Editor’s note: The Defense Logistics Agency recognizes May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In honor of their contributions to the agency’s global mission, DLA is highlighting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who work day in and day out to provide logistics support to America’s warfighters.
My name is: Sly Ahn
I am: The Asia chief for DLA Indo-Pacific. My previous position at DLA was with DLA Logistics Operations’ Portfolio Program Support Division. Before DLA, I served as a Navy Supply Corps officer, and I spent several years after the Navy working in the Washington, D.C., area and Silicon Valley for public and private-sector businesses.
My parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1974 to provide better opportunities for themselves and their children. They moved with only a few hundred dollars in savings and first worked as motel housekeepers to make a living despite having advanced educations and degrees. They didn’t speak the best English, which made finding work difficult. Their English quickly improved though, and through hard work and the kindness of people they met along the way, they ended up having successful careers in the chemical engineering and nursing fields. But they never forgot about their humble beginnings, and my brothers and I were raised with an understanding of where our family came from and with a deep appreciation of our nation and the good people in it. I think that made a lasting impression, because my brothers and I all chose to attend the U.S. Naval Academy to serve our country, and we continue to serve our nation in the military and as civil servants. In some small way, I hope that our service gives back to the nation that has given my family and many others so much.
Describe your job in a sentence: As the DLA-IP Asia chief in Korea, I lead a diverse military, civilian and local national team responsible for overall customer engagement, planning, exercises, and command and control for DLA in Korea, Japan and Okinawa.
How long have you worked at DLA? I have worked at DLA for eight years and have 19 years of total government and military service.
What is your favorite thing about working for DLA? In my humble opinion, you will never find better people or a better mission than what we have in the Department of Defense. I came back to the DOD and DLA because I really missed the fantastic people and mission that I had encountered in the DOD while on active duty. The people and mission continue to be my favorite things about working for DLA.
What are your best memories of working here? My best memories working for DLA have actually been the times I’ve spent with other DLA folks outside of the office at shooting ranges, restaurants, and chats over cigars and adult beverages. We all have lives and interests outside of the office, but I think that taking the time to know the people we work with on a deeper, more personal level is so important for a variety of reasons. I’m fortunate to have found so many lifelong friends during my time at DLA.
How do you make a difference? By pushing myself and my team to keep the right mindset. I have never been one to shy away from change, especially if it’s justifiable and will make things better. We should look at everything with a critical eye and always think about our work from a continuous process improvement perspective. I think we can always do better, and although we may not have the power or authority to make a particular decision or implement a particular change, I also think there’s something to be said about never letting something important go without being heard or without putting up a fight, regardless of where we sit in the chain of command.
What is one thing you’d like others to know about your heritage? Other than a recommendation to try Korean food if you haven’t already, I’d recommend delving deeper into Korean history. Korea has been in the media spotlight in recent times for K-pop and tensions with North Korea, but there’s a lot more to Korea than that. Korean history is a colorful one full of things like war, turmoil and occupation that I would say has had a large part in shaping Korean cultural views and politics. I’ve personally enjoyed learning more about the Silla Dynasty, Admiral Yi Sun Shin and his turtle ships, and the economic and political recovery of South Korea from the end of the Korean War to present day.
Why is it important to you that we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? For everyone, but especially for people who are living in an Asian-Pacific Island country or working in some capacity with one, I think it’s a great reminder to take some time to learn more about that particular country and culture. Knowing where a person or people have come from is so important if we really want to understand where they are now and where they are headed, and I think that cultivating a better understanding of people and their culture can only be beneficial for everyone.