Gustave F. Perna
U.S. Army general; COO of the federal Covid-19 response
Born: April 15, 1960, in Rockaway, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2021: Public Service
Early in his long military career, Gustave F. Perna assumed combat was his calling. When a mentor recognized Perna’s knack for logistics, a hero of a different stripe was born—one who would serve his nation not just against foreign enemies, but against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perna grew up in a military family in Northern New Jersey. After graduation from Morris Hills High School, he began his military education at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. Perna was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry, but moved quickly to his chosen field of logistics, earning a business management degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology.
As a logistics officer, Perna was charged with keeping supplies flowing to American soldiers, civilians and military contractors on missions around the world. “All soldiers need food, fuel, boots and bullets,” Perna explained in an interview. He was given several key command assignments, setting high standards for supporting troops abroad not just with military equipment, but with food, clothing, medicine, medical supplies and construction materials. As commander of the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia from July 2008 through October 2009, he led the center’s innovative effort to position building materials in Afghanistan ahead of increased troop levels during Operation Enduring Freedom.
In September 2016, Perna was named the 19th commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, with overall responsibility for the U.S. global military supply chain. He retired with the rank of four-star general in July 2020.
Upon his retirement from the military, Perna was named chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, the White House initiative for a rapid development of a Covid-19 vaccine. He subsequently oversaw the logistics of vaccine distribution as COO of the federal Covid-19 response team. Jeffrey Zients, President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator, described Perna as “a key driver of the success we’ve had.”
A true American hero, Perna’s military awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters; the Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster; the Legion of Merit; a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster; and the Parachutist and Air Assault Badges.