DLA division uses parachutes, partnership to support humanitarian aid

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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For nearly a decade, the Defense Logistics Agency has expanded its humanitarian efforts exponentially by teaming with agencies such as U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to help non-government organizations provide aid to those in need. 

During the past few years, DLA’s Whole of Government Division has repeatedly  helped supply the World Food Programme with needed equipment; most recently, by providing containers and parachutes in order to deliver food and supplies to Syrian refugees. 

“DLA can’t work directly with NGOs; we work with the United Nations representative for the WFP,” said David Kless, division chief for Whole of Government Support in DLA Logistics Operations. “Our role is facilitating that relationship and making sure that the right people are talking.”

Kless said the DLA headquarters team acts as the interagency link to build relationships and allow the supply chain to execute the mission. 

“We had done some work with USAID in the Iraq refugee effort and worked side-by-side with them during Hurricane Matthew in Haiti,” he said. “USAID is responsible for anything outside the U.S. as far as humanitarian relief or disaster support.”

In this case, the WFP executes the mission in Syria to drop food to refugees. They coordinate with DLA through the U.N. to supply the parachutes and containers. 

“We've seen an increase in the number of humanitarian assistance and disaster response support missions levied on DLA over the last five to six years,” Kless said. “For us, success has produced more opportunities to show just how robust our logistics capabilities are.”

Kent Ennis, director of DLA Aviation Business Process Support, said DLA helps WFP purchase items they may not be able to procure immediately through regular acquisition channels.   

“They have come to us on several occasions for low cost containers and high velocity parachutes in an effort to deliver needed supplies,” he said. “The latest request was for 520 of both items.”

Ennis said the requests come into his office and his staff must ascertain whether DLA can support the requirement. Then DLA coordinates actions to provide the items.  

“Usually it’s a quick turnaround time on the material,” Ennis said. “We coordinate with DLA Distribution personnel on how quickly they can pull and prepare the material. So we need to make sure we have appropriate documentation for billing through [DLA] Finance.”

DLA has sold $2.66 million in parachutes and delivery containers to WFP via an agreement between the U.N. and the U.S. government, said Jason Buys, a financial resource officer in DLA Aviation’s Finance and Accounting Division. 

“The request for fulfillment comes through the U.N. and then NORTHCOM to us,” he said. 

DLA Aviation owns the inventory of containers and parachutes. Once the order is placed, the U.N. provides the carriers to transport the items. Buys then verifies the products have been shipped and informs NORTHCOM and U.N. personnel.

“Then I send the direct bill to the WFP, and then they submit by wire the money back to us,” he said. 

Buys said in fiscal 2016, DLA received just one order, but in the current fiscal year, the agency received three.

“We have a lot of these things in stock, so it’s better to sell them and get use out of them,” he said.

Michael Luke, logistics manager at North American Aerospace Defense Command and NORTHCOM, said the U.N. first asked his office about a possible “acquisition cross-service agreement” with DLA Sept. 25, 2015. 

“They wanted it [because] their mission is providing support around the world, and what they were finding out is, a lot of the contractors they used for their support mechanisms were extremely expensive,” Luke said. “So they came to the Department of Defense.” 

The two agencies signed the ACSA in early 2016, giving the U.N. and DoD a new mechanism for providing support.

“They came to us looking for parachutes to drop in Syria for their World Food Programme, and that’s when I started working with DLA, since DLA would have that commodity,” he said. 

The WFP requested parachutes and special containers they could push out of the back of an airplane. Luke said DLA was able to provide the needed items at a much lower cost than other suppliers. 

“The first time, it took a couple of months; now it takes 2-3 days,” he said. “What DLA is doing is a very big deal. There is no faster and quicker [rate of return] on this ACSA order than with DLA.”

All interagency partners involved agree that requests for support show no signs of slowing down.

“We're taking a hard look at our internal mechanisms, to create process consistency and streamline delivery,” Kless said. “These are great missions for DLA that align well with what we do. And we're working to become more effective and efficient at them.”

Kless noted that despite the success of DLA’s support, “we need to do a much better job of collaborating with partners well in advance of a disaster. Since success breeds success, the frequency has also increased each year.”