The man behind the Army’s global supply chain never expected to be in this position; in fact, he never expected to be a logistician at all.
Gen. Gus Perna, commanding general, Army Materiel Command, was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant in 1979 as an Infantry officer.
“I thought combat arms was my calling,” he said. “At a crossroads in my career, a mentor recognized that I had a knack for logistics and encouraged me to pursue that path.”
He soon realized his Infantry background gave him a special insight into managing supply chains.
“All Soldiers need food, fuel, boots and bullets,” Perna said. “As an Infantry officer, I experienced what many young leaders face when equipment fails or supplies are disrupted. I remember what it is like to be cold, tired and hungry. When you have firsthand knowledge that one repair part can halt a mission and impact Soldiers’ lives, you internalize the importance of the global supply chain.”
Today, Perna is the Army’s senior logistician and the senior ranking officer on Redstone Arsenal. As the leader of Army Materiel Command, he oversees an enterprise that spans all 50 states and more than 150 countries. He also leads nearly 120,000 Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians and contractors. Each of those employees plays an important role in national defense, said Perna.
“Employees should always have a deep understanding and appreciation that the work they do has a direct effect on the warfighter,” said Perna. “They should know that their proximity to the battlefield does not correlate to their relevance to the warfighter.”
Perna’s military career has taken him across the globe, both on the frontlines and to the Pentagon. Having lived in many different communities, he credits the Huntsville community for its long history of service to the warfighter and support of veterans.
“This community has always been committed to recognizing its veterans,” he said. “Which is so important because after 18 years of war, we have the largest population of young veterans since Vietnam. We have an obligation to these men and women.”
Like many people in the military, Perna came from a family with a history of serving.
“I come from a family with a strong military heritage, which has made me appreciate the history of our Armed Forces,” Perna said. “Something inside of us called us to service, something bigger than us as individuals.”
He credits that foundation, hard work and great opportunities for his successful Army career.
“I credit the ROTC program at Valley Forge Military Academy (Pennsylvania) with changing the course of my life,” he said. “I found my true purpose when I commissioned in the U.S. Army.”
He says the program gave him the discipline to focus, created a family and support system around him, and allowed him to determine what he wanted to do in his life.
“Not everyone will become a Soldier. In fact, less than one percent of the U.S. population will serve in the military, but what ROTC can provide anyone is opportunity,” he said. “It teaches you that what is important, no matter what career you are in, is how well you know your job.”
From ROTC to commanding one of the Army’s four major commands, Perna’s career led him to determine three traits that are non-negotiables when it comes to being a good leader: competence, commitment and character.
Competence, commitment and character — three equal, but required traits — none more important than the other. Perna believes leadership is both an art and science. It requires practice to hone, but mastering the three “Cs” will provide a strong foundation upon which to grow.
“Army leaders embody these traits and encompass a wide range of talent, abilities and characteristics,” he said. “They are well-trained, disciplined and educated. I want to call on this business community to consider our veterans, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers when you are hiring. See what they have to offer your organization.”
-Contributed by Megan Cotton Gully, U.S. Army Materiel Command
This article appears in our February 2019 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.