comfortable talking to them about it. But this year, DLA employees discovered that none of us are immune to problems and stress. Sharing our experiences can be therapeutic; it can even make us stronger individuals and tighter communities.

As a writer for DLA Headquarters’ Public Affairs Office, I’ve been lucky to hear and tell the stories of how some employees have conquered life’s struggles. Frank Moses from DLA Human Resources recently described how he watched his body slowly deteriorate with no clues from doctors on why until he was diagnosed in 2004 with dysautonomia, an incurable neurological disorder that put him in a wheelchair. After months of hospitalization, doctors gave him only 30 days to live. Moses fought death with the help of his family, faith in God and a positive attitude.

“Your attitude makes a lot of difference in how you get through tough times,” he said. “If you can believe it, you can achieve it. That’s been my motto all through my life, even when doctors told me I wasn’t going to make it.”

For some, resiliency seems like an auto-pilot response more than something developed over time. Joe Lehman, a criminal investigator in DLA’s Office of the Inspector General, nearly lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2014. Doctors said his chances of survival were less than 10 percent, but after just 10 months of excruciating recovery, Lehman returned to work. His father taught him from a young age to never feel sorry for himself.

“He was the eternal optimist and would always tell you that no matter how bad off you think you are, there’s a lot of people worse off than you. And you don’t have to go far off to find them,” Lehman said. “Every time I see somebody in a wheelchair, I think, ‘Wow, that could’ve been me.’”

In another “Profiles in Resiliency” video, DLA Installation Support’s Phil Dawson talked about the rage he felt after his wife had an affair in 2010. He didn’t see it coming, had no idea she was unhappy. With help from DLA’s Employee Assistance Program, Dawson and his wife met with a counselor close to their home to work through the issues, but their marriage was too far gone to save by then.

That same resource helped Dawson reach out to his children and identify the people around him who could offer guidance. Had he known earlier of the resources available through EAP, he said, he may have been able to use them to better communicate with his wife and repair their relationship.

The time to build a support system isn’t when you need it most, agrees Christina Dimemmo from DLA Troop Support. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after feeling a lump on her left breast in May 2014. Worse than radiation and chemotherapy was the weeklong wait to hear what stage the cancer was in and whether it had spread to her lungs. While waiting, friends coerced Dimemmo into attending a concert, although she warned them she wouldn’t be good company. Their loyalty and deep care were more than she expected.

“I must’ve really done something right with my friendships, because I have some really great people in my life to help me through,” she thought.

We don’t always know what we’ll need to overcome life’s hurdles. We don’t even know how we’d react to something unless it happens to us personally. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, I read stories about how others pushed past their symptoms to continue living a normal life. I adopted some of their ideas, and fellow DLA employees who also had MS or had family members with MS gave me their support. It was humbling.

The focus on resiliency has been a positive thing at DLA. It’s revealed that employees – most of whom are civilians, not service members bound by a military code of conduct – are even resilient for the sake of each other. There’s Coachella Purter from DLA Disposition Services. She was deployed to Afghanistan with Rob DeLong and Krissie Davis when Davis became the second DLA employee lost to combat-related injuries during an enemy attack. DeLong escaped with minor physical injuries, wondering why he survived and Davis didn’t. Purter set aside her own grief to console DeLong and others on their team.

“It was hard for me, but I felt within myself the need to be the one who actually comforted others, to strengthen and encourage them,” she said.

Whether we call it resiliency or old-fashioned fortitude, whether we build it gradually or it automatically kicks in at the right time, DLA employees have it.