By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2015 – Helping service members and their families as an Army lawyer prepared Stephanie Barna well for her people-driven personnel and readiness position in the Defense Department.
Barna, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness and force management, spoke with DoD News as part of Women’s History Month to share how her Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps experience led to her DoD responsibilities for service members, civilians, families and survivors.
A ‘People Business’
Describing readiness and force management as a “people business,” Barna said she and her staff ensure service members, civilian employees, their families and survivors are cared for.
Her responsibilities, she said, include readiness of the force, helping veterans smoothly transition from military to civilian life, quality of life programs, family advocacy, military spouse employment initiatives, diversity and equal opportunity management, and total force planning and requirements for service members, civilians and contractors.
Barna also has oversight for the DoD Education Activity, the Defense Commissary Agency and both armed forces retirement homes.
Barna said the large size of her portfolio is partly because her job is centered on people. “And whenever people are concerned, it’s both incredibly challenging and fulfilling,” she added.
Army Opened Doors
Barna’s story began when she entered the Army on an ROTC scholarship as a young lawyer.
“[My first job] doing legal assistance was most fulfilling,” she said. “It was my first exposure to soldiers and their families and trying to help them with personal legal issues. It was a great way to get to know soldiers, from the most junior grade to senior officers. Everyone has a need for an attorney at some time.”
And legal counsel for those in uniform is about military readiness as much as legal matters, Barna pointed out.
The military does what it needs to do to ensure its service members are capable of performing to the highest level of their ambition and potential, she noted, compared to “having to deal with issues that can be distractors from the military mission.”
Not only did being an Army lawyer teach Barna to think about personnel and readiness issues, she said, she also saw how military families live, and what issues and concerns the military had on the readiness front.
Barna’s legal career evolved over 14 years on active duty in numerous arenas. She has served as trial counsel, prosecutor and special assistant U.S. attorney, and also worked in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps administrative law division.
Jumpmaster: A New Perspective
But it was her two-year attorney position with Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that opened her eyes to the importance of leadership, Barna said. During that assignment, she said, she was struck by the soldiers’ enhanced commitment to the mission, irrespective of gender, background, race or faith. Barna translated this mission focus to her role as a jumpmaster.
“I wasn’t airborne qualified until I went to Special Forces, and it’s a rite of passage,” she said. After completing airborne school, she said, her next step was to learn to help other people jump, and she was the only woman in her jumpmaster class.
Barna said that was her first operational leadership role, and that it called for a lot of detail and focus. “It was an incredible responsibility,” she said. As a leader and jumpmaster, Barna noted, she relied on a team of people to achieve each mission. Leadership is needed to focus people around a shared mission and vision, she added.
Knowing her mentors had faith in her abilities, she said, she came away from her special operations stint feeling “incredibly confident” in her abilities. “It was a great opportunity for growth,” she said.
Reservists Garnered Appreciation
Following her active duty career, Barna became a member of the career Senior Executive Service, charged with providing legal advice to the secretary of the Army. Throughout, she continued to serve as an Army reservist, and she retired as a colonel. As a reservist, she said, she realized how integral a role the military component serves. It gave her insight into reservists “who are both committed to serving their nation and being personally ready to do their job when the nation calls,” she said.
As a DoD personnel and readiness leader, Barna said, she reflects on how the Army prepared her for that position by helping her to understand that it takes a team of like-minded people to perform a mission, as well as hard work, persistence and mission focus.
“By going from the legal field to the policy and management aspects of DoD,” she said, “I can’t imagine a better way to have been prepared for the job I have today.”