The director of the Defense Logistics Agency has often said the people of DLA are the most important element in the success of the agency — the “secret sauce” of DLA’s success, according to Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams.
That sauce may be made from an heirloom recipe, based on headlines from copies of the agency’s early publications. DLA employees’ achievements over the decades, along with progress in society, technology and the agency itself are all on display in Loglines’ ancestor publications, Defense Supply Agency News and DLA Dimensions.
The first issue of DSA News was published Jan. 16, 1963, one year after the agency got up and running at Cameron Station in Alexandria, Virginia. The newspaper-style publication, unlike Loglines
or DLA Dimensions, was solely for employees and published every three weeks.
Although the achievements and changes at what would become DLA are numerous in these early issues of DSA News, another aspect also stands out: dated attitudes toward women. Fortunately, the publication’s language and tone toward women employees improved markedly by the 1970s.
At the same time, it’s clear in the old newsprint that agency women, despite being the brunt of stereotypes regrettably common in that era, managed to rise through the ranks and become leaders at DSA — perhaps more frequently than their counterparts in industry or other government agencies.
An early 1963 headline reads “Strawberry Blond [sic] in Uniform Chief of DTMS Manpower Division.” The article notes Navy Cdr. Kathleen Brady had joined the Navy during WWII and roomed with the daughter of a former French prime minister. Together the girls mastered such unfeminine subjects as identification of ships and aircraft, according to the article.
Despite the cringe-inducing sexism, the fact that Brady was DSA’s chief of the Defense Traffic Management Service, later absorbed by U.S. Transportation Command, shows that the agency was in fact open to women as leaders.
And the final issue of that year features the headline “DSA HQ Management Specialist Finds Personnel Field Excellent for Woman,” combining a sexist gaffe with incorrect use of the singular noun. Even five years later, the Nov. 1, 1968, issue crows about an “All-Girl” team of contract administration specialists, describing one as “attractive, blonde, soft-spoken” and another as “titian-haired.”
As gauche as such language is to modern ears, these articles also show that DSA had women leaders more than a decade before the Civil Rights Act would be passed and long before women managers became common in the business world.
A milestone of real change can be seen in the Feb. 7, 1977, issue of what by this time was Defense Logistics Agency News. The issue used a theme of equal opportunity to present articles on successful DLA women, including African-American women. On the front page, “Court order: Promote women” headlines a story detailing the implications of a 1976 victory by a female Department of Labor employee in a sex-discrimination case. Another notes “7 women hold key positions” in DLA’s San Francisco District Quality Assurance Division. It even offers a statistical breakdown of the DLA workforce demographics, though using terminology now considered offensive.
These oldest issues are also notable by the near absence of African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Native Americans or Asian-Americans. But beginning in the mid-‘60s, signs of progress began to show. In fact, there is evidence DSA, though still with room to improve, was a place where African-Americans managed to rise through the ranks and excel.
Even more notably, African-Americans working for DSA were making their mark as supervisors, managers and scientists.
In fact, even before the march on Selma, an African-American woman was leading a team at DSA headquarters in Virginia. A March 11, 1964, feature on women leaders included Doretha Bebbs, a physicist and researcher serving as a division director in the Defense Documentation Center, now the Defense Technical Information Center. Bebbs was again featured in the May 20, 1964, issue after becoming the division chief of the Research, Development Test and Evaluation Division of DSA.
Bebbs earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and married a physics instructor there. She had begun her career at the Library of Congress and worked as a supervisory librarian, writer and editor before being promoted to GS-14 in 1962, the article notes.
Given her scientific background, Bebbs “was one of the original group that created the first edition of DDC’s technical vocabulary for computer use,” the article notes. She was also a member of the Army ad hoc group on scientific and technical information.
Another noteworthy black leader at DLA’s predecessor was Ralph Beverly, who served as assistant chief of the Retail Branch of the Interservicing Division at DSA Headquarters. According to the May 11, 1964, issue of DSA News, Beverly, despite having earned a bachelor’s degree from what was then Hampton Institute in Virginia — alma mater of the agency’s current director — had to start his government career as a messenger in 1935.
“I took every Civil Service exam for which I was qualified and passed them all — exams in everything from clerk typist to economist — but for five years I remained a messenger,” he recalled. Beverly, an amateur violinist, got his first professional job as a clerk-typist for the War Department, predecessor of the Department of Defense, in 1940.
Mentioned briefly on the last page of the Oct. 4, 1968, issue is Matilene Berryman, who was about to take on a temporary duty breaking down marine-sciences data for disadvantaged youth. Berryman appears to have been something of a pioneer for both women and African-Americans. The article notes she had earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, taught oceanography at the Navy and “was the lone representative of her sex in a sonar engineering class of 46 students at Penn State University.”
Not mentioned is that she later became chair of the Department of Environmental Science at the University of the District of Columbia, according to her Washington Post 2003 obituary. She went on to earn a law degree and become a practicing attorney.
Notwithstanding these pioneers, it’s clear DSA and DLA had plenty of room to improve. Fortunately, courageous African-Americans like Lillie Mae Brown held the agency accountable for implementing equal opportunity. Brown was inducted into the DLA Hall of Fame in 2018 for leading a 1974 class-action lawsuit that forced DSA to fully comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.
Brown ended up retiring from DLA as a GS-13 in 1994, after pioneering multiple technological innovations still in use at DLA.
