Deputy general counsel becomes DLA’s newest SES member

By Beth Reece

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A retired Army lawyer and former chief counsel for Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support is now among the less than 1% of federal employees to join the Senior Executive Service.

Jon Lightner, now deputy general counsel for DLA Headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was inducted Aug. 28 into the SES. SES members are equivalent to general officers and serve in key positions below presidential appointees.

“Jon’s induction is an extraordinary achievement by any measure,” DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Michelle Skubic told coworkers, family and friends during the ceremony.

The Wernersville, Pennsylvania, native served almost 28 years in the Army with seven years at three combatant commands and four tours as a staff judge advocate. In 2007, he became the first legal counsel for U.S. Africa Command as it became the Defense Department’s newest unified command supporting military activities and whole-of-government partners across the continent.

He retired in 2012 at the U.S. Transportation Command, where he gained an understanding of how DLA and TRANSCOM work together to move supplies to warfighters’ locations, then began his civil service career as a supervisory programs counsel for DLA Troop Support. He was promoted to chief counsel at Troop Support in 2013.

“I spent my formative years with DLA at Troop Support, which is by far the agency’s busiest major subordinate command and has the most challenging legal support,” he said.

Lightner oversaw the largest contracting lawsuit in DLA’s history involving subsistence in Afghanistan. DLA received a favorable decision in the case in May and could see significant cost avoidance as a result.

“To say the least, Jon brings terrific background and knowledge to this position. He knows civilian and military law inside and out. He’s an incredibly competent and visionary leader, and we are so fortunate to benefit from his experience,” Skubic added.

As deputy general counsel since February, Lightner assists the general counsel in leading a 180-member team that protects DLA’s legal interests around the world. Legal staff are also contributing to the national COVID-19 response by ensuring DLA adheres to domestic sourcing restrictions and helping obtain Domestic Non-Availability Determinations that allow the agency to perform market research for global resources when domestic sources fall short. DLA partnerships with agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are governed by formal agreements overseen by Lightner’s team, as well.

“The beautiful thing about working for DLA is people can see tangible results of their efforts. You can actually see that the work we do helps save lives and helps stem the tide regarding the spread of the virus,” he said.

Lightner added that he’s inspired by DLA’s mission and people, and his near-term plans include taking care of employees.

“I’m looking for ways where we can recruit the best people, develop and reward them, and keep them until they retire. And if they don’t stay with us, we still want them to have the best experience possible with DLA because they go out and become ambassadors for the agency,” he continued.

Family support has made his career and success possible, Lightner said. His wife of 32 years, Barbara, two sons and daughter moved 14 times while he was on active duty.

“There’s no ‘Jon Lightner, member of the Senior Executive Service in the Department of Defense’ without my wife, Barbara. It just wouldn’t have happened without her support for me and all the sacrifices she made,” he said.