By Lewis Hilburn
| Defense Finance and Accounting Service | Jan. 21, 2021
Sgt. 1st Class Latara Smith was recognized by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during an Indiana AUSA event in November. Smith works for the Personnel Force Innovation program out of Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis, IN as a case manager. Personnel Force Innovation (PFI) is an Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) program assigned to DFAS and is designed to support Department of Defense agencies with Defense Working Capital Funds or Foreign Military Sales funds. PFI processes and assigns military manpower from the reserve components to perform critical work at these agencies in order to support the DoD mission. Soldiers and Airmen are used to cover surge work, critical specialty skills, or to fill a gap while the appropriate civilians are hired or service members assigned. For more information on the Personnel Force Innovation program, visit https://www.dfas.mil/PFI/. (Photo by Lewis Hilburn)
In November, Sgt. 1st Class LaTara Smith was recognized by the Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during an Indiana AUSA event. Smith was recognized for her efforts with Personnel Force Innovation at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Indianapolis, Ind.
She was nominated by PFI Senior Enlisted Advisor, Sgt. Maj. Craig Pickett. He had this to say about Smith, "Sgt. 1st Class Smith came to PFI February 2020 and quickly learned the unique skills and requirements of being a PFI Coordinator. She has done an amazing job and manages our DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) account flawlessly. She always asks the right questions and finds the right answer. Whether through her own research, other team members, or going outside to subject matter experts, she is able to decipher the gray area of reimbursable active duty tours. Her recognition by the SMA was an easy decision based on her performance and quick assimilation into our organization and culture of customer/service member first."
At the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 struck the U.S. hard, Smith, a staff sergeant then, was beginning her tour of duty with PFI with assigned duties as the case manager position for PFI. Smith was trained by the U.S. Army in human resources and that training, according to her, was immediately transferrable to her new position with DFAS. Referring to the practical aspects in managing each service member's case to ensure all documents required were received.
Smith works primarily with DISA; ensuring Soldier's and Airmen's technical skills are utilized and guides both parties through the orders process. She also ensures the agency reimburses the military service for the use of military labor.
Smith said, "In developing my working relationship with DISA, I provide expert oversight and timely advice to DISA in terms of managing their PFI resources." Smith's role is to facilitate the entire process from beginning to end. Part of that is to provide advice in regards to determining report dates based on recruiting and processing times to ensure a timely transition for service members and families.
She also coordinates Tour Quote Memorandums (TQMs) to ensure that when PFI receives the Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPR) they are 100% accurate and processed in a timely manner. This does two things: one, it allows service members adequate processing times to receive their assignment orders, and two, ensures accurate and audit ready accounting. Her expertise and skills has ensured that DISA gets the military manpower they need as well as stays within budget and executes their funds correctly.
She also provides advice in regards to processing Soldier pay actions. "I have successfully been able to correspond with Defense Military Pay Offices and successfully resolve ongoing pay matters for several service members," Smith added. "I conduct weekly interactions with my DISA points of contact to ensure that we are in sync and focused on meeting their recruiting goals."
Pickett noticed the hard work and dedication Smith brought to the table. He went on to explain, "Smith brings to our team a depth of understanding from the US Army Reserve. Her civilian job as a military technician allowed her to jump in and help Soldiers navigate the release process for active duty tours. She has a good command of the systems of record we use to validate the readiness of candidates and goes beyond the cursory look."
However, this role was new to Smith and there was a bit of a learning curve. Learning everything though only took her about 30 days.
"My learning curve, in learning what was expected of me and understanding what the culture of the institution would be like was a little intimidating," she stated. "Once I was able to determine the expectations of my customers, the agency who was looking to employ the service members, and the individual requirements of the service members, I became better equipped and more confident in my knowledge of how to deliver the best customer service to the members and agency."
To overcome these obstacles she sought assistance by seeking the advice of her senior leadership when she encountered work challenges she had difficulty resolving. The "Adapt and Overcome" mentality of the Army helped her succeed and even thrive in DFAS. She noted, "I incorporated the things that made them successful and adjusted it to fit my work process. I insisted on obtaining feedback from my leadership and my customer, which is always helpful to know how you can do better, and just focusing on doing my best with what I have."
During this time Smith has added and refined her skills. Smith said, "I have learned better ways to improve on my time management and strategic thinking process. I have also learned how to be a better servant leader in resolving sensitive matters."
Her training has also helped improve how she conducts case management. She's learned to be understanding and cognizant of the processing time lines for the different entities she interacts with. "I have developed better ways of being successful in completing my work assignments," she added.
"She is a tremendous asset for DFAS and the PFI Team," Pickett noted, "she has a great working relationship with her DISA POC and works to accomplish the mission and provide DISA with the military manpower they need." Smith doesn't restrict her duties to the day though. Pickett pointed out that many PFI Soldiers are now in a telework status and Smith manages to respond to her customers and Soldiers no matter what the time of the day is.
With her new skill set, Smith ensures service member needs are met. "As I strive to ensure that all service members that I recruit and process through the PFI program, experience an assignment process that have their individual interest at heart; I have become more confident in my abilities to serve those that seek assignments through the PFI program."
Smith was initially with the Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 157th Infantry Brigade out of Camp Atterbury, IN. However, in August she was promoted to Sgt. 1st Class and was transferred to the 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command under the G1.
Personnel Force Innovation (PFI) is an Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) program assigned to DFAS and is designed to support Department of Defense agencies with Defense Working Capital Funds or Foreign Military Sales funds. PFI processes and assigns military manpower from the reserve components to perform critical work at these agencies in order to support the DoD mission. Soldiers and Airmen are used to cover surge work, critical specialty skills, or to fill a gap while the appropriate civilians are hired or service members assigned. For more information on the Personnel Force Innovation program, visit https://www.dfas.mil/PFI/.