Even with this progress, most of the 1960s issues of DSA News have little to no mention of other employees of color nor those with disabilities. This seems to have started to change around 1967; the June 5 issue that year notes the creation of a new EEO training program for supervisors. And the front-page headline for March 3 that year touted the director’s endorsement of “affirmative action for positive and creative equal employment opportunity,” outlining how the agency will comply with the just-issued executive order to create an EEO program.
Directly underneath is a photograph of Tita Valderrama, a Filipina-American clerk-typist at Tracy Depot, California, who may be the very first Asian-American shown in the agency’s official publications.
A more significant look was given to Kay Kono, a secretary at Defense Contract Administration Services Region Los Angeles. The Dec. 28, 1970, issue notes she was named one of 10 Outstanding Employees of the Year. During WWII, Kono, a Japanese-American, was forcibly relocated with her family from their California home to an internment camp in Arkansas. Despite this, after the war she worked for the Army and the Air Force before joining DSA.
The Sept. 20, 1968, DSA News sums up the paradox that DSA seems to have been in its sincere drive to be more inclusive combined with stubborn habits and attitudes. “Real Life Cases Show Problems of Minorities” described the new EEO course in which supervisors discussed real incidents of racial conflict from around the agency. However, a photo on the same page shows a Caucasian employee dressed in a Native American costume as part of a Pioneer Day event at the DSA location in Ogden, Utah.
Real Native Americans were long underrepresented in DSA News. The July 19, 1967, issue mentions American Indian students arriving at the agency’s Ogden depot for summer jobs. Two years later, Navajo employee Cindy Morris, a clerk-typist at DSA Depot Ogden, Utah, is shown collecting food for Navajo neighbors in need.
More substantive was an article about DSA’s efforts to help the Bureau of Indian Affairs prevent discrimination against Alaska natives in the April 18, 1969, DSA News. And a story in the Dec. 28, 1970, issue outlines DSA’s effort to provide equipment to train members of the Navajo tribe to be machinists.
Hispanic employees were likewise nearly unmentioned through the ‘60s — until the Nov. 15, 1968, article about Carlos Ruiz, a DSA photographer and color technician who had photographed every U.S. president since Eisenhower, along with Queen Elizabeth and Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Ruiz’s interest began while serving in Dutch Guyana during WWII, when he began experimenting with natural-light photography, the story explains. Ruiz was a native of Rincon, Puerto Rico.
Finally, DSA was making efforts to employ more people with disabilities. A feature on Mary Royal showed that DSA was already employing individuals with disabilities in meaningful work 22 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. Royal, who used a wheelchair, worked for the Defense Documentation Center, a unit of DSA and then DLA before it became the Defense Technical Information Center. The story describes her work as a highly regarded secretary and volunteer pianist for the USO. “This past fall she tried her hand at bowling and hopes to join the DDC Bowling League next season,” it concludes.
The agency’s effort to employ more people with disabilities was noted in “Managers Urged to Spot Jobs For Handicapped,” in the Sept. 15, 1967, issue.
A few months later, articles in the Feb. 23, 1968, issue noted the agency’s purchases of products made by blind people and of tents made by those with developmental disabilities. The May 17 issue of that year mentions that Zelpha Coalt, a technical editor with multiple sclerosis, was one of two DSA employees to attend a meeting of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.
And a small feature on Debbie Hobin in the Nov. 24, 1967, DSA News, notes that even with no use of her left hand due to cerebral palsy, she was able to type 40 words per minute with ease in her job at Defense Depot Tracy, California.
Three years later, Ralph Harwood, a deaf chemist working in clothing and textiles, was nominated for Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee of the year, the Jan. 9, 1970, issue reports.
Despite reflecting the biases of the time, the pages of DSA News also show what made DSA and DLA great. They portray an imperfect, yet earnest, group of people working together to do great things, striving and ultimately succeeding in their common quest to serve a greater cause.
Because DSA News was only for employees, it regularly featured stories on employees’ hobbies, offering insight into DSA employees’ personalities in a world without social media, the internet or even portable phones.
Performing as a magician every weekend was the avocation of the DSA publications chief, Earl Gilbert, the May 20, 1964, issue reported.
The “massive biceps” showing under a “colorful Ban Lon turtleneck” combined with “the slim hips of a ballet dancer” hinted at the karate skills of Orville (Tony) Tonoda, an illustrator in DSA headquarters profiled in April 21, 1967. Tonoda was a Navy veteran who took up the martial art while stationed in Okinawa.
Nobel Bare was featured in the Sept. 20, 1968, issue for his skill entertaining kids as a comic for a local kids’ show, including his skill imitating various animals.
Boasting an encyclopedic sports knowledge was “Peggy the Receptionist,” as the April 7, 1967, headline dubbed Peggy Wagner of Defense Contract Administration Services Philadelphia.
The Old West pistol-wielding skills of Carl Nikulka, an employee of Defense Depot Tracy, California, were profiled in the Nov. 1, 1968, issue.
An article from Dec. 18, 1964, explores the hobby of Jack and Viola Kirakofe, a married DSA couple who bred and kept rare geese, ducks and swans at their Pennsylvania home — going so far as to bring back eggs from Iceland. (One hopes the birds never flew near the Nikulka home.)
A large collection of preserved butterflies and moths gathered by James McGowne at the DCAS region in Los Angeles was featured in the Dec. 22, 1972, DSA News.
Raymond Huber Jr. of DSASO in South Bend, Indiana, is noted in the March 22, 1968, issue for his multiple trophies in competitive water skiing. And a rock collection including asteroids was the hobby of Emily Bettey, the May 31, 1968, DSA News reported.
— John R. Bell