DLA Logistics Operations director retires amid remembrances, war stories

The retirement ceremony for Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd, director of Defense Logistics Agency Logistics Operations, included a send-off full of special guests, remembrances and war stories. Hosted by DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, the April 4 ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex was more of a celebration than a somber farewell.

Highlighting Dowd’s “proud Irish” roots and affinity for yelling out “Hooah,” Harnitchek opened the ceremony with several anecdotes from former co-workers, current DLA colleagues, friends and service members, all touching on several milestones and stints in Dowd’s 35-year military career.

“I can tell you, and I’m sure that you know all for yourself, that Ken lives up to his Irish roots, something best captured in the Army’s warrior ethos,” Harnitchek said. “Ken always places mission first. He never accepts defeat; he never quits; and Ken would never leave a fallen comrade behind, never. … He’s a little loud, slightly brash, and he’s a bit of a brawler who doesn’t take no for an answer. But he gets the job done. He’s fiercely determined, tough as nails and infused with that eternal optimism and infectious enthusiasm you find in all great leaders. He is a true warrior.”

Dowd overcame many challenges in providing logistics support, even when faced with “Ph.D.-level logistics day in and day out over some of the world’s toughest terrain,” Harnitchek said. He added that Dowd's work at U.S. Central Command and on the Northern Distribution Network helped him face other challenges head-on while at DLA, including 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.


“Ken is the most determined man I’ve ever met,” Harnitchek said. “Nobody leads better, gets more done, knows more or takes better care of people than Ken. His work in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading the ‘log nation’ is a story in itself, a series of simply amazing logistics feats. … Suffice to say, Ken brought all that experience and knowledge here to DLA, … and I could not have asked for a better logistician than Ken to ensure that DLA was on the spot, whenever and wherever needed.”


Calling him a “living legend in the military logistics community,” Harnitchek praised Dowd’s loyalty to the Army, his country and his family.

“He’s the guy that takes the big idea and makes it a reality,” he said. “Every team Ken has been on for the past 35 years has been a winner. Ken is the all-star player, the top draft pick and, here at DLA, Ken Dowd is the franchise. He plays with a passion for victory, a delight in the details, a great sense of humor, all leveled with a healthy dose of old-fashioned common sense. He swings for the fence every time and builds a team based on respect, dignity and works to make an impact. Ken simply says, ‘Regardless of the task, we can, we will’ and then succeeds.”

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, logisticians, like Dowd, were essential to keeping the military running, said retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command and former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

During these difficult years, we kept seeing the same leaders showing up over and over again in key and vital capacities, and they performed magnificently over and over again,” he said. “ Ken Dowd is one of those heroes. One who’s found himself in the very center of some of the greatest challenges we can throw at our leaders and throw at our logisticians. … Without their extraordinary efforts, … we simply could never have gone to war, we could never have sustained our efforts across two major theaters of war for well over a decade, nor could we have closed down a theater as we did and as we are now doing in Afghanistan. The books have not yet been written about what our logisticians and their organizations have done since 2001. … When they are written, Maj. Gen. Dowd’s name will figure prominently in the history of this long conflict and in the Pacific. That history will reflect that Ken Dowd served in and lead these organizations, and in so doing, infused them with his indomitable personality, his ‘hooah’ style and made them all the better and all the more effective simply by his very presence in his midst.”

After first meeting Dowd in 2005, Allen was impressed, calling Dowd “a logistics leader who practiced his trade at a scientific level,” something that he wasn’t alone in observing, he said.

“I’ve had firsthand and direct observation of Ken for some period of time, and I have to tell you my friend, you are the best,” he said. “Gen. [David] Petraeus once called you the ‘sheik of the log nation.’ Mark Harnitchek gave you the toughest jobs possible in DLA and, as he testified, you got them all done. But beyond your abundant skills as a logistician, you also possess that leader’s touch, that exceptional and very special way that brings forth the best of all you lead. … Ken, you have served with incredible distinction and unparalleled success. You’ve touched the lives of thousands and successfully accomplished every mission, a truly remarkable accomplishment in daunting times with outstanding outcomes every time. I could stand here all afternoon and recount your personal accomplishments and they would read like a textbook on excellence. By your service, through a long and distinguished career, you have defined, indeed you actually personified, the qualities of commitment, dedication, hard work

Before the ceremony, a slideshow of photos was displayed to the audience, showing Dowd during various stages of his military career, as well as alongside his family and friends. During his speech, he reminisced on his career, giving credit to the teammates that helped him “make it happen.”

“I’m very fortunate to have experienced such a wonderful Army career,” Dowd said. “I have no regrets; wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve traveled around the world a couple of times, seen some amazing things and most of all, met amazing people. One thing I learned during my career is nobody accomplishes anything by themselves; it’s all about team. I’m honored to serve my final tour here at DLA, truly a great team of professionals. In fact, one of my biggest takeaways is the importance of the civilian team to the mission of our military.”

He said working alongside the warfighters has been a privilege for him, and he offered several pieces of advice to the younger members of the audience.

“For the young leaders coming up today, don’t be afraid to take risk,” he said. “I would always encourage a young leader to keep building relationships with warfighters. Understand their needs and deliver before they even ask. And when you sit at the table with warfighters, represent the ‘log nation’ proudly. …  Leadership is deliberate. Lead with vision. Lead by example. Challenge assumptions. [Do] constant self-assessment. Create a growth environment in the individual and collective areas. Empower subordinates. Underwrite risk. Create an environment of trust and teamwork. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be fair. Be consistent. [Have] high morals, ethics, integrity and character. Break through the bureaucracy, and don’t be afraid to break glass.”

The general also said he’s proud to have served as head of DLA Logistics Operations since August 2012, and he thanked the agency leaders and personnel in the audience.

“I want to thank those of you at DLA who made this tour so memorable,” he said. “This is a great agency, filled with professionals who made a difference to our customer. I’m proud of the work you do, and you should be as well.”

In addition to an official certificate of retirement, Harnitchek presented Dowd with the Defense Superior Service Medal, a certificate of appreciation from President Barack Obama, and a letter of appreciation from Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, as well as a hand-made DLA flag from DLA Troop Support. Afterward, Dowd’s wife, Jennie, received her own certificates, medal and letters of appreciation, thanking her for years of sacrifice in lending Dowd to the United States military.

During his career, Dowd served in several assignments including commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command at U.S. Army Central; commander of Division Support Command, 1st Armored Division in Europe and Iraq; assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics in Europe and Germany; executive officer to the deputy chief of staff for logistics in Washington, D.C.; and director of logistics at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

To officially commemorate his retirement, Dowd performed one last official duty by casing and retiring his two-star general officer’s flag, signifying the end of his tenure in the Army. In addition, he joined in a Navy tradition called “piping ashore,” often used to represent a departure from the “ship” as a civilian. With six “sideboys,” a group of hand-picked service members important to Dowd’s military career, lining the walkway of the auditorium, Dowd requested permission from Harnitchek to “go ashore,” performed one final salute and escorted his family out of the room, signaling the end of his military career.

Photo: General and wife walk past service members
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Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd (right) and his wife walk through a row of “sideboys,” a group of hand-picked service members important to his military career, at his retirement ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex April 4. Photo by Teodora Mocanu

Photo: Rolling flag
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Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd (right), director of DLA Logistics Operations, rolls his general officer flag to commemorate his retirement April 4 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex after 35 years of military service. Photo by Teodora Mocanu

Photo: Receiving retirement certificate
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Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd (right) receives his official certificate of retirement from retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command and former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Dowd, director of DLA Logistics Operations since 2012, retired April 4 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex. Photo by Teodora Mocanu

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