A Conversation with ... Air Force Brig. Gen. Linda Hurry

By DLA Public Affairs

Air Force Brig. Gen Linda Hurry, Commander, DLA Aviation
Air Force Brig. Gen Linda Hurry, Commander, DLA Aviation
Air Force Brig. Gen Linda Hurry, Commander, DLA Aviation
Air Force Brig. Gen Linda Hurry, Commander, DLA Aviation
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 181101-D-YE683-0001
Please tell us a little about yourself. What makes you tick? And why did you join the Air Force? 

I’ve been in the Air Force just over 27 years, in a variety of Air Force and joint logistics positions, including air and ground transportation, logistics plans, expeditionary operations, joint deployment and distribution operations, aircraft maintenance and supply-chain operations.

It’s been a blast! Even though we’ve moved 17 times over the years, I’ve loved every assignment because I’ve worked with so many amazing professionals along the way. It’s funny; my kids told me, “Geez, Mom, can’t you hold a job?”

Speaking of my kids: You asked what makes me tick. Well, it’s definitely my three musketeers; they’re the center of my universe. They keep me grounded and sane (most of the time) and help me keep my priorities straight. 

I also cherish the relationships I’ve made over the years, and I thoroughly enjoy working with these true professionals every day. In fact, these teammates are the reason I stay in the service, but without the neverending love and support from my kiddos, I wouldn’t be able to continue to serve in the same way. Balancing it all can be difficult, so many folks ask how long I’m going to stay in. Oddly enough, I haven’t really thought much about it. I figured I would stay as long as I could still make a difference, raise the kids and was still having fun. Guess what: I’m still having fun!

As to why I joined the Air Force: when I was growing up, our family was always fairly patriotic, and since I played a lot of sports, I learned to think in terms of team unity, taking care of one another and camaraderie. 

When it came time for college, I was drawn to the Air Force Academy because they focused on those same things: teamwork, service and being a part of something bigger than yourself. They also encouraged a balance between academics, military and athletics, which I loved. 

I really did enjoy the Air Force Academy experience. Not only did I get to play three different sports, but the relationships I made have been priceless. Take a look at the list of senior Air Force logisticians; you’d be shocked to see how many of my “Bold Gold” classmates are still in the game.

Oddly enough, I never intended to get into logistics. I studied pre-law at the academy and actually gave up my pilot slot so I could go to law school. But because anyone who goes to law school had to have two years of active duty experience, the academy leaders thought the best operational leadership experience a second lieutenant would get right out of the chute would be in logistics. 

How did your career lead you to command Defense Logistics Agency Aviation?
It’s amazing how my background fits perfectly with the mission of DLA Aviation. I’ve had two joint logistics assignments with U.S. Transportation Command, attended joint programs for intermediate and senior service schools, served as the deputy commander for maintenance at an air logistics complex (one of our biggest customers) and commanded the Air Force Supply Chain Operations organization at both the group and wing level (about 60 percent of DLA Aviation’s mission). I’m not sure anyone could have designed a more perfect background for this position. 

As the commander of DLA Aviation, how would you describe your role and your priorities?
My role is to lead and care for our amazing 3,800-person team and their families, inspire excellence and solve problems through teamwork and relationships. I’m not a very technical person, so I’ve focused more on the leadership and team building aspects of the job. 

I’ve tried to create an environment that allows folks to think differently, encourages innovation and empowers the team to drive change for the right reasons — namely, to drive up availability and drive down cost. 

Our job is simple: support warfighters across the globe. This can only be done by building strong relationships with the services and industry. This is a team sport. To me, the best way to increase warfighter readiness, affordability and speed is through these partnerships — so that together we can build trust and confidence in the DLA Aviation supply chain. 

When I got here last summer, I shared my priorities with the team, which are pretty simple: people, mission and safety. All three are important, but if you take care of the people, the people will safely take care of the mission.

I also asked the team to do several things: Do what is right to support the warfighter; use common sense; challenge the status quo; think differently; make our operation better than yesterday; and no matter what, take care of one another. 

This team has responded in spades, and I’m honored to serve alongside them. We’ve had to deal with plenty of operational challenges and entirely too many of what I like to call life’s little curveballs, but we’re getting through all of them together!

It’s been a little over a year since you took command of DLA Aviation. What are some of the highlights so far? 
Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year already, but what an amazing team and an unbelievable mission. We truly are a team of warfighters supporting warfighters. To be afforded the opportunity to command this joint logistics organization is a true honor, just as it’s a tremendous privilege to be part of such an incredible group of professionals. I couldn’t have been more blessed. 

