Troop Support Indo-Pacific employee thrives in career despite disability

By Alexandria Brimage-Gray Defense Logistics Agency

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As a college student with a learning disability, visits to the university’s Learning Assistance Center were a part of the routine for Allison Higashi, a contracting specialist with the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Indo-Pacific. It was spring day in 2009 at the University of Hawaii when an unexpected visitor, presented a unique opportunity that would change her life.

“They told me that a federal recruiter was going to come down,” Higashi said. “They were presenting the Workforce Recruitment Program, which is a recruitment and referral program that connects federal employers with college students and recent graduates with disabilities.”

After an interview, candidates are hired as summer interns at positions best suited for their abilities.

“I interviewed for the WRP and I got picked up,” Higashi said. “I got a couple calls from agencies but DLA was the first that I heard from. I [was] picked up as a summer hire at Disposition Services for the first summer in 2009 and I worked with DLA Troop Support Indo-Pacific the next summer.”

Being provided an opportunity to work at DLA in Hawaii while still attending classes was a plus, but Troop Support’s unique mission is what drew Higashi to the organization, she said.

“I heard about the mission and I knew that the mission was different from Disposition Services,” Higashi said.  “When I was first introduced to Troop Support they had four different commodities, which I thought was unique.”

DLA Disposition Services is responsible for the disposal of excess DOD property while Troop Support provides support to the warfighter through five supply chains: Subsistence, Clothing and Textiles, Medical, Construction and Equipment and Industrial Hardware, which was added in 2011.

While attending graduate school, Higashi accepted a temporary position with Troop Support Indo-Pacific. However, after accepting the job, she still had some uncertainty about her career path.

“Initially, I thought that I wanted to do human resources, so I kind of started out in the business office but while working under the SCEP [Student Career Experience Program] and PaCER [Pathways to Career Excellence Program], the contracting field opened up to me,” Higashi said.

During a critical time, being one year away from completing graduate school and her temporary student hire position coming to an end, Higashi had yet another career decision ahead of her.

“I started looking around the office to see what was opening up,” she said. “At that point, the current intern [in my office] was going to graduate and she was in contracting. Immediately, I started asking questions about how I could get into that.”

After the discussion with her coworker and completing her business credits, Higashi made the career transition from HR to contracting.

“When I first came to DLA it was a little overwhelming just thinking about the scope of what we were doing out in the Pacific all the way from Hawaii to Alaska, Korea and Japan,” she said. “As a PaCER, every step along the way, I have just tried to learn more about the organization, about contracting and DLA’s mission.”

One mission that Higashi worked on is very near and dear to her.

“My first big project was the Subsistence contracts awarded for getting fresh fruit and vegetables for the state of Hawaii public schools,” Higashi said. “Growing up [attending] Hawaii public schools, it is great to know that I have the opportunity to research and ensure that the students have high quality, fresh fruits and vegetables on their plates in the cafeteria.”

It was that personal connection that made the success of this contract significant for Higashi.

“This is very important to me because a lot of our islands are very remote, and it was a challenge trying to find and source vendors to fly out to support one or two schools on a little island,” Higashi continued.

Her unwavering support to the warfighter and dedication to mission was recognized by her leadership.

“Allison’s personality is infectious and her love for DLA Troop Support was overwhelming apparent when discussing her experience in the Hawaii Procurement Office,” Navy Cdr. Shani Leblanc, commander of DLA Troop Support Indo-Pacific said.

After spending the last 10 years in Hawaii, Higashi found herself seeking a new challenge and opportunity to work face-to-face with customers.

“Now as a contracting officer, my goal is to see how I can I get better with the knowledge that I have,” she said. “That is why I chose to come overseas because it is a different type of work here [and] we are more on the front lines with our customers. I just want to have more hands on experience with day-to-day operations of the customer instead of just sitting behind the computer.”

Not only is Higashi connecting with DLA customers directly for the first time, she is also connecting with her heritage for the very first time.

“My culture is Japanese,” she said. “I am a Japanese American, so [working in] Japan was always on my radar. I wanted to see how the military operates abroad, so staying a part of Troop Support Indo-Pacific was an important factor in my decision.”

Higashi described herself as being 100 percent American, but it wasn’t until landing in Japan that she realized parts of her personality were rooted in her Japanese heritage.

“It has been surprising to see how different habits, mannerisms and the way I interact with the world was influenced by my roots,” Higashi said.

“My grandparents were the last to speak Japanese in my family so I am eager to learn the language and meet people outside the base which is something that I did not have the desire to do before because I took Spanish in college.”

Higashi’s journey with DLA is one that can be beneficial to exposing the agency to many future employees, LeBlanc shared.

“Allison’s story with DLA Troop Support is motivational and a perfect story to share with other young college students who may be considering opportunities within DLA,” she said.

DLA provided Higashi a unique opportunity to provide support to the warfighter despite her learning disability, an experience she won’t soon forget, she said.

“It just blows my mind, as a college student you don’t really know what you are going to do,” Higashi said. “[A military] base was 10 miles from where I grew up my whole life. I knew that they worked with ships and things but when you get on the base you are just opened up to a whole different world. As a little girl growing up in Hawaii, it’s been amazing to see how I have grown personally and professionally in a career that I did not even know existed.”