People often think of traditional college students seeking their very first career positions when they think of the Workforce Recruitment Program, but this is only part of the story.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other disabilities years ago, yet I’ve lived an amazing life through an incredible variety of employment experiences, international travel, volunteering, being a Marine wife — and being an employee of the Defense Logistics Agency for nearly a decade.
How did I get where I am now? It all hinged on one decision, and it was not an easy one.
After becoming a single mother with three teenagers, I returned to college to finish my bachelor’s degree, then went on to earn my master’s and finally my doctorate.
At Oklahoma State University, while I was finishing my seventh and final statistics course and working on my dissertation, I heard testing accommodations could be offered to a student if they chose to make their disability known. When I learned this would allow me an extra hour and a private, quiet room during testing times, I decided I would declare mine.
It seemed a risky move, and I wondered if it would shoot me in the foot later, as a full-time job seeker. I didn’t want others to know of my disability, and I didn’t want special treatment. It has taken me years to realize such accommodations truly are OK and help level the playing field.
I was in chronic pain and needed extra time and quiet space on exams to concentrate and succeed. Thankfully, my university granted both.
In May 2006, I had just completed all my doctoral coursework and quite suddenly lost my oldest son just eight months later; he was 26. Grieving takes time, but by summer 2008 I was back to working on my dissertation. That year, I received an offer to meet with a federal interviewer at the main campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma, 90 miles away from home in Tulsa. I thought it might be a good thing but had no real idea of all it would lead to.
After the interview, I didn’t quite understand what this very professional, suit-wearing Navy woman meant when she said to me, “You are exactly what the government is looking for.” But I just smiled, handed over all requested paperwork and left very happy.
In about March 2009, the calls began coming in from Germany, the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D.C., and DLA Distribution at Tinker Air Force Base
in Oklahoma, offering WRP internships. I accepted the DLA offer to work as a management and program analyst 113 miles from my Tulsa home. I knew absolutely nothing about government work or grades when I accepted, but I knew it was the best option.
As a WRP participant, I was given many assignments, but the ones I enjoyed the most were those in which I worked with our DLA security specialist, and another with equipment specialists, usually from the Air Force, who come to DLA to evaluate parts that needed to be identified because their National Stock Numbers weren’t readable.
That parts program required considerable coordination and cooperation between DLA Inventory Integrity personnel, who noted the problem; warehouse employees, who pulled and staged the parts for viewing; and the equipment specialists, who would decipher and determine exactly what the part was for and proper labeling so it could be repaired, sent to a customer or put back into stock depending on its condition code. This program had a high “no-show” rate, which I enjoyed creatively fixing, bringing those “no-shows” to zero on our weekly staff reporting.
At the end of my 14-week internship, I received the five-week extension WRP offers. When that ended, my second-line supervisor told me, “Come back Monday, Pam; you have a full-time job.”
I was moved from the Inventory Integrity Office to the Stock Readiness Team, then finally to the Performance Excellence Office, where I managed multiple projects and programs. Later, the opportunity arose to administer the WRP for DLA Distribution in Oklahoma City for four years. My first year, we brought on 13 students and hired three full time.
One of my business passions is to help solve program and project problems. Another is bringing people together to accomplish great things.
I also love simplifying and streamlining processes using skills I learned in my career and education, and from lessons I learned as a child who begged her mother to teach her to sew and knit starting in fifth grade.
By high school, I had become an excellent seamstress. I later discovered that designing and constructing clothing gives one creativity and problem-solving skills that can be adeptly used in the workplace. I’ve always been so thankful to my mom for those countless hours of learning.
I’m now entering my 10th year with DLA and am experiencing the privilege of participating in the Enterprise Rotational Program at DLA Headquarters, where I’m learning from and working with the Human Resources Forward Presence Training Team.
WRP and DLA have completely changed my life.
The Next Chapter
My journey to an opportunity with the Workforce Recruitment Program at the Defense Logistics Agency began with seeking help for depression while on active duty as an Army officer.
Raising my right paw in taking the oath as a cadet on The Plain at West Point, later volunteering for Airborne, Infantry, Ranger School and Special Forces — each was significant. Seeking help for depression has proven just as important.
In 2008 I retired from the Army and for several years worked as a contractor. Then, in what was to become a multiyear trek in the job-seeking wilderness, I returned to school in my 50s to improve my skills. Being a recent graduate led to my eligibility for the WRP.
As a job applicant, I was more concerned about my age, the yawning gap in my work history and my lack of experience outside the Department of Defense than I was about my invisible disabilities.
I stumbled on the WRP in a workshop at the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, where a guest speaker mentioned he had entered federal service through the program. I learned more about the WRP from the disability office of my school, the University of Maryland University College, and applied by the deadline.
Temperamentally, I was comfortable with an internship. I welcomed the opportunity and approached it as a tryout. Up to then, I had felt like someone peering through a knothole in the fence yearning for a chance to get back on the playing field and prove myself.
