FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
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.
For Financial Analyst Kathleen Stephens, working for the Defense Logistics Agency has been a family affair. When she was just ten years old, her mother began working for DLA and in July 1983, after graduating high school, Stephens followed in her footsteps.
Two of Stephens’ younger sisters came to work at DLA a few years after she arrived and the family’s bond with the agency has been strong ever since.
As a child, Stephens remembers accompanying her mother to annual picnics and when the agency moved from Cameron Station, Virginia, to the McNamara Headquarters Complex at Fort Belvoir, she continued the tradition, bringing her nieces and nephews to Family Day events.
Stephens said she’s always appreciated the opportunities a civilian career afforded her.
“I got on-the-job training, excellent health insurance and good leave benefits – things that are hard to come by now,” she said.
Stephens also credits her late father’s military service for inspiring her to choose civil service.
“My dad was a Vietnam veteran and it’s my way of supporting the military, which I wasn’t physically capable of doing any other way,” she said.
Stephens works in DLA Finance and it’s also where she started as a clerk-typist, bringing her career full circle.
“At the time, I worked in what was the payment office for posts, camps and stations, which ended up being transferred to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service,” Stephens said.
Stephens also worked as a procurement clerk for the Defense Fuel Supply Center, which later became DLA Energy. Later in her career, she worked as a secretary and a public affairs assistant, a position that brought an unexpected transfer from DLA to a newly established agency, the Defense Contract Management Agency. DCMA was formerly the Defense Contract Management Command within DLA.
In March 2000, DCMC became DCMA and was established as an entity independent from DLA. Stephens worked at DCMA as a public affairs assistant and then a management analyst before returning to DLA Headquarters in 2008 as a business analyst and then financial analyst.
“I’ve been at DLA so long it feels like home,” Stephens said. “There are people in the building who I went from elementary school to high school with.”
Human connections are one reason Stephens has remained with DLA, but she recalled how interaction with co-workers has changed throughout her 38 year-career. The agency used to have a central disbursement office where employees could go and pick up checks and even cash for official travel advances.
“I could go to a window and pick up my paycheck from ‘Miss Vivian,’ who was just as nice as she could be,” Stephens said.
Another change is that DLA has about half as many employees as it did in the early ‘80s. The agency also employed many more secretaries and clerks who prepared travel orders, timecards and performed other administrative duties, Stephens noted.
“We didn’t answer our own phones. You had a secretary or, in my day, a clerk typist who answered the phones for everybody,” she said, adding that since employees worked near each other, the secretary or clerk would often shout for employees to pick up the call.
She also recalled that employees would handwrite their hours on timecards and submit them for certification, and that administrative employees would type forms and letters that included carbon copies on electric typewriters.
“There were no computers – you did everything manually,” she said, admitting she was a poor typist. “I don’t miss the typewriter erasers or the whiteout.”
Before every employee had a desktop computer and email existed, communications were by phone, inter-office memos or in person. Stephens says she misses the latter.
“It’s not as personal as it used to be,” she said. “You’d go sit at your boss’s desk and chit-chat about work. You couldn’t send an email because there was no such thing.”
Stephens also reminisced about the convenience of being able to speak face-to-face with travel office representatives in the building and physically picking up office supplies by signing them out from a supply room.
The intimacy of spending time with those in her individual building is something else Stephens misses since moving from Cameron Station.
“The snack bar was the place to hang out because that’s where you got to see everybody,” Stephens said.
The infrastructure of the post-war structures at Cameron Station also meant employees were sent home at least once a year when aging transformers blew out the electricity.
Reflecting on the agency’s history, Stephens said she thinks it’s unfortunate more people aren’t aware of DLA’s mission.
“When I talk to military members and I say I work for DLA, they know what that means, but most people don’t know all the good we do,” she said, adding that DLA has supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency through whole-of-government missions and has facilitated aid throughout the pandemic as well.
“Our history is an interesting one. I think our legacy is supporting the warfighters and always will be. You don’t get a much more important mission than that.”