Leadership matters in all things—and it can be decisive.
Think about the times in your own career when leadership changed, or could have changed, an outcome.
Last month, Gen. Gustave “Gus” Perna was planning to finish his final uniformed tour of duty. Typically, the last days of one’s career are marked by a gradual off- ramp; not for Perna. If it wasn’t enough for him to help lead and sustain operations in the strategic support area for the Army during the nation’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, set against a backdrop of increased great power competition, add to the list now his appointment to co-lead Operation Warp Speed— our nation’s effort to develop and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19. It is no surprise to me that his plans changed when a nation called. In my career, he has epitomized selfless service, decisive leadership, and unmatched competence. Our nation and Army are reaping the benefits of his leadership.
I’ve never been the Army Materiel Command (AMC) commanding general. I imagine, though, that on day one of every AMC CG’s tour, each CG opened a closet in their office to find two hats: the AMC CG hat and the Army senior logistician hat. It’s clear to me that Perna donned, and never removed, his Army senior logistician hat. This is not to say that he somehow shirked his responsibility as CG of AMC, but I believe he saw command of AMC as part of a larger responsibility as the Army’s senior logistician. And he did more than lead and grow AMC’s subordinate commands; he led us all. In doing so, he changed our Army and operationalized Army logistics around the globe.
He operationalized logistics in the post modular Army; returning to a division-centric construct and preparing our Army for large-scale combat operations (LSCO) by connecting enterprise-level logistics with the tactical Army. When overlaid by LSCO, the tactical modular Army sustainment structure created years ago for counterinsurgency operations revealed chasm-sized gaps in logistics at the operational and tactical levels. He wasted no time in filling those gaps—not by adding force structure, but by reshaping, refocusing, and optimizing what we already had. He bulldozed the enterprise into the gaps while pulling the tactical logistics community across the gap from the other side. He reduced the unintended LSCO obstacle instead of simply describing and studying it. He delivered the power of the materiel enterprise to the tactical edge and changed the way we maneuver and employ logistics formations. He operationalized AMC, converting it from a bumper sticker to a behavior of reflexive competence.
His seven strategic focus areas—Soldier and Family readiness, strategic power projection readiness, installation readiness, industrial base readiness, munitions readiness, supply availability and equipment readiness, and logistics information systems readiness—will guide our readiness building and prioritization of resources in the strategic support area (SSA) for years to come. If we can get these right, we can project and sustain our Army in any environment; COVID-19 or adversary contested.
In addition to all he did for AMC, Perna took on leadership of Installation Management Command (IMCOM), providing a higher headquarters to resource, synchronize and deliver Soldier and Family readiness, strategic power projection readiness, and installation readiness. The outcome was immediately felt. Our power projection platforms and our mobilization, force generation installations have rehearsed executable expansion plans. And the Army employed a portion of this capability as we established COVID-19 screening, quarantine, and isolation operations. Although only a fraction of IMCOM’s newfound abilities were tested, it was enough to realize the effectiveness of his work to set the SSA for power projection. General Perna did none of this alone, but he led it all. He recognized that the right person, in the right job, at the right time can move mountains.
Supply availability yields Army readiness. Unprecedented investments in the industrial base are underway and supply availability, fueled by common authorized stockage lists and the soon-to-be common shop stock lists, have resulted in all-time readiness highs. Army Medical Logistics Command (AMLC) is now up and running and the convergence of other disparate logistics capabilities are visible in the headlights. AMLC’s contributions to our fight against COVID-19 gives us a sneak preview of the power and synchronization that is now within our Army’s reach.
General Perna did none of this alone, but he led it all. He recognized that the right person, in the right job, at the right time can move mountains. Most importantly, he grew a deep bench of logistics leaders who “know their jersey number,” never ask if the task at hand “is their job” or worry about “who they work for.” When called, and most times without being called, they reflexively and decisively act instead of hesitate. No one stops to check their jersey to see if their number was called. He transformed the logistics talent management process by creating a logistics board of directors, which has trained and developed the logistics general officer corps in the art of talent management. He created a yearlong series of collaborative venues that result in former brigade commander placement in positions where they can serve and move the ball down the field. He created in our logistics corps a bias for action. He drove AMC to become a commander-centric organization where leaders at all levels see themselves and hold themselves accountable.
Just as our country and world have changed with COVID-19, our Army has changed due to the “Perna Effect." As he continues to lead and serve now as the co-lead and chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, he was and will continue to be the right leader, at the right time. He epitomizes the idea that leadership matters, decisively.
Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-4, oversees policies and procedures used by U.S. Army Logisticians. He has masters of science degrees from Florida Institute of Technology, and Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
This article was published in the July-September 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.