African American female trailblazer retires with 40 years of federal service

  • Published
  • By Irene Smith
  • DLA Energy Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

A trailblazer who touched many lives, Regina Gray, the first African American woman to hold a GS-15 position at Defense Logistics Agency Energy, retired after 40 years of federal service Dec. 31, 2022.

“Regina had the right stuff,” said DLA Energy Commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Jimmy Canlas as he presented her with the DLA Exceptional Civilian Service Award during her retirement ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Jan. 11. “She was a trailblazer who broke the glass ceiling, and her fingerprints are all over this organization. Thank you, Regina, for your selfless service to our great nation.”

Gray started her federal service in Dec. 1982 as a young GS-9 chemist in the Defense Fuel Supply Center’s Quality and Technical Directorate at Cameron Station, Virginia.  She was a part of a wave of women who entered federal workforce between 1976 and 1990. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, minority representation in the federal workforce grew driven by women in professional/administrative jobs during this timeframe.

“I am originally from Houston, where I graduated with a chemical engineering/chemistry degree,” Gray said. “My original plans were to work for an oil company or engineering firm that supported the oil industry, but due to layoffs and the advice of my mother, I moved to Washington D.C., started as a GS-9 chemist and worked my way up the corporate ladder at DLA Energy.”

Leadership recognized Gray’s fuel expertise, leadership, and work ethic and promoted her to division chief of the Directorate’s Product Technology and Standardization Division in 1991.  In 2002, she was selected to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now called the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy). After graduating in 2002, Gray became the Deputy Director for DLA Energy’s Facilities and Distribution Management business unit responsible for worldwide fuel terminal operations, multimillion-dollar maintenance business unit for 650 fuel terminal facilities around the world.

Gray attributes much of her success to her former boss, 2017 DLA Energy Hall of Fame member, Calvin Martin, who served as a mentor during her formative career development years. 

“He saw my resume and believed in me,” Gray said. “I was a na├»ve 25-year-old and knew nothing about the federal government. Through his leadership style, I learned patience and integrity.”

Gray met her mentor in 1984 and he pushed her to take on more challenging tasks to grow in experience.

“This time period allowed me to grow by learning the trials and tribulations associated with working in an organization that relies a lot on building relationships with peers both inside and outside of DLA Energy to get things done,” Gray explained.  “When Martin retired, I had to reassess how I could move to the next level.”

Her response was to take on highly visible projects that gave her more exposure at the Office of the Secretary of Defense level and the Office of Management & Budget, Department of Energy.

“I also volunteered to represent DLA Energy on the headquarters diversity team where I interacted with DLA senior executive service leadership,” she said. “I took advantage of all career development opportunities such as the Office of the Secretary of Defense Leadership and Management Program and the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. This ultimately led to me being promoted to a GS-15 senior leadership position in 2003.”      

From 2008 to 2013, Gray directed the Executive Agent Office for the Class II Bulk Petroleum Supply Chain, leading many initiatives that improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the supply chain.

In 2013, Gray stood up the DLA Energy Strategic Policy and Programs Directive where she had oversight of Class IIIB Executive Agency Program and DLA Energy Governance activities. 

“Regina was a visionary and change agent,” said DLA Energy Deputy Commander David Kless. “She helped Energy prepare for the future and was never afraid to say what needed to be said and do the hard things. Energy enjoys the reputation it has because of Regina.”

Described as one of the great female leaders in DLA Energy by one of her GS-15 colleagues, Gray was well known for mentoring and possessing the strategic vision.

“Reginia always stood up for her people,” said Tom Turrets, director of Business Process Support Directorate. “I have a lot of respect for that. She’s always been approachable and willing to have that conversation on what we needed to do in this agency.”

“I am an advocate of diversity,” Gray said. “It is very important for anyone in management and leadership to respect the attribution that any employee brings to the table. I consider everyone’s input invaluable to the success of the organization.”

Gray was part of the movement for advancing equity for black women in the DLA Energy workforce.

“Energy will always be a part of me,” said Gray. “I was determined to stay in this great organization and prove that diversity works. If we all looked alike and thought alike, we wouldn’t be the great organization we are.”