Army Gen. Gustave “Gus” Perna never expected to be inducted into the Defense Logistics Agency Hall of Fame. Or, for that matter, the DLA Troop Support Hall of Fame, which he joined in 2012.
In fact, Perna never expected to be a logistician at all, even though he went on to serve as commander of DLA Troop Support
in Philadelphia and as commander of Army Materiel Command
, his current post.
When the New Jersey native was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant in 1979, he joined as an infantry officer.
“I thought combat arms was my calling,” he said. “At a crossroads in my career, a mentor recognized I had a knack for logistics and encouraged me to pursue that path.”
However, he soon realized his infantry background gave him a special insight into managing supply chains.
“All soldiers need food, fuel, boots and bullets,” Perna explained. “As an infantry officer, I experienced what many young leaders face when equipment fails or supplies are disrupted.”
In just over one year as commander of DLA Troop Support, Perna was praised for a number of accomplishments to increase DLA’s support to deployed troops — and to others who rely on DLA’s worldwide support.
During Operation Enduring Freedom, Perna led the major subordinate command to position building materials in Afghanistan six months ahead of the 2009 troop surge into the mountainous, arid country with few roads of any kind.
He directed that a large portion of the materials be delivered via the Northern Distribution Network, a series of routes through multiple nations in Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Using those complex routes, many passing through challenging terrain, was a gamble. But it paid off, as DLA Troop Support delivered 3,700 containers of building materials one month before they were required.
At the same time, Perna made sure the soon-to-arrive influx of troops had shelter, by pushing DLA Troop Support to procure and deliver 13,000 relocatable buildings into Afghanistan. The first 600 arrived just three months after being requested.
Perna also led DLA to provide global support to people in areas of the world afflicted not by war, but by Mother Nature and the threat of disease.
Perna led DLA Troop Support’s assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the aftermath of two 2008 hurricanes — one named, in a coincidence, Gustav, and the other bearing the name of a five-star general, Ike.
The following year, Perna led DLA’s support to the U.S. government’s assistance to victims of an overseas outbreak of swine flu.
Stateside, the general was just as focused. His push for long-term contracts to obtain uniforms led DLA Troop Support to achieve, for the first time, a nearly 100 percent fill rate providing uniforms to the Army’s eight recruit training centers.
In addition, he led the MSC to work with the food industry to develop unitized group rations and first strike rations — both of which all four military services now rely on.
The general knew firsthand how important a nutritious meal is in the field.
“I remember what it’s like to be cold, tired and hungry,” he said. “When you have firsthand knowledge that one repair part can halt a mission and impact soldiers’ lives, you internalize the importance of the global supply chain.”
That’s something that all those who work to supply the troops should keep in mind, he noted.
“Employees should always have a deep understanding and appreciation that the work they do has a direct effect on the warfighter,” Perna said. “Knowing that their proximity to the fight does not correlate to their impact is a strong motivator.”
To that end, during his leadership of DLA Troop Support, Perna developed a way to recognize the long-serving civilian employees whose work is critical to providing what the warfighter needs. He created, for the first time, an official civilian employee retirement ceremony similar to those held for military members.
But developing better ways to support the warfighter and leading people to do great work isn’t just for generals or members of the military, Perna noted.
“Our best leaders encompass a wide range of talent, abilities and characteristics,” he said. “Among these traits, character is an underappreciated quality that can make or break a professional. Solid character, and the trust it builds, is the foundation that makes a leader worthy of following.”
Over his 35 years of service, Perna saw military logistics transformed by the massive changes that were also reshaping the wider world.
“I have experienced firsthand the Army’s transitions from the days of pen and paper, to spreadsheets, and now to sophisticated technology,” he said.
“What has not changed is the importance of logistics and providing our warfighters the right equipment in the right place in the right condition so they can succeed in their missions.
“Logistics is absolutely critical to military readiness,” Perna continued. “The difference between being ready and reacting will be measured in lives lost.
“As logisticians, we must challenge the status quo to ensure our defense logistics enterprise adapts and evolves to meet the threats of our complex world.”
Perna was the first in his family to go to college. But he was not the first to serve in the military.
“I come from a family with a strong military heritage, which has made me appreciate the history of our armed forces,” he said “My foundation comes from hard work and great opportunities, and I credit the ROTC program at Valley Forge [Pennsylvania] Military Academy with changing the course of my life. I found my true purpose when I commissioned in the Army.”
Integral to fulfilling that purpose was his time leading DLA Troop Support, he said. This experience “informed my perspective, strategy and decision making today as the Army’s senior logistician,” he said.
“I am proud of my service at DLA and the opportunity to provide and influence warfighter support and humanitarian aid,” Perna continued.
“I am grateful to the workforce and leaders at DLA Headquarters and Troop Support for all they did for me during my time at DLA.”