Meet the Presidential Rank Awardee who’s had a career focus on military manpower

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My next guest enlisted in the Marine Corps back in the 1980s and became one its first female combat officers. Later she held a series of increasingly responsible jobs connected to military manpower and readiness. Now she’s the first-ever executive director of U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa, and one this year’s distinguished senior executives in...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

My next guest enlisted in the Marine Corps back in the 1980s and became one its first female combat officers. Later she held a series of increasingly responsible jobs connected to military manpower and readiness. Now she’s the first-ever executive director of U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa, and one this year’s distinguished senior executives in the Presidential Rank Award program. Juliet Beyler joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to tell us more.

Interview transcript:

Juliet Beyler: Thank you. Good morning, Tom. Thanks for having me,

Tom Temin: And an impressive career you’ve had but I want to start at the end here. And you are the first ever executive director of U.S. military forces. That sounds like you order around admirals but probably not. So what does that job?

Juliet Beyler: So I work side-by-side with the admirals. So I’m the senior civilian, as you mentioned, for U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa. And what we are is we’re the naval component for European Command and Africa Command. We have about 43,000 people, ships, aircraft, and submarines operating everyday throughout the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, in the high north, in the Baltic, and all the way around Africa every day. And also with regard to Navy, we are one of the Navy’s three four-star fleet headquarters. The other two, one being in Norfolk, Virginia, and pacifically being out in Hawaii. So that’s who we are. But more specifically to your question about the perpetual question of what does the executive director do, my job as executive director is to lead our efforts in future years defense planning, resource programming, investment strategy. When you tell people in the simplest of terms, I’m the money people things person, and the chief integrator for the command. So I sit as the senior civilian next to the commanders and help with those things.

Tom Temin: So do you oversee, say, everything from the POM process early on through the budget execution?

Juliet Beyler: Precisely. So do we have the right host nation agreements? Is our programming and budgeting and POM submissions aligned with what we’re trying to do? As operations change and the combatant commanders give us new mission sets and things change, are we linked in back with the CNO staff, the Secretary to Navy staff, and all of those corporate forums?

Tom Temin: And that’s kind of an expansion of the types of jobs you’ve held successively throughout your career, which have been concerned with manpower and readiness and human capital policy, I guess, is a good way to put it.

Juliet Beyler: Yeah, it’s a little bit different than what I’ve been doing for about the past 10 years. But as the deputy chief of naval operations for manpower personnel and training, the POM world is pretty much the same wherever you go. One of the reasons they wanted this position out here, as you can imagine, the pace is pretty high. And we’re very operationally focused. And so just like everyone has that challenge of the urgent daily requirements, you know, taking time away from the strategic planning that you need to do, it’s really magnified out here by the gravitational pull of current ops. And so, you know, when they offered me the chance to do something a little bit different out of my bailiwick — it was a new position, the opportunity to kind of create something new — I had to jump at it.

Tom Temin: Got it. And just going back a little bit in history, because we could talk about that job for hours, you have done, according to the long list of bullet points in your career accomplishments, in your submission for the Presidential Rank Awards, a lot of work with respect to ensuring equality of treatment of, say, military members with same sex spouses, women, that kind of thing. Tell us your thinking there.

Juliet Beyler: So maybe a little bit a story of how I got there. And I think maybe we’ll talk about it. When I was working in the Senate for Senator Jim Webb, he became the chairman of the Personnel Committee. I was an engineer, so I didn’t do personnel. But that’s sort of how I got into the people business. And I didn’t really understand it that well. But I remember he told me if you want to do something important, you want to do something that matters and changes the Department of Defense, you have to do people policy. And at that time was when we had the surge in Iraq, we had the issues with Walter Reed. That’s when the conversations about women in combat and the removal of the dirt ground combat exclusion started in earnest, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. So it’s during that kind of several year period when all of those things started to be discussed. And I found it just a fascinating policy area.

Tom Temin: And really, that is central to everything the military tries to do, as Senator Webb pointed out and well understood, and this seems to be driving your career, is that you got to start with the people.

Juliet Beyler: Absolutely. And I think as you mentioned, I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17 years old, back when it was still against the law for women to be in combat roles. And as I got promoted, I was a staff sergeant, we had the first Gulf War and these Washington, D.C. policies were changing. I didn’t understand what they were; all I knew is I couldn’t shoot the rifle or I couldn’t go with my platoon to Iraq because of these different things. Fast forward, I was commissioned as one of the first female combat engineers when I was commissioned the same year that the Navy opened ships and combat aircraft, the Marine Corps opened combat engineers to women. And so I was one of the first-year group. Again, never having worked in Washington, D.C., it was, you know, having those experiences as an enlisted Marine and then an officer really kind of shaped when I had the opportunity to lead those efforts for the Department of Defense on, you know, how do we actually have policies that make sense given the realities of how we operate today.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Juliet, Beylor. She’s executive director of U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa, and one of this year’s distinguished senior executives in the Presidential Rank Award program. And I guess working in Washington after having been in those operational and really there on the ground, it must be something to overcome the disconnect between the politicians sometimes, and the reality of the world outside of the beltway.

