FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Defense Logistics Agency Information Operations Program Executive Officer Adarryl Roberts wryly sums up his responsibilities in a single word: firefighter. Roberts’ actual responsibilities include managing over 100 of DLA's automated information systems that track everything from financial data and stock levels to delivery statuses and employee training records, as well as the acquisition and management of some of the Defense Department’s key IT systems.
In November 2019, Roberts was appointed to the Senior Executive Service. Soon after his ceremony in January 2020, the coronavirus pandemic tested Roberts’ leadership skills in a primarily virtual environment.
“I continue to engage with our partners within the [DLA directorates] and the major subordinate commands, but I also encourage people within my organization to make decisions at the right level,” Roberts said. “I try to set the culture for how we interact with our customers and empower the people who are actually doing the work.”
Roberts values the relationships he’s built at DLA and said it’s important that leaders find value in those they mentor.
“Listen as much as you’re speaking or sharing with the employee. Mentoring for me works best when it’s a two-way learning process,” he continued. “We don’t know it all just because we hold a certain position in the organization.”
Providing systems support to DLA’s supply chains during the pandemic instilled a sense of professional pride among Roberts and his team members, he said.
“We’ve made use of virtual tools and we’ve been able to keep a level of engagement with the workforce, but it hasn’t been without its challenges,” he added.
Two primary challenges have been continuity and timely release of information.
“We have an organization that supports digital-business transformation and change through modernizing technology,” Roberts said.
He is no stranger to adaptation and resilience. In 2008, He began working for the Business Transformation Agency, then moved to DLA in 2010 upon the BTA’s disestablishment.
“As a civilian employee, it was a scary time because I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “DLA took really good care of me and made sure the transition was seamless.”
As a child of a military father and a mother who was a federal employee, transitions were part of Roberts’ upbringing. He said his parents’ service was like a blueprint for his own career path.
“Service to country is all I’ve known my whole life because of my father’s willingness to serve 32 years and my mother’s sacrifice of her career in some instances to [ensure] my sister and I were taken care of,” he said. “Her career took a back seat until my father retired.”
Service before self is a motto that Roberts extends to his 12-year-old daughter.
“Watching her grow and becoming a young adult who will eventually be able to give back has given me a sense of personal pride in raising her,” he said.
Because Roberts’ daughter has a father who regularly deals with IT issues, he said she’s become proficient in virtual instruction.
“She was actually helping others, including her teachers,” he said of her at-home schooling during the pandemic. “Some of it’s intuitive because she’s heard the terminology and seen me do different things.”
Roberts has also hosted informal mentoring sessions for his daughter and several other neighborhood children.
“We’ve only had three or four [sessions] because parents have cocooned, but we’re all starting to come back out now,” he said. “I just talk to them about what I do, why they should go to college and why education is important.”
He highlights the achievements of people like actor Chadwick Boseman and Kamala Harris, both graduates of Howard University, a historically Black college.
“We try to make it relatable so they can see successful African Americans who look like them, went on to further their education and made a contribution to the world. Watching Kamala Harris become vice president was important for her to understand the opportunities she can have by applying herself. She couldn’t stop talking about it,” Roberts said.
He also appreciates the chance to honor countless African American’s accomplishments during Black History Month.
“We can talk about medical contributions or just in the realm of innovation. It’s all about remembering diversity and inclusion, and I think DLA is definitely aware; you can see it reflected at each level of leadership and in the workforce,” Roberts said. “Eric Smith as the first deputy commander of DLA Energy and my appointment as the program executive officer are significant accomplishments and reflects the diversity of the workforce in the senior executive ranks.”
He also highlighted the recent achievements of Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American scientist who led the development of the coronavirus vaccine while collaborating with Moderna.
“Dr. Corbett is the latest to contribute to the world and our nation often as an unsung hero,” Roberts said. “She follows in the footsteps of others like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Vivien Thomas and Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. making lasting contributions to our nation.”