FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Karen Opie-Toler has spent nearly three decades tracking Defense Logistics Agency finances and now leads four teams of DLA Finance professionals throughout the agency. She’s also a certified public accountant, once a male-dominated role at DLA, she points out in a nod to Women’s History Month.
“I spend a lot of time with the senior executives, developing and looking at the DLA strategy, and helping provide direction,” she said.
Over the years, she has led plenary sessions between DLA, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and field sites to discuss financial initiatives ranging from accounts receivables and payables to inventory and financial reporting. She also led DLA to being the first Defense Department agency to receive a clean opinion on Contingent Legal Liabilities through collaboration with DLA General Counsel and received the American Society of Military Comptroller’s Team Award for Excellence in Improvements to Financial Management Internal Controls by partnering with DFAS.
Opie-Toler said she’s continually amazed by DLA’s global logistics support and commitment to humanitarian support for which her teams help capture costs, reimbursements, advances and billing requirements. They’ve supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency during natural disasters, and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Health Agency for protective equipment and vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic.
The work is important to her, but Opie-Toler said the relationships she’s built with DLA employees are what she’s valued most during her career. She fosters confidence in her proteges’ expertise and encourages them to pursue professional development opportunities.
“I tell those I mentor, ‘You have so much to offer – don’t settle,’” she said. “You have to be your own advocate. Folks may advise you and help you along the way, but you have to speak on your own behalf.”
Opie-Toler began working for DLA Headquarters the summer after graduating St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, and was impressed even then with the agency’s mission and operations.
“I went in thinking it was just going to be a summer job,” she said, adding that she planned to go back to school and earn a master’s degree that fall, but enjoyed working for DLA so much she stayed. She completed her master’s in public administration in 1994 and became a CPA in 2004.
While working at DLA’s former location at Cameron Station, Virginia, Opie-Toler tutored several area school children and said she’s considering teaching after retirement. Her knack for teaching is evident in DLA’s Pathways to Career Excellence Program adopting instruction she’s provided to employees on topics ranging from financial statement compilation to inventory-related accounting.
As a mentor and woman, she considers Women’s History Month a time to reflect on and revere inspirational women in historically significant roles.
“For years, women’s contributions have gone unnoticed, but there’s a concerted effort now to make sure women’s contributions are included as part of our history,” she said. “When you have folks who have that initiative, you do what you can to help, advise and motivate them as much as you can.”
Family bonds are equally important, Opie-Toler said, and she hopes women remember and appreciate “everyday women” like mothers and grandmothers who sustain family values through generations.
“Wisdom is invaluable,” she said. “I constantly remind my daughter of these values but also instill in her a desire to never stop learning and always be inquisitive.”