New DLA senior enlisted leader shares leadership challenges, successes

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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Army Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka O’Neal’s numerous assignments over a 30-year career provided her with a rich logistics background even before she reported to the Defense Logistics Agency as senior enlisted leader Aug. 10. She enlisted in the Army as a parachute rigger in 1989 after watching her brother jump out of a plane at airborne school.

“My intent was to go to school, jump five times and call it a day, but it didn’t happen that way,” O’Neal said.

She jumped out of planes for the next 17 years but reclassified as an automated logistical specialist in 1998. In 1996, when O’Neal was a young staff sergeant serving as a platoon sergeant, her company commander recommended her for the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.

“I had no idea what that was,” she said. “My commander and first sergeant saw my potential and they wanted me to move forward. But it’s not just a competition, it’s all about who you are as a leader.”

Named for Army Sgt. Audie Murphy, who rose to national fame as the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II, the club comprises elite noncommissioned officers committed to excellence in leadership. Nominees must be expert marksmen, supervise at least two soldiers, score 95% or higher on the physical fitness test, and demonstrate concern for their soldiers’ needs, training, development and welfare.

O’Neal supervised 31 soldiers and recognized what a prestigious honor the nomination was. She completed each level of the program and was selected to be a member of the XVIII Airborne Corps Sergeant Audie Murphy club.

“It was rough, it was painful. Audie Murphy was really one of those programs that was combat-arms centric and very few logisticians or sustainers competed for it,” she said, adding that she was one of the few parachute riggers to earn a spot in the club at that time.

O’Neal became a command sergeant major in 2007 and has held the top enlisted spot in units including the Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Command, Mission and Installation Contracting Command, 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade and the 44th Medical Command. 

Other assignments included the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, for which she deployed in 2002 as a special operations liaison with the Joint Logistics Command in Karshi Khanabad, Uzbekistan. She was also the first female first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Operations Support Command from 2004 to 2006. She then served on the special staff to the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center and School in 2006 until attending the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy later that year.

A deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 was one of O’Neal’s toughest assignments.

“When we do operational deployments in a combat environment, we assume the combat support role. You lose servicemen and women,” she said. “It’s an emotional and spiritual challenge, but as leaders we must persevere through those tough challenges.”

The command sergeant major said she looks forward to meeting DLA employees in person when travel restrictions and social distancing measures lift.

“I’ve had to change my leadership style many times and DLA is a different operational dynamic altogether, but one thing is for certain: I’ll take care of our team of over 26,000 employees and let them know that, military or civilian, I’m their advocate and teammate, too,” she said.

The words in the final stanza of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” serve as O’Neal’s life philosophy: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

“I always seem to be on the path that’s less worn, where I can experience new challenges,” she said. “That’s what DLA is going to be for me, a new challenge.”