A Conversation with … Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Tobin

By DLA Public Affairs

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You’ve been in the military for more than 30 years and have held every noncommissioned officer leadership position, from squad leader to command sergeant major. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen during your career?

Probably the biggest change is in the quality of our military and civilian workforce. They continually impress me – from the soldier and day laborers to our strategic leaders and thinkers. Throughout my career, they’ve grown and developed into a better educated and experienced workforce. Also, I believe the advancement and use of technology assisted in developing our future workforce by making education more accessible while gaining valuable experience. 

Another change is the development and support of people and their families. I’ll use DLA as an example. Our number two goal [in the DLA Strategic Plan] is “People and Culture,” and if you ask me, throughout my career, we didn’t put a lot of emphasis on it.

A third change is the paradigm shift toward more innovation and changing our status quo mindset to a different way of thinking. As I was coming up through the ranks of my career, I don’t recall anyone saying, “Hey, let’s think innovation; let’s think in the future.” We just kind of stumbled through the process.

 I’m real impressed with DLA. We have a strategic plan in place; we’re talking 2015 to 2022. And that’s what I mean by paradigm shift. Now we’re telling our civilian workforce and our service members, “I want you to think; I want you to innovate.”

This is your first tour with DLA. How does that impact your approach to your leadership role?

Quite frankly, it doesn’t. From my perspective, I just have to adapt to a change in environment, but not my leadership style. To me, to be a great leader, you need to be an adaptive leader in this complex environment to be able to do well and be exceptional.

You served as the senior enlisted advisor in Kabul, Afghanistan, for the commander of International Security Assistance Force’s Advisory and Assistance Team. What lessons are you bringing from that tour that will apply to your time at DLA?

I think the one that stands out is the importance of strategic engagements and relationships with our multi-national partners. Also, I bring the warfighter perspective, the tactical experience, because in almost everything I do, I always think about the warfighter. Another thing I bring with me is a focus on team building and collaboration.

How would you characterize your leadership style?

I can say it in one sentence: I treat others with dignity and respect. I also want that to become my legacy when I leave the military. I got my leadership style from my mother because she was a humble person in the way she treated others. She is also my mentor. Growing up, she never took credit for anything; she always gave credit where credit was due, to other folks.

Also, I measure my success by what I do for others. Every single award that I receive, I always have a name beside it that belongs to a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine that has done the mission out there.

How did you interact with DLA prior to coming here as the senior enlisted leader?

My interaction was from a tactical, operational and strategic level because we’re so dispersed around the world. At various points in my career, I associated with DLA because of the positions I’d held, and when I was down in the tactical level, I knew there were DLA folks out there that I could depend on.

What is it you would like others to know about DLA?

DLA is an organization that the services can depend on anywhere and anytime.  There are DLA representatives throughout the world and folks need to reach out if they need help. What I’ve learned, serving on my past experience, a lot of the challenges we have is because we don’t communicate or [the military services] don’t have the knowledge and education. We have [customer support representatives], [liaison officers], we have great people that want to do great things. But the only reason we’re not is because [the services] don’t know that and it goes back to the education piece.

DLA folks are nested in, they’re embedded, into almost every [combatant command] and component command. And that’s been part of my outreach. I’ve visited each of the service’s senior enlisted leaders, including the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop close personal relationships so each one of them feels comfortable to call DLA if needed.

What are three areas that you think are the most important things for an enlisted logistician to focus on?

It’s hard to narrow it down to three. To me, personally, the No. 1 is to remember that you are a warfighter first. Second is readiness and third is resilience. Readiness includes several things because to be the best logistician, you have to make sure you are ready to deploy with no notice.

Resilience includes emotional, physical and spiritual health, as well as your family. I can give you a mission, but if you have problems at home, it will affect everything you do to carry out that mission.

If you could give a junior enlisted service member one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would probably tell them to share their ideas, because most of our great ideas come from the bottom up. To me, they are the future leaders and the next great generation. Also, I’d tell them to be adaptive and flexible and listen to their noncommissioned officers or petty officers as they navigate throughout their career.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s an awesome responsibility to be the senior enlisted leader and an honor to serve in America’s combat logistics support agency. The highest honor of my life is serving with the talented men and women in the civilian workforce of DLA. And I’m not here to change anything. This agency already has a phenomenal reputation throughout the world.

My greatest satisfaction is helping our warfighters reach their full potential. We’re in the “people” business. They are the most important part of this agency and it goes back to my leadership style to treat them with dignity and respect. I also want to express my appreciation to our workforce for their hard work. Throughout all of my travels so far in DLA, I’ve seen a lot of hard work and dedication in support of our warfighter.

As I travel throughout our DLA field activities and agencies, I would ask everyone to read and understand our DLA Strategic Plan. It talks about our vision, our mission, our values, our goals. I want this to go all the way down to the person on the assembly line so they know, “Hey, here’s how important you are and here’s how important what you do is.” It’s our people who make us successful.