I was confident I had much to offer and just needed an opportunity. I interviewed with a volunteer WRP recruiter from Department of Veterans Affairs, with the results going into my Department of Labor WRP profile.
The words of the recruiter buoyed my spirits: “One day someone is going to read your resume, realize what they have and bring you on board.”
In part, my confidence was based on my experience in a series of assignments over 12 years as a staff officer at the Army’s (now) Human Resources Command, Special Operations Command Europe, Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea and Army Personnel. I had also worked as a contractor and as a strategic planner on the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff.
Many of my duties jibed with those of a management and program analyst. For eight of those years I supervised a mix of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Army civilians. In addition, earning two master’s degrees required me to examine contemporary corporate issues and best practices, sharpen my insights and improve my business acumen.
It was uplifting to receive inquiries from hiring managers and to interview for positions with the Navy’s Civilian Personnel Office and Bureau of Medicine, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Army Communications-Electronics Command, Veterans Health Administration, Defense Technical Information Center and DLA.
Why DLA? In my experience, DLA moved the quickest along the timeline of an interview, tentative offer and final offer, with words matching actions all along the way. A very positive experience.
I attribute this to Catherine Callender, WRP coordinator, and Allison Johnson, an HR specialist. DLA’s placement of about 26 percent of its 2016 WRP participants in longer-term and permanent positions through Schedule A hiring actions was also a factor.
My colleagues and supervisor, Dennis Ellis, have been most welcoming. I have been able to contribute to DLA’s anticipated return to the Joint Staff Manpower and Personnel Directorate, which handles the Joint Staff’s equal employment opportunity and reasonable accommodation functions, as well as to the planning and execution of two Special Emphasis Program observances in support of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month and LGBT Pride Month.
In addition, I am working with EEO specialists to revise onboarding briefings to new DLA employees, as well as periodic briefings to seasoned employees and managers.
In conclusion, the WRP is a blessing. DLA and the WRP provided an opportunity I had long sought: to get back to work and add more chapters to my working life. Regardless of how it works out beyond the internship, I will be forever grateful for that opportunity.
A Vision of Service
I joined Defense Logistics Agency Aviation
in Richmond, Virginia, through the Workforce Recruitment Program in 2016, after years working with people who have disabilities.
My motivation in life is to make a positive difference in the lives of others, so I was excited to know I would be helping provide reasonable accommodations for employees through the DLA Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
I also felt well-prepared. I was already certified by three states to administer medication and had volunteered as a basic life support technician for a rescue squad. And I had firsthand experience dealing with the challenges of a disability.
As a youngster, I wore thick glasses and was named “Koogle” by my peers in reference to the way my eyes moved. Koogle was a brand of peanut butter that came in a jar and had a pair of eyes that appeared to be cross-eyed. So I was the “Koogle” kid.
When we moved from Utica, New York, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was enrolled in a school for the blind, where I was an outlier of sorts. I have enough sight to function, which meant that for the rest of my education, I could not see blackboards or small fonts clearly because of my shifting eyes. The most embarrassing part of being mainstreamed was the attention from the other students because my head often moved while my eyes shifted.
And yet in high school I joined the Civil Air Patrol. I wanted to be a pilot. Nobody had told me I would be excluded from what “normal” people do. In fact, I currently hold a driver’s license only because I have permission from my optometrist, who forbids me from driving at night.
After high school I took a certificate course at Temple University, aimed at training group-home workers to mainstream people with developmental disabilities into community-based care instead of institutions.
My sister was a victim of the mass institutionalization of people with developmental and emotional disabilities and because of her oppositional behaviors; her doctors at now-closed Rome Developmental Center in Oneida, New York, saw fit to break her legs to prevent her from harming others. I later had the opportunity to work in some of RDC’s first community-based programs.
The courses at Temple were extremely difficult — so much that I could not describe why at the time. Without assistive technology in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, I could not get an adequate grade during a class but absorbed all of the subject as I restudied.
Years later, I went back to school at Virginia State University to earn my bachelor’s degree. With the use of modern assistive technology, I managed to stay on the dean’s list for four years.
This led me to apply for the WRP, which led me to join DLA Aviation.
My first internship taught me the basics of EEO-related issues. By my second appointment, I began to witness the importance of the work by following the caseload’s progress. Harold McManus (then-EEO director at DLA Aviation) and Deborah Winston, the current director, gave me a case to work. I’m now in training to become an EEO counselor.
The mentorship from both directors changed my career goals. In my youth, I was interested in physical care for others; currently, I plan to take care of others by combating discrimination and disparagement in the workplace while providing accommodations to employees interested in increasing their output for DLA.
The WRP allowed me to use and further the knowledge I gained in earning my degree and gave me the opportunity to serve the United States warfighter.