Juliet Beyler: Sometimes. I will tell you my opportunity, when I retired from the Marine Corps as a GS-14 and then GS-15, I applied and was selected for the congressional fellowship. That was my first introduction to the Hill. And then Senator Webb offered me a permanent job was just how I ended up working on the Hill as a Senate staffer. You know, I found you get below that level. And then on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the professional staffers and you know, those people are really dedicated. Being able to watch people like Senator John McCain and Senator Webb and kind of really look at really what are the real needs, the operational needs, of the Department of Defense and watching the interaction of the legislative branch and looking at the Department of Defense from the outside. It was really fascinating.

Tom Temin: And you have some pretty cool technical jobs. I mean, this goes back aways, but you were a Korean cryptologic linguist — a cryptology linguist in Korean. That sounds like a heavy lift.

Juliet Beyler: Yeah, I was 17 years old. So I took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, and apparently I had an aptitude for languages. So that was the occupation that the Marine Corps gave me. My mother is Filipino. So I did not know Korean, but they sent me to the Defense Language Institute where I learned Korean, and then off to some other schools to learn the more technical intelligence aspects of the job. But again, my very first duty station was Korea, where I got to be collecting intelligence on the DMZ, right on the border with North Korea as a young 19 and 20 year old. I think back, and kind of crazy where you end up.

Tom Temin: Sure. So the basic question then, you’ve been in the federal sphere your entire life since 17 years old, and in so many different roles. What’s your impression of federal life? And would you recommend it for people?

Juliet Beyler: I absolutely would have, as demonstrated by the fact that I’ve been doing it for 36 plus years. You know, it depends on certainly what your personality is. I talked to a lot of young people, GS’s who are kind of at crossroads, trying to figure out what do they want to do next to, where they want to go. And one of the personal lessons I learned when working on the Hill is I really actually I loved it, but I learned I’m not a legislative branch person. I learned a lot about my style. And I learned that I’m an executive branch person — I’m the kind of person that likes to roll my sleeves on to dig in, to really tear apart a problem and work things through. The legislative branch is more oversight. It’s a little bit quicker moving, broader portfolio and wider. And so I tell people that was enlightening for me, because it led me to what kind of work do you really want to do? Because at the end of the day, you can have this portfolio or that portfolio, but it’s the work, if the work gets you up in the morning and solving those types of challenges is what you like to do. I love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tom Temin: And from 1984 to now a lot of time has passed, a lot of cultural change has happened in the country. As a female executive and someone who, again, has the chops to have been a combat engineer for the Marine Corps and officer, do you find that it’s easier for women now than it was in 1984?

Juliet Beyler: I think so. Certainly where you sit is where you stand. So having the perspective that I have, I think we have come a long way, we have more work to be done. But if you look at the work that we did on on doing away with those outdated combat exclusion policies, we had always looked at opening positions and opportunities to women or groups of people by exception. And we would say should we do this and we would weigh the pros and cons. But for that effort, we flipped that proposition on its head and we said let’s make the assumption that everything should be open, and that we will close things by exception only. And when we flipped the way that we looked at that problem set, it really made it clear — and it took a lot of the emotion out of the argument. And again, any woman can serve in any job anywhere in the Department of Defense based solely on her abilities and training. And that says a lot. As far as being in the Senior Executive Service as well, I’ve had wonderful opportunities. This is my sixth senior executive job and I have been so wonderfully surprised and supported by all my leaders. I really just looking for people that can solve problems.

Tom Temin: And by the way, did you ever get to finally fire that rifle?

Juliet Beyler: I absolutely did w hen I was a sergeant. And actually my husband is a retired Army Special Forces officer. And I joke that occasionally I could even out-shoot him with his own weapons.

Tom Temin: So sometimes you and he go over to the range just to test your chopd?

Juliet Beyler: We do. Absolutely.

Tom Temin: Alright. Juliet Baylor is the executive director of U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa, and one of this year’s distinguished senior executives in the Presidential Rank Award program. Thanks so much for joining me.

Juliet Beyler: Thank you so much, Tom. It’s a great pleasure to be here and an honor to get this award. Hard to talk about it.