Sherman retires after 46-year government career
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FORT LEE, Va. (May 30, 2017) – William E. Sherman has waded through enough legal cases in his government career spanning over 46 years to make Perry Mason blush. However, unlike the legendary TV lawyer, there is nothing scripted about his impact on the Defense Commissary Agency as its only general counsel for more than a quarter century.
As an Air Force colonel, Sherman joined the DeCA transition team five months before the agency activated in October 1991. DeCA's then fledgling legal office had a short learning curve as it supported a new "purple" agency formed by the merger of four separate military commissary operations.
"Over the years, the DeCA staff, all of the DeCA employees, have been challenged to provide the commissary benefit to authorized patrons," Sherman said in an interview prior to his retirement. "And, that has been challenging many times throughout the course of DeCA, in fact almost from the very beginning.
"It started with bill-paying problems almost as we came out of the chute as an organization," he said. "That was probably our first real major obstacle, one that posed the greatest threat. When I say the greatest threat, I'm talking about the continuation of the commissary benefit itself and the commissary as a function of the Department of Defense."
Effective May 21, Sherman retired as DeCA's general counsel after more than 46 years of government service – almost 26 years in the Air Force and nearly 21 as a government civilian. The Office of the Secretary of Defense General Counsel has selected Ralph Tremaglio as DeCA's acting general counsel until a permanent selection is made.
For DeCA Director and CEO Joseph H. Jeu, it will be difficult to replace a man he depended on for nearly seven years to be his legal eyes and ears, especially now at a crucial crossroads for the agency as it transforms from a wholly taxpayer-funded organization to a revenue-generating business model.
"He helped [in the] drafting, submitting and shepherding of proposed legislation in the 2015 and 2016 National Defense Authorization Acts," said Jeu during Sherman's May 18 retirement ceremony at DeCA headquarters. "This legislation enabled DeCA to become more business-like.
"He was an influential member of the Business Transformation team as we began rolling out new initiatives, such as variable pricing and private label," he added. "In fact, Bill played a key role in establishing variable pricing, and in the selection, negotiation and implementation of the private label program."
DeCA's ongoing transformation to a new business model represents its largest challenge to date and will test the agency like never before, Sherman said.
"Unlike any other time in the past, the current transformation is requiring a major culture shift on the part of our corporate personality because we are now expected to deliver a commissary benefit but do so in a much more businesslike manner," he said. "We are going to have to look more at the bottom line, the profit/loss statement and the return on investment to determine whether or not we are going to be successful. For personnel who have come up through the government ranks that is a major cultural shift."
Dealing with change was a constant fact of life for Sherman who supervised DeCA's legal office through the growing pains of the agency's early years and through recurring attempts to privatize the benefit and various budget reductions.
As the agency's general counsel he was the DeCA director's chief legal advisor. Sherman managed all federal and state court litigation involving DeCA or its employees related to mission and job performance in areas of equal employment opportunity, civil rights, labor-management relations, merit principles, civilian personnel law, procurement, contractor and licensee relations, patents, trademarks, service marks and copyrights, and all other aspects of personnel and commercial law.
He served as the agency's ethics officer and was also responsible for Freedom of Information Act and Privacy requests, alternative dispute resolution, civil liberties programs, and the fraud, waste and abuse program.
Sherman's military career began in 1970 as an assistant staff judge advocate and claims officer at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina. His military service included tours of duty at Kadena Air Base, Japan; the former Webb Air Force Base, Texas; Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; McClellan Air Force Base, California; and the former Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
When asked about the highlights of his military career, Sherman talked about being a part of the creation of DeCA and the following events:
- As the staff judge advocate at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota (1980-84), he authored the legal position to convince the Federal Bureau of Land Management that allowing strip mining for coal near the base would be a hazard to its missile field and the nation's national defense. His argument convinced the government to halt the sale of mining rights.
- As the deputy staff judge advocate at McClellan Air Force Base, California (1984-87), Sherman helped set up what would be the first Air Force standard for environmental management. His team helped handle legal issues associated with environmental cleanup challenges at a time when the base was one of the most environmentally contaminated military installations in the country.
- As the staff judge advocate at Clark Air Base, the Philippines, Sherman was part of a U.S. State Department base negotiating team, augmented by military staff from DOD and the various services in the Philippines. They managed to craft an agreement to maintain U.S. bases there, which the Philippine government first accepted and later rejected. The volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo eventually made the proceedings moot.
He is admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court of North Dakota; the United States Court of Military Appeals; the United States Court of Appeals, eighth and federal circuits; and the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota.
Sherman graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks (1967), earning his law degree three years later at the same school. He is also a graduate of the Air Force Squadron Officers School (1978), the Air Command and Staff College (1979), the Air War College (1984) and the Department of Defense Leadership and Management Program (2004).
He has earned the Office of Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service, the DOD Civilian Career Service Award, three Defense Commissary Agency Distinguished Civilian Service Awards, the Defense Commissary Agency Meritorious Civilian Service Awards, the Defense Service Medal, the Legion of Merit (one oak leaf cluster), the Meritorious Service Medal (two oak leaf clusters) and the Air Force Commendation Medal (one oak leaf cluster).
As he retires, Sherman said he's been blessed to work with amazing people at DeCA who shared his passion for serving the military community.
"The drive and motivating force for me has always been protecting the commissary benefit for those roughly 5.5 million military families – active, Guard, reserve and retired – who depend on it."
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit and make no profit on the sale of merchandise. Authorized patrons save thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to commercial prices when shopping regularly at a commissary. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America's military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.
Kevin L. Robinson
(804) 734-8000, Ext. 4-8773