If you look at what we’re doing with our strategic contracting efforts to partner with industry, it’s amazing. It’s no longer us versus them. We’ve progressed to the point where we’re putting contracts in place so that the Department of Defense and industry work together to solve challenges with obsolescence, aging aircraft, cold supply chains, unstable demands, etc. Our Captains of Industry efforts have already produced significant results for our service partners. And we’re just getting started. We’ve got 13 more lined up for next year.

Our DLA Small Business team also hit a home run this year. In addition to all our huge COI successes, we’ve awarded over $1.5 billion in contracts to small businesses, the highest ever in DLA Aviation’s history. We’ve also implemented a multiplatform commercial pricing strategy with major original equipment manufacturers that drove months out of the proposal/evaluation time and is now considered a best practice across DoD. 

Additionally, we’ve developed a sustainment contract approach to identify potential engineering/obsolescence issues in advance — reducing quote time to 30 days from six months. Our team expanded long-term contracts and implemented tactical innovations to increase procurement output by 21 percent and cut time-to-award from 63 days to 55 days, an 11 percent improvement. The team is also on target to exceed our 22,000 long-term contracts, eliminating manual workload and driving savings of $185 million. It’s absolutely amazing to watch what happens when you point the team in a direction, empower them and then get out of their way while they work together to make it happen.

What’s your focus for the next year?
We’ve got a lot of work to do, and our focus will be in two areas: human-capital development and logistics operations. 

We intend to increase our focus on developing and recognizing our workforce. I’ve had the honor to present a significant number of 30-, 40-, and 45-year service certificates, which is absolutely wonderful. 

But with every certificate comes the stark reality that those Jedi masters could soon retire. We need to build the bench. We’re going to increase our focus on professional development and bringing in new talent. 

Likewise, I’m turning up the heat on our recognition programs. While I truly believe logistics is a team sport and all the major subordinate commands are in this together, when it comes time to compete for awards and recognition for my DLA Aviation teammates — sorry, guys; it’s game on! 

From an operational perspective, we need to improve our wholesale materiel management to include a 2 percent increase in materiel availability, a 10 percent reduction in backorders, a 3 percent improvement in supplier on-time delivery and 5 percent reduction in suspended stock. 

We’re also going to expand our use of strategic contracting solutions that directly improve warfighter readiness, increase automated contract awards to reduce manual workload by increasing our long-term contracts and partner with industry to develop other innovative contracting methodologies. In doing so, we must continue our laser focus on developing solutions in support of the nuclear enterprise, F-35 sustainment, the Navy’s Rhino Recovery effort, the Army’s Apache and Black Hawk depot repair and global operations, and the Air Force’s F-22 and F-16 sustainment effort.

It’s often a challenge to balance work and life priorities. How do you achieve a balance? What advice would you offer to employees within the workforce?
I wish I could say I had this all figured out. I don’t, but I generally just try to take one day at a time. Right now my travel schedule is a bit insane, but when I’m home I really try to be fully engaged with the kids. We love to do things together: bowling, hiking, amusement parks, etc. My recommendation is that if you like to do certain things, then make time and go do them. Life is pretty short and time flies by quickly. So be careful not to blink, because you might miss something important.

If the kids have a school or athletic event, I try to be there. Most importantly, if an event is going on, I’m actually watching, not answering emails. The last thing in the world I want is to miss a great play because I was too busy fiddling with my phone. Trust me, the emails can wait. If it’s super urgent, someone will call. If not, I’ll get to them as soon as I can. So make sure you’re actually “there” whenever you can be. 

Likewise, there are plenty of times when we have to miss birthdays or holidays for deployments or other mission-related reasons. Those are understandable. Just make sure you know what is truly mission-related versus a convenient excuse. Then try to do the things only you can do. We work in teams for a reason. Don’t try to be a superhero and do everything yourself. Remember, this is a team sport.

What are some weapons-systems-support challenges facing DLA Aviation? What are your expectations? 
We have numerous aged weapons systems. The B-52 was built in the ‘50s, yet it’s going to be flying another couple of decades. Many other airframes have reached their service life but can’t be retired due to delays in new programs. In many cases, we’re seeing things break that no one ever intended to replace and there’s no supply chain in place to support them. At the same time we’re bringing on new weapon systems, we’re challenged with rising costs, obsolescence, cold supply chains, unstable demand patterns, poor or nonexistent technical data packages, diminishing sources of supply, [Commercial and Government Entity] compromise issues and cyber threats. 

Adding to the complexity, Congress gave the services extra funding to increase the readiness of aviation platforms. While obviously no one is complaining about this, the reality is, in many cases, this “readiness” has to start with parts provided by DLA. Unfortunately, those demands were not forecast and because the average lead time for aviation parts is more than 300 days, the desired and measurable increase in readiness is going to take time.

