News | Sept. 15, 2021

DLA deputy chief of staff reflects on agency’s journey from forms, shared computers to innovation

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: DLA is celebrating 60 years of logistics support since it was created Oct. 1, 1961. The theme is “Forged by History, Focused on the Future.” For more stories, videos, and graphics highlighting the agency’s history and people, go to the DLA 60th Anniversary page

Hellion Flowers was a high school senior in Dinwiddie, Virginia, when he first heard about the Defense Logistics Agency. When a government recruiter asked school guidance counselors to recommend students for DLA internships, Flowers was among those nominated.

Thirty-two years later, the DLA deputy chief of staff has no regrets about his career. 

“Right before I went to college, I got a call from someone in human resources at what was then Defense General Supply Center Richmond,” he said. “The human resources person asked, ‘Do you want to go into supply or procurement?’ and I said, ‘What is supply and what is procurement?’”

The oversimplified answer Flowers received was that a procurement career could mean signing contractual documents he’d be legally liable for, so he opted for a supply position instead, entering DLA’s junior fellows program as an inventory supply management specialist.

“They brought in four of us for this intern program at the GS-2 level and we were told we’d come back every summer and every Christmas break,” he said, adding that the interns were permanent employees rather than temporary summer hires.

Flowers said as long as he and his fellow interns adhered to the program stipulations, they’d receive regular promotions and secure full-time government jobs after graduating college. He felt privileged to be in the program because he was able to learn about and adapt to the government as a college freshman, whereas other DLA internships recruited employees who had already graduated college. 

But his first day didn’t go well.

“The supervisor said, ‘Hey, we got a new guy; he’s an intern. Who wants him?’” No one raised their hand, but Flowers volunteered wherever he was needed. 

“Eventually a GS-11 and former intern took me in because she understood how it felt to be new to a team and she didn’t want me assigned to the wrong person,” he said

After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, Flowers was hired into a GS-5 target 9 inventory supply management specialist position.

“Once I got my GS-9, I started competing for jobs. I had three or four offers and I’d been around, so I had the opportunity to prove myself early on,” he said.  

Throughout his 13 years in Richmond, he advanced to inventory manager, senior inventory manager and eventually trained interns as a systems analyst instructor and course developer for inventory management.

As a GS-13, Flowers helped Richmond employees adopt a new major acquisition program through DLA’s Business Systems Modernization effort. He then accepted a position as a business process analyst at DLA Headquarters’ Order Fulfillment Division and commuted to Fort Belvoir until his next promotion to asset management branch chief, when he relocated his family to northern Virginia. He’s been with DLA Headquarters for 18 years. 

Flowers has watched the agency overcome challenges throughout his three-decade career. In 1989, DGSC was a stove-piped organization with separate functional areas. Flowers said the center’s two supply divisions, though collocated in the same warehouse bay, were distinct from each other. 

“I was lucky – we had our own individual cubes,” he said. “Before I arrived, they had an open warehouse space with no physical barriers between folks.”

There was almost no automation; employees learned about the organization through newsletters and filled orders using forms and punch cards. A central area within the warehouse bay housed four general use computers and four dot-matrix printers.

“If we got a phone call from a customer, we would run up to that area and hope there was a computer free. If not, we’d get an inventory status from the person sitting on the computer,” he said.

Flowers and his colleagues saw innovations such as individual desktop computers and new programs that automated processes like checking inventory statuses. But the best memories from his early days are the long-standing relationships he forged with his mostly female colleagues, who treated him like a little brother or as one of their children.

“Over the years, the secretarial position has been almost eliminated, but as an intern, I only survived because of secretaries,” he said. “That group of folks watched over me and some became my commuter partners and lifelong friends because they were there for me.”

Flowers is grateful he stayed with DLA because of its people and strong, collaborative culture.

“I don’t like jumping jobs unless I know someone who’s there and knows the culture,” he said. “Understanding the senior leadership, the key players – that’s what’s kept me here.”

For him, it seems like DLA has served the military services for more than 6 decades. 

“We have expanded our role and are taking on additional missions because we’ve shown the efficiency of what DLA can do. I think we’ve grown that reputation over 60 years,” he said. “We stay focused on our mission and on the warfighters and we don’t lose sight of that – we have survived and thrived.”