July 15, 2016 —
Pinning just one title on Randy Taft is difficult at best. Is he a protocol specialist or prankster? Motorcyclist or mentor? Veteran or volunteer?
In fact, he’s all these things. Following 26 years of military service and 17 years as a Defense Logistics Agency civilian, Taft is finally ready to retire.
Sergeant major/senior enlisted leader
In 1997, Taft worked at the Army Materiel Command as a sergeant major. Army Maj. Gen. Ray McCoy, then the DLA principal deputy director, asked Taft to come on board as DLA’s first senior enlisted leader.
Taft said he only worked for then DLA director Air Force Gen. George Babbitt a few months before Army Maj. Gen. Henry (Tom) Glisson assumed command. He’s worked for every DLA director since then.
“Some E9s never get it,” he said. “Their only job is to take care of people — period.”
Taft said he did his best to take care of Glisson, whom he considers a mentor.
“He’s just a great guy — a good person,” Taft said of Glisson. “People always came first with him.”
Taft said he would often go into Glisson’s office just to tell him a joke or talk sports. The two men still keep in touch.
“Recently he told me, ‘I can never thank you enough for making me laugh and keeping me balanced,’” Taft said. “It’s good to know that he appreciated those breaks,” he said.
Taft briefly recounted that during difficult times at DLA, Glisson “never lost his temper; never lost his cool about anything,” Taft said. “He was always on spot and he took the blame for a lot of stuff he shouldn’t have, but he stood up and took charge.”
Glisson said he respected Taft for maintaining a “high water mark” in his daily interactions with the enlisted and reserve military members of all branches of service.
“He was their mentor and leader,” Glisson said. “He took time to talk to them, get to know them and their families and provide the training they needed to do their job.”
Taft would lobby for Glisson to provide the military members additional responsibilities, he said.
“I would tell you that he never disappointed me in the tasks that we gave them,” Glisson said.
Glisson also praised Taft’s selflessness in sacrificing his free time to spend with enlisted service members who were having problems. In one particular instance, a non-commissioned officer was killed during a domestic dispute.
“He was just invaluable in working with the family, taking care of the children and setting up the memorial — doing all the things that were really tough,” Glisson said. “But he rallied everybody because of his desire to do what was in the best interest for all the enlisted members.”
After retiring from the Army in 1999, Taft remained with DLA as a civilian.
“What I like the most is how well DLA takes care of the warfighters,” he said. “I have a 30-year-old son who was one of those, and [he] just got medically retired.”
Taft relayed how his elder son Blake suffered a traumatic brain injury when the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected all-terrain vehicle he was in hit an improvised explosive device. It’s the reason Taft volunteers with veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was good to know that DLA provided him a vehicle that allowed him to survive,” Taft said.
Taft is pragmatic about his career and his outlook on life. His maxim is simple: “Always do the right thing.”
Taft’s supervisor, protocol officer Denise Norman and his fellow protocol specialists, Elsie Valdes and Sandy Haynes, confirm that Taft is an “old school southern gentleman.” He offers to drive when the foursome travel offsite, moves furniture and equipment and opens doors for his female counterparts.
“You don’t even have to ask him,” Haynes said. “He just says, ‘Oh, I’ll do that for you.’”
All of Taft’s staff agreed that the “mayor of DLA” will be greatly missed.
“Randy’s known as the DLA mayor,” Valdes said. “We’ll be walking through the halls, and he’s talking to everybody. He’s shaking hands, kissing babies — making sure everybody’s taken care of.”
Taft has a vast knowledge of DLA’s McNamara Headquarters Complex. And though it’s not part of his official duties, he has often provided tours to visitors, his coworkers said.
“I don’t know anybody who’s going to be able to do that,” Haynes said. “He just did that as a side thing; it wasn’t part of his job description.”
“He knows all the history and about all the artifacts in the rotunda as well,” Norman said.
Taft’s military and civilian assignments are varied; he has served part of the 3rd U.S. Army Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), as a squad leader, platoon sergeant, brigade operations noncommissioned officer and senior enlisted leader. As a civilian his career has been just as impressive —working in DLA’s Human Resources and Facilities offices.
“It goes back to the basic concept — take care of people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the job is.”
His philosophy is best summed up in his response to a coworker who asked his advice about which candidate she should hire.
“You need to focus on is hiring a good person. With a good person, you can teach them the job; you can teach them anything you want,” he said. “But a butthead is going be a butthead — and you’re stuck with them.”
Sense of humor
Taft’s sense of humor is what’s sustained him throughout his career, he said.
“If you’re stressed just doing the normal day-to-day things, when something really big happens, you’re really going to freak out,” he said. “You really have to maintain a sense of humor; things could be a whole lot worse.”