Besides being innovative, my expectation to get through these challenges is for our team to capitalize on our strategic partnerships with industry to leverage their collective strengths: their platform/parts expertise, engineering support, data analytics and production and repair capacity. We need to be completely transparent about our challenges, communicate openly, benchmark across industry groups and capitalize on the best practices within the commercial marketplace. 

Conversely, we need our industry partners to be accountable; deliver on their promises; increase the timeliness of their goods and services; help us increase our materiel availability; reduce unfilled backorders; and overcome these unexpected demand spikes. We’ve already created a contractual framework to attack obsolescence and minimize the number of no-bids, but I bet there are other things industry could do to help us identify and eliminate vulnerabilities and risks. Solving these challenges will be a team sport.

Would you share some of the leadership traits or career choices that have made you successful? 
First and foremost, leadership is a gift, but it’s also a tremendous responsibility. You have to completely own everything that happens or doesn’t happen — good or bad — in your organization. And I firmly believe respect is something you have to earn; it’s not dependent on rank or position.

Likewise, you also have to remember that leadership is not a popularity contest. Sometimes you have to make a call that folks are not going to agree with. That’s OK, as long as you make the decisions for the right reasons and for the greater good. If that’s the case, then make the tough call and stick with it. Remember, decisions can’t be for personal benefit; leadership is not about you.

I also believe the most important thing you can ever do is just be yourself; be genuine. No matter what happens, don’t try to be someone else. Just because you’re a supervisor or in charge doesn’t mean you have to be mean, yell or play bad cop. It’s OK to be nice. It’s OK to be down to earth. It’s OK to relate with and try to understand your subordinates. You absolutely have to enforce standards and hold people accountable, but that doesn’t mean you change who you are while you’re doing it. 

Next, I think it’s important to stay humble, stay grounded and remember your priorities. I don’t care if you’re the newest member on the team or the commander. We all put our pants on the same way, and we all have to figure out for ourselves what’s important. None of us can afford to get so big for our britches that we forget what our real priorities in life are. For me, my three kids don’t care whether I’m in charge of a wing, a base or nothing at all. To them, I’m Mom — and I’m still going to be Mom whenever I get out of the Air Force. So no matter what happens or how successful you are in your career, make sure you don’t get that part goofed up.

My next recommendation is to never go it alone. Logistics is a team sport; so is life. I tend to talk about this a lot because I’ve played a lot of different sports, so I think in terms of team unity and effort. Life is no different. It’s not something you have to deal with by yourself. Always remember, you have a wingman; don’t be afraid to ask for help. And that means all of us, whether you’re a new airman or a commander or somewhere in between. 

Build relationships. Even if you just want to bounce an idea off someone, let them give their opinion. Two heads are better than one. Think of it like the lifelines in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” But here, we’re not limited to just three. Look around at your co-workers, leaders, mentors and friends. Think of the relationships you’ve made throughout DoD and in industry. These networks give new meaning to the “phone a friend” concept. Use this to your advantage. I promise it will pay huge dividends. 

Listen. The best thing you can do in almost every situation is listen. Don’t talk, don’t interrupt, don’t finish people’s sentences. Just listen. It’s really that simple, and it’s really that important. If you don’t, you’re going to miss something important. Everyone on your team has a story. If you don’t know their stories, you can’t lead the team.

Welcome diversity. Surround yourself with folks who think differently from you. Diversity is important. Your team needs to have different types of education, experiences, backgrounds, etc. You need to be able to look at problems through different lenses, and you have to enable those folks to convey their true opinion. You don’t want a bunch of “yes men” because the result will be nothing more than groupthink. The team has to be able to tell the figurative “emperor” he has no clothes.

The next nugget is to be positive and be resilient. Be that “glass is half full” kind of person. We all know people who are like that; they’re usually the types of people we enjoy being around, who build successful teams with high morale. We also all know folks who are more of the “glass is half empty” type and the effect that attitude can have. 

I challenge you to take the more positive approach. Life is going to happen, and it’s going to happen to all of us. So when life throws you a curveball, just go with it; phone a friend and get the help you need so you can focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. If you focus on the positive, I promise it will help you rebound much faster. I’m speaking from personal experience on this; at some point, life is going to throw all of us a curveball or two. The question is, do you have the ability and the resiliency to stand back up and move forward?

My last leadership nugget is  “Don’t be afraid to laugh.” Laughter and humor are good for you. It breaks the tension, helps build cohesive teams and breaks the monotony of daily life. So don’t take yourself so seriously you can’t laugh. 

Like I said: Things happen and they happen to everyone. The important thing is how you react. If a leadership opportunity or, heaven forbid, even a curveball comes your way, just be yourself, be genuine, be humble, be positive, listen, laugh and internalize the fact that life and everything that we do is really a team sport.