FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
The promise of new challenges and an affinity for learning have driven Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day from his start as a Dalton, Wisconsin, farm kid through 32 years of active-duty service.
“Not knowing how every day is going to go because there’s always a new problem set – I love the challenge of that. I know it’s always going to be exciting and meaningful, and that’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said.
Day’s last two years as the Defense Logistics Agency’s director of logistics operations and the commander for joint regional combat support have been marked by trials he believes have made his directorate – and the entire agency – stronger.
“Our COVID pandemic response from an agency standpoint has been pretty phenomenal, just helping the nation understand what we could do and then delivering on that,” said Day, who will retire May 25.
Day oversaw over $3.5 billion in pandemic support to the military services and federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Remote work also thrust him into a new environment of long-distance leadership in which he worked to maintain steady, open communications without sacrificing the informal conversations that previously kept employees engaged and connected.
Such challenges have triggered some of the fondest memories and biggest rewards of his career, Day said. During Operation Allied Force in 1999, he became the senior logistician for the 344th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.
“All the logistics basically fell on my shoulders as a captain for 300-plus people and 12 tanker aircraft, and we were in western France, a place we normally didn’t go. It was a transformational experience for me as a leader because I kind of had to make things up as we made things happen,” he said.
Commissioned from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Day began his military career as a chemist in the Materials Directorate at Wright Laboratories on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and in 1996 cross-trained into aircraft maintenance with the Broadening Experience Special Tour program. After subsequent assignments as a maintenance officer at units like the 389th Fighter Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, he worked at the Pentagon as deputy chief and then chief of the Weapons Division on the Secretary of the Air Force’s acquisition staff.
Leading DLA Aviation from March 2015 to June 2017 was one of his most pivotal roles, Day added.
“It was my first job as a one-star, and I had to fully embrace the supply side of logistics by digging in and understanding how the full supply chain worked from end to end, and that was radically different from anything I’d done before,” he said.
But early milestones in the general’s personal life also helped shape his career. The birth of his second child made him reconsider the long hours he immersed himself in work and the sacrifices his wife made managing the household singlehandedly.
“It was a game changer for me, recognizing I needed to do a better job of dealing with work-life balance, or I was going to destroy my young family.” Day, married to Barb for nearly 31 years and now a father of six and grandfather of five, chuckled as he remembered the challenges of going from just one child to two. “Now the house seems very quiet and empty when we only have two of our kids around.”
Working and serving together is a Day family core value. While attending the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 2008-2009, he and his wife bought a 5,500-square-foot fixer-upper with two kitchens, six bedrooms and six bathrooms. When not attending classes and writing papers, Day refurbished the house, teaching his kids and any helpful visitors about deconstruction, electrical work, plumbing, and carpentry.
“We learned a lot about how to work together as a family,” he said. “Although we’d done a lot of home refurbishment up until that point, this was our biggest project by far and gave us the skills to serve others in our community.”
Defining his purpose with solid “why” statements has helped Day balance his family life and career as an Air Force officer. Having clear reasons for doing things helps keep him on course toward personal and professional goals, he said, and gives him a common language for talking about those goals with his family, friends and coworkers.
Day leaves the agency with three goals for employees: read widely; lead up, down and across; and challenge the status quo.
“Reading is how we get new thoughts into our head, grow our horizon about what’s possible in our lives, and get beyond status quo,” he said.
Leaders who can think for themselves and envision a greater future are critical to DLA’s future, he added, encouraging employees to share their ideas on how to continually improve processes. He called DLA’s new 2021-2026 Strategic Plan a smart blueprint for the agency’s way ahead. Creating performance plans geared toward clear outcomes will also empower the agency to help the whole of government and military services achieve ever-rising readiness and performance goals.
After retiring, Day plans to pursue his interest in digital transformation, which captured his imagination while earning a doctorate’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University.
“Digital transformation intrigues me because I believe the commercial world is accelerating into a digitally transformed future, and our government needs to get there,” he said. “But what does it actually look like and how does it make us more effective and also more vulnerable? This is where the future is, and I want to see what that looks like from a business side and help shape that future.”
Day will retire in Dayton, Ohio, where he is refurbishing an 1850s house and barn with the dream of giving hands-on training to others wanting to work with wood and metal. The dream will help him carry on the legacy of two influential men in his life: his father, William Day, who taught him the satisfaction of building, growing and learning, and Bob Gottlied, a master craftsman who taught Day the joys of making sawdust and turning flaws into features.