From clerk typist to Army senior leader, an American Dream realized

The American Dream of opportunity and prosperity through hard work, determination and skill is personified in JoEtta Fisher, who achieved that dream through government service and made the nation better in the process.

Fisher started working for the government as a summer-hire clerk typist at Rock Island Arsenal while attending Moline High School in Moline, Illinois. She took clerical and secretarial courses during her senior year of high school and participated in a program, in which she worked half days on the Arsenal. Thirty-five years later during a ceremony on Jan. 19, she retired as the highest-ranking civilian within the Joint Munitions Command, a worldwide organization providing all services within the Department of Defense and U.S. allies with conventional ammunition.

Fisher was presented with her official retirement certificate and numerous awards for her efforts during her career with the Army. Photo by Shawn Eldridge

“During her 35-year career, JoEtta has been respected throughout the Army and Department of Defense for her expertise, her valued advice to commanders, senior leaders, and ammunition professionals around the world, and most importantly, for her commitment to supporting the JMC workforce and developing the next generation of leaders,” said Brig. Gen. Gavin Gardner, the JMC commander and host of Fisher’s retirement ceremony.

Fisher was respected by all services supported by JMC. “Ms. Fisher has been a friend to the Marine Corps for her entire career! The Marine Corps is truly losing not only a supporter, but a friend,” said Lt. Col. Brian Wisneski, deputy program manager for ammunition on the Logistics Combat Element System team for the U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command.

“JoEtta is a trusted ammunition logistician, leader and friend. She always provided expert advice, was willing to make tough decisions and executed according to the plan. She will be missed by ammunition experts around the world,” said Rhonda VanDeCasteele, former Deputy to the Commander for JMC.

“JoEtta has been well-regarded as the Deputy to the Commander, but even more, as the professional she is in all she does for the organization. The outstanding accomplishments of JMC are directly attributable to JoEtta’s leadership and commitment to the Army and its employees,” Gardner said.

“When I was in JMC, when JoEtta would walk in my office, I had a smile on my face, because I knew I never had to worry about the quality or the content of the work she presented. I could sit back and relax and listen, because the quality of her work was unbelievable,” said retired Lt. Gen. Larry Wyche, former deputy commanding general of Army Materiel Command and the former commanding general of JMC.

“JoEtta has always been that person of logic and practical thinking. She was that way when I met her and still is today. That’s why she was able to courageously lead JMC through so many challenges,” said Trish Huber, former Deputy to the Commander for JMC.

Fisher showed the strong resolve that led her to success at JMC from a young age.

“When she was roughly four years old, we told her she couldn’t do something, because she was too young and too tiny,” said William Humphrey, Fisher’s father. “So JoEtta figured out exactly how to do this project she wanted to do. She was ready to debate the issue with us and perched herself right in the middle of the dining room table. We knew we weren’t getting away until we agreed with her plan. That’s when we realized that anything you told JoEtta she couldn’t do, she was going to find a way to get it done.”

Senior Executive Service leader, JoEtta Fisher, retired from her position as the Deputy to the Commander and Executive Director for Ammunition for the Joint Munitions Command, during an official ceremony held Jan. 19, after serving more than 35 years in the Department of Defense.

As part of that pioneering spirit, Fisher was the first in her family to earn a college degree.

After graduating from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri with a degree in business management, she came back to the Arsenal as a clerk, then applied for and completed an ammunition management internship with the Defense Ammunition Center. She continued to pursue opportunities, gain technical skills and advance her education in order to move forward in her career.

“I started at 17 as a summer hire clerk typist — I wanted to grow up and be a secretary.  As I progressed in my career, my aspirations grew and I wanted to be more,” said Fisher.

Successive assignments included various inventory and logistics management roles associated with munitions, including as Director of Supply Planning for JMC and the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Munitions and Logistics Readiness Center — also known as the MLRC. She then became the Deputy for the MLRC, and subsequently JMC’s senior civilian, a Senior Executive Service leader, or SES, serving not only as the Deputy to the Commander, but also as the Executive Director for Ammunition. She was the first person at JMC to fill this dual role. In the civil service of the U.S. government, the SES is a position classification which is the equivalent to a general officer in the U.S. armed forces.

“Ms. Fisher always encouraged good ideas and truly cared about the mission and the people equally … it’s truly amazing to think back on the last decade and reflect on all of JMC’s accomplishments under her leadership,” said Nathan Hawley, director of the MLRC.

Besides realizing her own dreams, Fisher also helped others attain their dreams through mentorship. This includes reinvigorating the command’s mentorship program, promoting leadership training programs and projects, and personally mentoring individuals within the command.

“Our Army appreciates and promotes employees who lead by example, who successfully mentor others, who take care of their people, and who are able to adapt to a changing world. This description perfectly reflects JoEtta and her career as an Army Civilian. She has dedicated herself to training, motivating and leading a workforce that supports our Joint Force. The Joint Munitions Command, Rock Island Arsenal, the Army and the people of the United States have been exceptionally well served by JoEtta’s life of civilian service. So, on behalf of the Joint Munitions Command, thank you for your faithful service and all the wonderful work you’ve accomplished throughout the years,” said Gardner.

Pursuing her dream also meant supporting the country.

“JoEtta Fisher’s leadership was critical to ensuring Warfighters have reliable munitions available on time, every time. The continuity she provided to JMC as an Army Civilian leader ensured logistics excellence in munitions readiness across DOD. Her dedication to the personal and professional development of those around her, embodied through the numerous employees she mentored throughout her career, will have a lasting impact on JMC, Army Materiel Command and the Army,” said Lisha Adams, the executive deputy to the commanding general of AMC.

“I started as a [general schedule] 2 clerk typist and am proud to be at an organization where you can start as a GS-2 and work your way up to Deputy to the Commander,” said Fisher.

To conclude the ceremony, Fisher furled her Senior Executive Service flag to represent her formal retirement. Although this chapter is over, the legacy she has left of living her American dream by supporting the Warfighter and her servant leadership will live on through the program changes she made to improve effectiveness and efficiency and in those she mentored on the pathway of their own dreams.