DLA Hall of Fame 2016: Adolphi excels as leader, citizen-soldier in a career of firsts

By Dianne Ryder

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Before Celia Adolphi served as the first civilian deputy director of the Defense Logistics Agency’s Joint Reserve Force, she was in the Army Reserve herself. How she became the first woman in the Army Reserve to attain the rank of major general is just one of the surprising turns her career has taken. 

“My bachelor’s degree is in nutrition, and I had been working as a dietitian when I met my future husband on a blind date,” Adolphi said. “Two and half years later, we were married.”

Adolphi said her husband Ron had been on active duty at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, but by the time they married, he was in the Army Reserve. 

“After leaving active duty he had become a Department of the Army civilian and got transferred to the Pentagon, and that’s how I ended up in the Washington, D.C., area.”  
Adolphi said she wanted to take on a second job so they could afford to buy a house.  

“My husband said, ‘Why don’t you think about the Army Reserve?’ ” she recalled. Adolphi said she was fortunate to get a direct commission.

“After the end of the Vietnam War, the services realized they had cut back too many officers,” she said. “The Army was doing direct commissioning of officers based on education; I had a master’s degree and just happened to have the right skill set.”

Adolphi said she wanted a commission as a dietitian in the Army Medical Specialist Corps, but there weren’t any paid drill positions available at the time. The next best option was becoming a Quartermaster Corps officer, she said.

“I was still able to use a lot of my skills as a dietitian when I served as a food advisor, assuring quality, safe food for the troops,” she said. “Of course, I would have never made general officer if I’d been a dietitian.”

Adolphi served more than 26 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, in progressively demanding logistical assignments that culminated in her selection as the first female brigadier general — active or reserve — in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps.

“It is a humbling honor to be the first selected for any distinction; that distinction bears a responsibility too — to be a role model and mentor for other women in uniform,” she said.

Adolphi said she often felt out of her comfort zone, but she relied on the experience of trusted advisors. 

“Listening to people who’d had a lot more experience is one thing that’s important,” she said. “And never feel intimidated by being in a position that’s out of your comfort zone; realize that if you work hard, listen and do what you believe is right, then it will work out for you.”

Her first Civil Service job was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, teaching dietetic interns.  The combination of her skills as a dietitian and as an Army Reserve Quartermaster officer were integral in being a change agent in her next Civil Service position. 

When she moved on to a job at the Pentagon, she was central to changing nutrition of troop recipes and menus to support changing physical fitness policies and then, some years later in the procurement of military food service, from warehouse storage to acquisition of a prime vendor. 

“These were big changes for many people, both in the mindsets of leaders as well as the cooks on the ground. Skepticism about whether it would work or not abounded,” she said. “But sometimes you just have to say, ‘Well, we’re going to try it.’ We did, and both initiatives have been successful for many years.”
In late 2002, Adolphi said an officer who had worked for her at the Pentagon heard about a newly created position at DLA.

“And he said, ‘You have to apply for this position, it’s made for you!’” she said. “I was ready to get out of the Pentagon and do something different, so it was a godsend.”
Adolphi was hired into the deputy position in DLA’s Joint Reserve Force. 

“I was the first deputy, but it really got started when Lt. Gen. Tom Glisson was the director. He and Army reservist Maj. Gen. Joe Thompson came up with this idea that it would be better to have all of the reservists in DLA under central management,” Adolphi said. 

Adolphi explained that reservists, who make up the majority of DLA’s military forces were scattered geographically and their assignments were not always strategically in the Agency’s best interest. 
“As DLA's mission to support the military services ramped up after 9/11 and an ensuing need to position DLA personnel in theater, reservists became a vital part of the deployment equation,” she said.

In Adolphi’s nomination, current JRF Deputy Director Robert McCullough echoed Adolphi’s significant accomplishments in building up the Reserve forces.

“During the 2003 to 2005 timeframe, Ms. Adolphi worked vigorously with the Army Reserve to gain approval to convert Army Individual Mobilization Augmentee reservists to a troop program unit,” McCullough wrote. “This single action enabled DLA to establish the Army Reserve Element command to lead the 196 Army reservists assigned to DLA.”

As deputy director, Adolphi implemented DLA instructions that established policies for managing the Joint Reserve Force Directorate and procedures on recalling reservists assigned to DLA to active duty for deployment. Due to her understanding of national policies regarding management of reservists, these instructions are still enforced and continue to govern the directorate’s activities.

“I had a wonderful career,” she said. “Sometimes you’re not sure how it’s going to work out or if you’re doing the right thing, especially in groundbreaking change.”
Adolphi said she feels fortunate to have been instrumental in developing “a directorate that has worked to the Agency’s advantage.”

“It probably has a lot of Army footprint on it, even though there’s more Navy personnel than Army,” she said. “But nevertheless, it’s been a good model and has been followed by other joint Defense agencies.” 

As to being inducted into DLA’s Hall of Fame, Adolphi said she is humbled and honored to be selected for the recognition.

“During the years I was the JRF Deputy, I attended each Hall of Fame ceremony and marveled at the honorees' significant contributions to the Agency — never thinking or expecting that I would someday be among those Hall of Fame recipients,” she said. 

“Ms. Adolphi’s caring leadership, attention to detail, unwavering commitment and contributions to the Defense Logistics Agency and the JRF has been significant,” McCullough wrote. “Her unparalleled leadership, vision and continuous customer service focus throughout a long and commendable career identify her as most deserving of the DLA Hall of Fame.”