MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- A 31-year veteran of the Combat Center finance office was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award March 9 for her superior performance which included saving tens of millions of federal dollars.
Grace A. Lebda was awarded the medal and certificate by Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Stone in front of friends and Finance Office and Comptroller Directorate Marines. Her citation and recommendation for the award spanned from the period of Sept. 1, 2002, through Jan. 10, 2006, and listed numerous accomplishments as she led her office through trying times.
“To give a background on her experience, Grace trained our senior chief warrant officer in our field when he was just a corporal here,” said Chief Warrant Officer Darryl W. McCoy, finance officer. “She’s also trained nearly every staff noncommissioned officer and chief warrant officer at some point during their careers.
“Grace took over my job when I deployed to Iraq for nine months,” continued McCoy. “We lost half of our manpower when she took control and you could not tell anybody left. Near the end of that nine months was when our staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge deployed so she ended up doing all three jobs.”
Lebda worked as a finance clerk at Fort Monmouth in her native New Jersey in 1972 at the start of her civil service career. She came to Twentynine Palms as a pay and separations clerk in March 1975, after two years at Earle Naval Weapons Station, N.J.
When Lebda received her award, for which she now wears her lapel pin, she said she was at first surprised because through it all she felt she was merely “doing her job.”
“When I stepped up, I had a lot more responsibility and it made me look at my job from a different perspective,” said Lebda, who currently serves as the pay and separations section supervisor. “In the beginning it was very challenging, but I knew I had the backing of my colonel and support from staff here in my office, and that helped.
“Doing both of those jobs was overwhelming,” added Lebda, who plans to retire after her 40th year of civil service. “I had my moments then, but I had that good support from my Marines and made it through.”
Another accomplishment on Lebda’s award citation was her identification of a Marine Corps-wide error in the computer system for pay and taxes, which saved the Corps more than $47 million.
“In our computer system, there was an error which affected leave balances and taxable income computations, and eventually added up to millions of dollars,” said Lebda. “When I found it, I thought it was just a local problem, but it turned out to affect the entire Marine Corps.”
In most cases, with computer system problems, McCoy said, word usually comes from Headquarters Marine Corps but in this case, it was he who had to inform them of the anomaly.
“Even the experts at DFAS [Defense Finance and Accounting Service] didn’t see this problem until she identified it,” said McCoy. “This glitch personally affected more than 12,000 Marines worldwide. The dollar figure was staggering and she was the first person to see it. That really says a lot about her attention to detail. She’s the backbone of this building and what we do.”
Lebda’s attention to detail has not gone unnoticed over the years. In her time at the Combat Center, Lebda’s section has yet to fail a Marine Corps Administrative Analysis Team inspection. That included standing an inspection during her time filling in as finance officer, said McCoy.
Throughout her time in Twentynine Palms, Lebda has also become an active member of her community, serving as treasurer for the 29 Palms Community Food Pantry and Outreach Ministries. Lebda said she is extremely proud to be part of that organization, which last year provided food for more than 2,650 families, and more than 525 Thanksgiving dinners.
“On top of all the great work she does, she’s always here, is always in a good mood, treats her Marines well, and is very active in her community,” said McCoy. “You could not pick a nicer person to work with, or who is more worthy of this award.”