William I. Lowry Expects the Unexpected
By Casie Vinall
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 30, 2003 After nearly a half century of federal service, William I. Lowry has learned to expect the unexpected.
"I enjoy the challenges that come, and everyday is different," said Lowry, the principal director for organizational management and support in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
"You walk in the door with a plan laid out, say(ing) 'I'm going to do xyz today.' This is my schedule; this is who I'm going to be talking to. And you know, in a matter of sometimes minutes, the whole day just sort of goes to dickens. And you're out there, working and adjusting and what I call 'running and gunning.'"
Born in Timmonsville, S.C., Lowry worked his way to the top. As a high school graduate, Lowry enlisted in the Army in 1958. From there, he said, he was able to convince the Army it would be worthwhile for them to help him get his college degree. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1966 following Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga.
Lowry served two tours in Vietnam and was an infantry platoon leader and led an aviation pathfinder detachment in the Tet Offensive of 1968. Lowry and his unit assisted the helicopter unit they were assigned to with soldier "insertions and extractions," meaning they would "basically go places and pick up soldiers and equipment and move them into combat situations." Following a 15-month break as a basic training company commander at Fort Campbell, Ky., he returned to South Vietnam and spent the most of that tour commanding an armored cavalry troop in the 4th Infantry Division.
The Army paid for Lowry to attend what is now called the Monterey (Calif.) Institute of International Studies. He graduated in 1973, with Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and Asian studies. In 1979, Lowry continued his education, receiving a master's degree in Asian studies from Harvard University, and spent two years teaching at the Department of the Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy.
"Along the way, (I was) able to demonstrate that I could get the job done, and fortunate enough to have supervisors that recognize that there was something worthwhile in me and that they ought to give me the opportunity to prove myself," he said.
Retiring in 1992 as a lieutenant colonel, Lowry joined the civil service. He spent the first seven years serving in different capacities for two assistant secretaries of defense. For the past four years, Lowry has served in his present position.
He said that his organization is responsible for providing all administrative support to the policy undersecretariat staff, except information technology or automation support. "But everything else we do - security, travel, studies and research, training, personnel and facilities," he said. This support is for employees at the Pentagon, as well as in places such as Vienna, Austria, and Geneva.
For Lowry, government work is rewarding for two primary reasons: being able to provide support "in a prompt, timely and accurate manner" and to "recruit good staff and to be able to mentor them and to be able to put them on the path where they can see the way to do bigger and better things for their lives."
Lowry and his staff had been delayed from moving into refurbished Pentagon office space in 2001. Then the Sept. 11 attack struck that area.
After the tragedy, Lowry said he attended to his staff's needs and "looked out after the needs of the folks in policy that didn't have a place to live after Sept. 11." This included arrangements to obtain furniture and phones and "generally getting the place set up where people would have a place to operate." Lowry said some of this still continues.
When the president issued a directive involving reconstruction and humanitarian assistance for Iraq in January, Lowry said DoD had the implementation lead. First came the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was established, followed by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
At first, the department was responsible for "finding people a place to live, and coordinating for (information technology) support, coordinating for security clearances, etc." he said. These duties called for long hours, intense coordination and few guidelines. However, Lowry and his group were flexible and took each situation as it came. Later, he and his staff supported ORHA personnel sent to Kuwait and Iraq.
Lowry points out that some predict that in the "next five to seven years ... around 70 percent of the career civilian workforce will be eligible to retire."
"And so I often think about, 'Well who's going to replace me?'" Lowry asks. Thus, he's actively recruiting, "trying to get what I call the 'right people'."
Part of Lowry's duty is to "seek out qualified, talented folks" in what he calls the "real civilian world." This refers to "those that are not yet working for the government." he tries to "convince them that government service is an honorable thing to do." In doing so, Lowry is recruiting the "senior leaders and staff of tomorrow."
Lowry continues to encourage those in "the real civilian world" to join the government workforce. "All I'm looking for is a few good people," he concluded.
(Casie Vinall is an intern working for DefendAmerica.mil in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.)