Interview with: Lisa P. Smith (SES), Deputy Director of Logistics, Deputy Chief of Staff of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters Air Force, Washington, D.C.
By: 2d Lt Rachel Jones
Exceptional Release: What’s your story? How’d you get into logistics?
Ms. Lisa P. Smith: I started my Civil Service career in 1986 at Robins AFB Georgia as an Outstanding Scholar trainee in the Professional and Administrative Career program. My logistics journey began as an Inventory Management Specialist in the Electronic Warfare Directorate. As an intern, I rotated through both consumable and reparable item management branches followed by rotations through each branch of production management: organic – working with the depots, contracting – working with commercial industry, and modification – working with both organic and commercial industry. I was intrigued with logistics and fascinated with the importance of providing outstanding support to the customer. As an item manager, I took pride in managing requirements, executing procurement and ensuring delivery of items to the end user for consumption in premier Air Force weapon systems such as the B-52, F-4, and A-10 aircraft. Working in Electronic Warfare was such a great experience learning about countermeasures and other Air Force capabilities. From item management, I became a loggie (program manager) for the ALQ-131 Pods. This program taught me a lot, to include: the importance of sustaining engineering, an executable obsolescence program management plan, and ensuring strong, working relationships/partnerships with the Acquisition, Engineering, and Logistics communities. Out of over 33 years of civilian experience, I’ve spent 28 years in logistics and 5 years in acquisition. In my personal opinion, logistics is critical….it’s like American Express….don’t leave home without it!!
ER: When you began your career, did you ever imagine that you would be where you are today?
Smith: When I started my career, I had no knowledge of or exposure to a Senior Executive Service (SES) member. It wasn’t until later in my career (approximately 10 years later) when I had the privilege of working under some great supply and logistics pioneers such as Shirley Cothron and Beverly Abney that I became knowledgeable and began to understand the unique role of the SES. These ladies took me under their wings and provided mentoring and career guidance. Shirley often talked to me concerning her Headquarters experiences working at the Pentagon and Wright Patterson on the Air Force budget, flying hour program, and supply logistics. She was the first to introduce me to the elements required to become a Senior Executive and encouraged me to establish short and long-term career goals and pursue them to the fullest. It was from those discussions that I decided I wanted to one day work at the Pentagon and perhaps become a Senior Executive. So once I established my career goals, I continued to learn all that I could about logistics, product support, leadership, etc. I accepted challenging leadership assignments, continued my education by pursuing that critical training and those courses that would develop me as a strategic leader, constantly reviewed/refined career goals, and continued to be mentored by great women such as Shirley and Beverly as I progressed through my career at Robins AFB. In 2002, I was selected for a career broadening assignment at the Pentagon in the Materiel Management Division. I was so excited then and still am excited to this day to be working in the Pentagon. I enjoy the environment and Pentagon culture so much that I’m now on my fourth tour. It was after I accepted a career broadening assignment that I felt as though my goal of becoming a Senior Executive was not only possible but achievable with continued hard work and pursue self-development, and I began mentoring others as well.
ER: How has the Air Force and the field of logistics changed since you began your career?
Smith: I think the Air Force and the field of logistics has changed based on technology capabilities such as predictive analytical tools, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. With the rapid pace of technology, the execution of agile capabilities and insertions are critical as we continue to focus on readiness and lethality. I also think the workforce has changed from being extremely stovepiped and conservative in nature to being more analytical thinkers, technological savvy, and risk takers. It’s great to have critical thinkers, especially those who challenge the “status quo” to generate fresh ideas and new ways of accomplishing the mission.
ER: Looking ahead, what challenges do you see the logistics field facing?
Smith: I think the budget will continue to be a challenge not only in the logistics career field but others. Efforts are underway through the DoD Logistics Reform Teams to leverage best practices within the Services and move to more of a DoD Enterprise way of operating. I’m a firm believer in “Joint” especially if it reduces duplication in the Services. I believe that our legacy Information Technology (IT) Systems will remain a challenge. Yes, we have a LOG IT roadmap; however, it’s critical that we stay the course of decommissioning systems and deploying more agile IT Systems to maintain the competitive edge. Finally, I believe that we need to continue to invest in our workforce to ensure that they have the latest training, leadership experiences to include joint assignments, functional experiences, and development opportunities to continue to grow great leaders not only in the AF but DoD.
ER: How do you balance being a mother and a professional? Have you ever had to sacrifice anything personally or professionally?
Smith: I’m a mother first and foremost. I made sure my children and family knew I would do whatever it took to take care of them. As a parent, I made sure my children even at an early age knew of the importance of my job. My children still remember me taking them with me to work and setting up a play office space for them to work, whether school work or play work. While they were small, I took on assignments that allowed us to be in the same location. I would sacrifice my time to take care of them first by attending school events, church events, and enjoying life with them. I would bring reading material and work to finish at home, study for grad school, and prepare their clothes and school material for the next day while they were asleep as smaller children. When my children became older in age, I ensured all mobility decisions were made as a family, which sometimes meant we all agreed they would remain in Virginia with their father while I relocated. However, I made sure I was home for every major milestone in their life such as baptism, school concerts, sporting events, parent/teacher conferences, college trips, etc. It was taxing, but it was a welcome sacrifice.
ER: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Smith: My biggest accomplishment was raising two great children and having a loving family who supported me every step of the way as I worked to become a Senior Executive. It was such a great joy and blessing to achieve the rank of Senior Executive and to have them, along with friends and mentors, present at my pin-on ceremony. I’m proof that hard work, sacrifices, dedication, preparation, and support of love ones and mentors are critical in achieving one’s goals.
ER: What motivates you today or what has motivated you in the past?
Smith: As a child growing up, my parents instilled in me to always strive to do my best and believe that in Christ, all things are possible. Because of that, I’m personally motivated to sustain democracy, peace, and the freedom to pursue opportunities not only for my children but for generations to come. I believe in the Air Force’s core values especially “Excellence in all we do”. Therefore, I’m excited to lead the logistics career field and workforce to success.
ER: What woman inspires/inspired you and why?
Smith: My mother, Mrs. Addie T. Perry, is my inspiration. She provided me with a great foundation by teaching me life’s valuable lessons such as look for the positive in all situations, be true to your word, live life with integrity, be respectful and kind to others, work hard, learn something new each day, and to pray always. She taught me to always work hard and never shy away from a challenge. She’s my role-model and the personal example that I followed and continue to follow in accomplishing my aspirations while raising a family.
ER: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders or to the parents of young girls? I have several tips which I constantly share with young girls and they are:
a. Know thyself
b. Always pursue your dreams and goals
c. Learn from your mistakes and never give up on your aspirations
d. Remember there are many paths to your destination….life is a journey
e. Surround yourself with positive people who will support and encourage you along the way as well as correct you when needed
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
2d Lt Rachel K. Jones is a U.S. Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Officer, currently serving as the 311 Aircraft Maintenance Unit Assistant Officer in Charge at Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, New Mexico.