Meet Eric Smith, DLA Energy’s new Deputy Commander

By Connie Braesch DLA Energy Public Affairs

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Deputy Commander Eric Smith joined the Defense Logistics Agency Energy team on Nov. 24. Recently, he sat down with public affairs to discuss his career, leadership and goals.

Can you please tell us about yourself?

I’m an army brat. I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and played football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After college, I was commissioned in the Army as an ordinance officer and spent the next 25 years in military. My last 3 plus years of active service were here at DLA with my last year serving as XO to the DLA Director, Army Lt. Gen. Bob Dail

Are you happy to be back at DLA?

I am delighted. When I retired from DLA in 2007, I developed a career plan to spend about 15 years in the federal civilian sector with the goal to eventually return. I wanted to return to DLA because my time here was one of the best assignments I had in my military career. I still have the energy and drive to learn and be challenged. DLA is the place for that, especially as a logistician. 

How have your past experiences prepared you for the leadership role as the DLA Energy deputy commander?

Because of my prior assignment I understand DLA, its capabilities and the role it plays in supporting our nation’s warfighters. Understanding how support works from a customer and operations perspective will help me as I learn the business side of energy. I’m a little bit impatient by nature and would like to jump in and get things going, but I promised myself that I would take my time to learn from the Energy team. The team here is outstanding with very talented technicians and professionals. I need to first understand the critical aspects of our team’s mission related goals, understand the challenges they face and, then focus how I can help them succeed. So, I am here to absorb, learn and then help however I can.

What would you like to accomplish as deputy commander?

I would like to accomplish two things. One, for people to say that I helped them achieve some of their professional and career goals. I consider myself a people person. I like to always remember that someone helped me get to where I am, so I try to pay that back and do the same for others who want guidance and or assistance in achieving a career goal. I want to invest in that. On the business and operational side, if I can add value to the effectiveness of our business processes of our organization then I consider that a success too. 

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means taking care of people. My philosophy is twofold. I want to treat people the way I like to be treated. That falls under the heading of respect. On the professional side, my leadership is to always do the right thing. Set the example and insist on others doing the right thing also. My mantra throughout my career is to “always take the hard right over the easy wrong.”

When you were an Army Colonel and the Director’s Executive Officer, your tenets of leadership were teamwork and have fun, has your philosophy changed since then?

My leadership philosophy has not changed. This is not about me. It’s about us. Collaborating and working together. That’s the only way we are going to get things done and accomplish our goals. I am not the smartest guy in the room, so my job is to make sure we bring the smartest team members into the room that will help us get to where we want to go. 

Did your leadership style change when you became an SES?

My style didn’t change, but my approach did. The directness in the military does not translate well to the civilian sector.  I had to adjust how I went about imparting my leadership philosophy. I had to learn more soft skills. 

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Character and integrity. As a leader, everyone watches what I do, listens to everything I say and observe how I carry myself. Being a leader of strong character being sincere and transparent will take care of questions of who I am as leader. People can read through the veneer if leadership is not sincere. 

What is your message to the DLA Energy workforce? 

I am ecstatic to be here. Really and sincerely, I am here to learn and contribute. I think this organization is very good at what it does, and I want to add value to our mission. 

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment? 

Professionally, my greatest accomplishment was to be able to leave active service with a skill set that allowed me to successfully transition to the federal sector and help FEMA and DHS create a responsive and effective national logistics concept and strategy. I would count that as my biggest professional accomplishment to this point. 

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? 

I had two mentors I relied on throughout my career. One, was Army Lt. Gen. Bob Dail who I worked for as the XO during the active duty assignment here. I’ve known General Dail since the early 1980s when we were at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I was a captain and he was a major. He was one of the smartest technical logisticians I knew who taught me how to be a planner. 

The other mentor is Army Maj. Gen. James Monroe. He was my first battalion commander when I was a lieutenant in Nuremberg, Germany. What I learned from him was the importance of work-life balance. He taught me to work hard, get the job done, but always take care of myself, take care of my family and take care of the soldiers and families that depended on me. He taught me the importance of keeping the mission and caring in balance. 

Why are mentors important?

They have a wealth of knowledge and experience that will help and that they are willing to share. They can help you make informed, educated decisions and ensure you’re thinking through the critical details. There are things they have experienced that you haven’t.

Is there something we should know about your leadership style?

I’m a serious introvert. I surprised early in my military career to learn that my team felt that I was unapproachable. I found out later that I’m an ISTJ (Myers-Briggs Introverted, Sensing, Thinking and Judging personality type) which means I must work hard at being at bit more extroverted. If you see me, please come up and talk to me. If I’m walking and focused with my head down, don’t take it as not wanting to or too busy to greet or talk to anyone. I strive to be self-aware and consciously remind myself of my personality indicators and the need to move toward the extroverted spectrum a little more

What is something we should know about you personally?

I vacation in Aruba every year. I’m a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves and Washington Wizards. I recently started cycling for exercise.

Anything you’d like to add?

Being in an organization like DLA Energy and having an opportunity to serve our nation’s Warfighters doesn’t happen to everyone. To be in an organization and serve with this level of dedicated, technically competent and mission focused members on the Energy staff is not something one experiences in a career.