WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
It is one thing to love a job and career, but when peace, comfort and a sense of home can be found in the workplace, heading to work even on the worst of days is much easier.
For one Air Force Materiel Command civilian, the Air Force provided her not only with a career but the chance to grow and nurture her work family, as well as her own.
Marla Dirlam was born and raised in Springfield, Ohio to a conservative mid-western family. In her home, it was not common for women to pursue higher education, let alone a government job.
Dirlam’s mother was a stay-at-home mom, and her father worked hard to support his wife and four daughters. Taking advantage of growth opportunities in his workplace, her father stayed with a single employer for his entire career. Dirlam wanted to find that same stability for her own future.
“Longevity was the key for me. I really wanted to start someplace where I could grow and develop so that I could be part of that organization for a long time,” she said.
With a goal in mind, Dirlam decided to pursue higher education. She received a scholarship in high school to attend Clark State Community College. There, she obtained her associate’s degree in Accounting.
Dirlam was highly intrigued with the internship program at her school, especially the program offered at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Upon completing her degree, she accepted an entry-level position at the 21st Comptroller Squadron as a GS-3.
“That (longevity) was something that Wright-Patterson and the Air Force could provide,” she said.
Years later, Dirlam went back to school and received her bachelor’s degree from Wilberforce University and master’s degree from the University of Phoenix. Though her career growth and educational success was proving to others that she was successful and capable, her hardest obstacle was believing in herself.
Dirlam did not believe that achieving a high position within financial management was possible, since the majority of her coworkers maximized their careers at a GS-7. However, she kept her options open and applied for positions that would allow her to apply her knowledge in new ways. Now, 31 years later, Dirlam is a NH-4, the equivalent of a GS-15, and serves as the technical advisor for the financial analysis division, AFMC Financial Management Directorate.
“I want to make a difference where I am. I want to like what I do, and work hard. I try not to chase promotions. If an opportunity came up and it wasn’t a good fit for me, I did not apply. I wanted to make sure that I could come in and be a benefit to that organization,” Dirlam said.
As a technical advisor, Dirlam supports the AFMC execution of $33 billion dollars of funding to operate and sustain six AFMC centers and 10 host installations. She advises and guides a staff of 30 through major budget drills, creates products to justify and defend AFMC budgets, and collaborates with resource management panels to support the AFMC budget and the resource allocation process.
Throughout her career, she started to realize the potential she had within herself and the value that she could offer on a bigger scale.
“I have never worn the uniform. However, I still recognized that I can make a difference without that. I can be just as committed and dedicated to what we are doing as they (uniformed Airmen) are, yet still understanding that I have not made the sacrifices that they have,” she said.
Being part of AFMC opened her eyes to how vast its responsibilities are, and how much it affects the Air Force mission. Some do not understand exactly what AFMC does for the Air Force. In order to understand for herself, Dirlam had to look at the bigger picture from the inside.
“You start to put all of the pieces together and realize that AFMC is big, and it influences everything. Even on the financial side, we turn the tide for the Air Force in financial management when you look at dollars. It is shocking because you learn it all in pieces, until you get to a place that you can see it all in one package. Then you can finally realize what AFMC is,” she said.
Not only did Dirlam realize how vital her role is to the Air Force, but she realized how important family truly is to her own success. Her whole career, she remained at WPAFB so that she could be closer to her family. All three of her sisters are within 10 minutes of her house, and her mother lives only two minutes away. From her driveway, Dirlam can see five of the houses she has lived in, which includes the house where her mother and grandmother were born.
“I cherish my family. The only reason I would move is if my sisters move with me. It is not the location I am tied to; it is my family,” she said.
At AFMC, Dirlam started to form a place in her heart for her Air Force family. Some time ago, she and her husband learned that they were unable to have a child, and started to look at adoption.
Opening up to her work family, she learned through a co-worker of someone at WPAFB who needed to place an infant in the adoption services. The co-worker connected Dirlam and her husband to the family of the child, who they ultimately adopted.
“People who think that the civilian culture cannot have the same wingman concept is not true. I would not have my son today, who is now 15, if that were true. I am somebody who enjoys what I do and puts everything I have into everything that I do, but my appreciation for the Air Force family changed that day dramatically,” said Dirlam.
The Air Force is not just an organization that protects the red, white and blue. The role of the Air Force is much bigger than people realize, just as the role of AFMC is bigger than most people understand.
The Air Force is full of people, including both civilian and military, who embrace the wingman ideals and who can also be called family. Family looks after each other and helps each other out in the best and worst of times. Dirlam believes that this is no different for the civilians and the active duty.
This story is the second in the series to show who the people are within AFMC. It features not just those who wear the uniform, but a diverse set of military and civilians across AFMC. Whether civilian or military, all are Airmen supporting the Air Force mission.