Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
Leading two different offices in Defense Logistics Agency Headquarters and two agency organizations with different missions, Richard Connelly came to rely on the constancy of change during his 35-year career. But while some view change as a negative, Connelly embraced it and used the opportunities to contribute to the agency’s success.
“It is inevitable and necessary that organizations change and people change, and that’s the hardest part of the job and the most satisfying part of the job, is helping people through that change,” Connelly said when reflecting on his career.
For his achievements during his DLA career, Connelly, who served as the agency comptroller, administrator of the Defense National Stockpile Center and director of DLA Energy, is being inducted into the DLA Hall of Fame July 14.
Connelly’s DLA career began in 1972, after a tour in Vietnam, when he took a civil service exam and was hired into the then-Defense Supply Agency’s management intern program. He said he was offered the final slot in a 12-person team, which was largely made up of Vietnam veterans, and he jumped at the chance at a steady job.
“I was pretty excited about it. I thought, ‘I don’t know what this DSA is, but maybe I’ll work here for a few years and get a job in Europe,’” Connelly said. “It was I think 30 years later when I finally saw Europe, because a lot of things happened in between.”
Connelly started as a budget analyst, and he said he saw a lot of opportunity for growth and promotion in the agency and loved the work. He worked his way up to DLA budget officer and was inducted into the Senior Executive Service before becoming the DLA deputy comptroller and then the DLA comptroller.
As comptroller, Connelly was part of the team that implemented the Defense Business Operations Fund, which is now called the Defense Working Capital Fund, at the agency. This major shift, from a typical appropriated funding model to the more business-oriented financial model, required a lot of change management and served as an important lesson for Connelly in the dynamics of organizational change, he said.
“The surprising part was how it became such an emotional issue; people do not like change,” he said.
Connelly went on to be involved in many more changes for DLA over the years, including the 20-year expansion that saw the agency assume responsibility for military depots and consumable items, absorbing all contract administration functions for the military services, and, toward the end of his career, the Business System Modernization initiative. Through all those changes and his different roles, he said, he applied the lessons he learned as comptroller to manage change and keep employees informed.
“You get to the realization that you really have to try to understand how difficult it is for them and do your best to make it as easy as you can, because the change is going to come anyway,” he said. “I never had a problem with change; I always look on change as an opportunity, but a lot of people are very traumatized by it.”
Another major change Connelly found himself in the middle of was as administrator of the Defense National Stockpile Center, which later became DLA Strategic Materials. The center had recently been transferred to the Department of Defense from the General Services Administration, and when Connelly took over, he was charged with selling off the center’s stockpile as the agency prepared to close it. He quickly realized he needed to take action to retain the center’s employees through the selling period and help them manage their own career transitions, he said.
Connelly went to the DLA director and corporate board and secured permission to loosen some of the restrictions on training funding, then he went to each of the center’s locations to personally brief employees and made them three promises: to keep them informed about the status of the center, to make use of government-funded change-of-station moves to keep them employed, and to fund weekend or nighttime college courses to keep them employable in the future.
“Eyes lit up; I couldn’t believe it,” Connelly said of the employees’ reactions. “People saw an opportunity they never had before, and a lot of them took advantage of it. And they stayed with us, and they stayed loyal, and they stayed happy.”
Connelly continued to travel to each location twice a year and personally brief the employees and he said he was proud to see how many took advantage of the college courses and earned academic degrees. Under Connelly’s leadership, over about eight years of selling off the center’s stock, only two employees were involuntarily separated, he said, and both were able to find reemployment. After he left that job, the agency mandate changed and instead of the center closing, it was downsized to what it is today.
“It was very satisfying to be able to keep people’s spirits up and get them working on a job and sticking with us and taking advantage of what we could offer them,” he said.
After Connelly’s time with the DNSC, then-DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Henry Glisson asked him to return to DLA Headquarters and lead the newly formed DLA Support Services, which eventually became DLA Installation Support. Connelly remembers that job as a fun, easy one thanks to the people who worked for him, ranging from the DLA Police force to DLA Public Affairs.
“Every single one of those people reported directly to me, and they were all experienced, solid, dedicated professionals, which is the story of DLA,” Connelly said. “All I had to do is point them in the right direction, get out of their way and let them get the job done.”
Connelly was approaching retirement age when the director position of the Defense Energy Support Center became open. Having always wanted to lead that organization, Connelly said he decided to “throw his hat in the ring.” When he was appointed as director in 2004, he stepped into managing the end-to-end supply chain responsibility for purchasing and managing all petroleum resources used by the U.S. military, which was involved in two wars. He said the organization faced new challenges constantly, like supplying energy to the civilian population in Iraq, but the dedicated DLA professionals completed their missions every time.
“I travelled all over the world meeting with our customers, and they would just thank me when I walked in the door for everything that DESC could do and how well they did it,” he said.
Connelly retired in 2007, after three years with DESC and 35 years with DLA. He and his wife, who he met while working the DLA budget office, celebrated their 33rd anniversary in June and are enjoying time with their family. Being called back to DLA to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is an honor, Connelly said, because it reminds him of all the great people he worked with over the years.
“It’s really an honor, because I knew and worked with almost everybody from that original class that they put into the Hall of Fame,” Connelly said. “It’s just a fantastic group of people. Maybe that’s the thing I’m the proudest of, just being associated with that group of people, from the very first group onward, that I knew and worked with almost all of them. It’s a great honor.”
Note: This is the second of five features on former DLA team members being inducted into the agency’s Hall of Fame in a July 14 ceremony.