His perspective in work and in life has to do with not taking things too seriously.
“It’s easy to have fun. You have to laugh about it; if you don’t, you’ll pull your hair out,” he said.
Taft even found humor in a story involving the effects of dealing with Parkinson’s disease. Soon after Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch came on board as DLA director, Taft went in to brief Busch. As he held a piece of paper, his hands began to shake badly.
“There are times, you have an ‘at-rest tremor’— and you shake,” he said.
Afterward, Taft said he requested a private meeting with Busch to offer an explanation.
“I said, ‘Look, sir: I just want to make sure you understand that I was shaking because of the Parkinson’s — not because I was afraid to be briefing you!’”
Taft’s legendary humor also involves pulling pranks on unsuspecting coworkers. Taft recounts a time when he was still working with Glisson and they departed the headquarters building to attend a luncheon. Glisson commented about a line of orange cones that made it difficult to exit the gate. When they returned from lunch, the cones had mysteriously vanished.
“Every cone that was out there was gone; there were none in sight,” Taft said. “And Gen. Glisson looked at me and said, ‘What’d you do with those cones?’”
Taft feigned ignorance and reminded Glisson that he had been with the general the whole time.
“When we walked up to the command suite, I had orange cones lined up all the way to his desk,” Taft recalls. “He walked in, and said, ‘I knew you did something like that!’”
Since Taft is the only male in DLA’s protocol office, he said the staff has “learned” to appreciate his sense of humor.
“I have five sisters and no brothers, so I was prepared to be abused before I came to work here,” he joked.
Norman said she and Taft’s coworkers consider themselves his “work wives.”
“The four of us have been together for the past 10 ½ years,” Norman said. “We take good care of him.”
Taft said his coworkers are “not very good” at pulling pranks on him, but they all have teamed up to prank others.
“It makes it a much more fun office to work in,” he said.
One such prank involved DLA’s chaplain, Air Force Maj. Corwin Smith, said Haynes.
“We had this running gag with the chaplain’s office about competition-type things,” Haynes said. “We would do outings — bowling or Putt-Putt golf, and we were very competitive with him.”
The loser of the competition would always have to provide donuts to the winner, Haynes said.
“The chaplain wasn’t very good about paying up, so we would always tease him about ‘our’ donuts,” she said.
This led Taft and Valdes to perpetrate a scheme of their own. They made flyers with pictures of donuts that read, “Chaplain needs to pay up — he owes Protocol donuts!”
“We put the flyers throughout the lower level — on the ladies’ room door, the men’s room door on the entryway to his cubicle — everywhere,” Valdes said.
Chaplain Smith first thought the flyers were advertising a donut sale, but soon discovered the gag and eventually paid his donut debt.
Another of Taft’s passions is motorcycling. He’s been to many rallies over the years, often accompanied by his wife Teresa, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, who’s currently stationed in South Korea.
“I’ve been riding since I was 18 or 20 years old,” he said. “My wife bought me a new Harley before she went back to Korea, so I’m happy.”
Glisson recalls the first time he came to Taft’s house, he saw the family cars in the driveway, but the motorcycle was kept inside a carpeted garage.
“When Randy retired from the Army, we held his ceremony inside the auditorium and afterwards, we walked him outside,” Glisson said. “He didn’t know it, but we had made arrangements to bring his Harley over. He jumped on his Harley, put on his helmet and rode off into the sunset.”
Since Taft has dealt with Parkinson’s for nearly six years, his wife bought him a “trike,” a three-wheeled Harley-Davidson, so he can still enjoy his pastime.
“With Parkinson’s, part of what bothers you the most is balance,” he said. “I didn’t want to drop the bike anymore — the chrome’s too expensive!”
Taft’s travels will begin immediately following his retirement. He has several trips planned, but the first stop is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where he will ride his bike on an 11-mile road with 318 curves — appropriately named “Tail of the Dragon.”
“I’ve bought a motor home with a trailer to pull my Harley in,” he said.
After Gatlinburg, he’ll return briefly to Virginia before trekking to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Korea and Bali.
Taft’s career was capped with a July 15 ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex attended by his wife, Air Force Lt. Col. Teresa Rivers; his son Cody; and numerous DLA employees and dignitaries, including three former DLA directors.
Busch in his formal remarks thanked Taft for his 43 years of service to the nation and passed along words Glisson had asked Busch to share at the ceremony, regarding Taft: “‘You made me a better person and DLA a better operation.’ I think there are no more true words than that,” Busch said.
From his own perspective, Busch added, “Every director needs a wingman or a battle buddy. And that [person] is always the sergeant major. … I could not be more grateful for the time that you spent watching to see where my head was at, and I thank you for that.”