A Conversation with ... DLA’s Regional Commanders

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Army Col. Derrin Williams, commander of DLA Central Command & Special Operations Command; Army Col. Lisa Keough, commander of DLA Europe & Africa; and Navy Capt. Timothy Daniels, commander of DLA Pacific discuss the recent command-and-control change to streamline how DLA supports customers in combatant commands — otherwise known as C2.

Could one of you offer readers a basic description of the command-and-control initiative known as C2?


Williams: For DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM, we combined existing assets — my DLA support teams in Afghanistan and Kuwait — with assets from DLA Energy (DLA Energy Middle East), DLA Disposition Services (DLA Disposition Services Directorate–Central) and DLA Distribution (Distribution Depot Naval Support Activity Bahrain) — into a single brigade-level organization to serve as the single face to the customer for all DLA support to the CENTCOM commander, component commanders (Army Central Command, Navy Central Command and Marine Corps Forces Central Command) and the SOCOM commander.

So how were your commands structured before the C2 transition?

Williams: In the CENTCOM area of responsibility, Disposition Services, Energy and Distribution each had a “silo of excellence.” All those were feeding back to their headquarters, all of them doing great and wonderful things. But what it meant on the ground was that each one had an inject to the component headquarters in the AOR.

All we’ve done is flatten the organization so the single person interacting with the component headquarters, as well as SOCOM, is the regional commander — in my instance, the forward commander. We didn’t sever all ties between the local primary-level field activity organizations and the PLFA headquarters. We just formalized the information flow, so it now flows through my headquarters as it pertains to operational aspects of their missions.

All the supply chain aspects of the mission still belong to the PLFA headquarters in terms of writing contracts, funding and things of that nature. But for operational support to the warfighter, that kind of cycles through my command now. It’s an additional responsibility for us.

Daniels: Derrin captured it perfectly there. The issue before was, if the geographic combatant commander or one of the subunified commanders had an energy-related operational issue, they’d go up the DLA Energy channels to get up to the DLA Energy commander. The same for a distribution issue.

So essentially, C2 has singled up that touchpoint, where they go to the regional commander now, and we do the interface across the DLA enterprise to provide the response. So it really simplifies things from the customer standpoint, in terms of how they engage. And then we work the internal DLA dialogues to get at whatever their internal operational issue is.

So with C2, the combatant commander only needs to worry about getting in touch with your office?

Keough: Pretty much. From the Europe and Africa perspective, the one thing it helps create efficiencies with is exercise and planning alone. Before, Energy and Troop Support would each do their own thing for exercises.

Now with C2 and our consolidated Joint Logistics Operations Center, we have a representative from each organization, and you don’t have those “silos of excellence” Derrin referred to. It creates a lot of efficiencies, with the regional commands setting priorities for the support and relaying the requirements for the exercises and for the planning.

And with Europe Command and Africa Command, even though the regional commands all have the single face to the combatant commander, supporting them for the enterprise, the regions each have a slightly different take, depending on what combatant command you’re supporting. And the challenges are a little different.

For DLA Europe & Africa, I think the one thing we’re really happy with is the exercises. We’ve been working with the acquisition directorates of the combatant commands on the exercise design. We’ll be the first entity that is part of a training audience. For most exercises, DLA is just providing a response cell. The Joint Staff is using us for one of our exercises and incorporating DLA now as the training audience for the exercise. So we’re pretty happy about that.

And like both Capt. Daniels and Col. Williams said, it’s all about support to the warfighter and making it simplified. Instead of contacting seven people for an exercise, they only have to contact one person.

Could you explain what a training audience is?

Keough: In past exercises, DLA typically provided only a response cell to help combatant commands train the staff at the tier 1 level. And now we’ll have training objectives for DLA in JTIMS [the Joint Training Information Management System]. The Joint Staff will be tracking those, and we’ll be focused on achieving those objectives.

What was the impetus for the change? Were there problems with the old structure, or was this more about just making a really good system even better?

Williams: Lisa and Tim brought up a critical point in terms of efficiency. The reason we call that “silos of excellence” — it wasn’t because someone was failing. Each one of these silos was making it happen for me on the ground. But in terms of efficiencies and unity of effort, aligned under one single command, that’s what this change allows.

In my AOR, where things rapidly change, that correlates to speed. So they come directly to the regional commander, and we have authority — to an extent, in terms of on-the-ground operational aspects — to be able to effect change or direct what needs to happen to support the warfighter. And then we just tie that in with the PLFAs. And that’s what the combatant command sees — that unity of effort and efficiency gained.

Keough: Like Derrin said, I don’t think things were failing, and I don’t think we never met a requirement. I just think part of the DLA leadership saw the different stovepipes.

One thing we in DLA tend to not realize is: Terminology matters. And the terminology the enterprise uses isn’t necessarily the same terminology the customer uses at the combatant command. So that’s another aspect the authority and regional command brings to the table — that translation of terminology. Because it’s bad enough when you’re talking about the joint warfighter and talking across military services and trying to understand the requirements. But when it comes to a supply chain, a PLFA, or a J-code or D-code [headquarters] requirement, it requires a little translation.

And I think the regional commands bring that operational translation and set priories, whereas before, DLA Energy just did its thing if they went to them. But if there were two service components that needed the energy support, it might not have been prioritized right — that one gets it first versus the other warfighter. So I think helping set priorities and translating the requirements is the big bang the C2 authority gives us for the customers.

And our region, just like the others, has multiple colonels and Navy captains. And I think DLA leadership, during strategic engagements, tended to hear it was a little confusing as to who has the lead. Who do I go to for this? Who do I go to for that? And I think DLA leadership wanted to simplify it for the customer.

Daniels: One other point to Lisa’s comment: It really aligns well, I think, with what the service components do as well. So you kind of standardized DLA’s presence within the regions.

From a service component standpoint: Out here in the Pacific, if PACOM has a Navy issue, they go to Pacific Fleet. If they have an Army issue, they go to U.S. Army Pacific Command. An Air Force issue, they go to Pacific Air Forces. Or Marine Forces Pacific for Marine Corps issues. And now they come to DLA Pacific if they have DLA equities that need to get addressed.

So instead of having the DLA Energy 0-6 and the DLA regional command sitting at the table, you’d have either the DLA Europe & Africa, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM or DLA Pacific representative sitting at the table. And then we’d work within the DLA enterprise to address that. So it really aligns with what the services do within the regions, as well.

Williams: In my AOR, how we couched it is that now, we fill an identified capability gap in centralized C2 for deployed PLFA units in the CENTCOM AOR. Everyone knew we had PLFA units out there. Everyone knew they had headquarters units outside the AOR. But inside the AOR, we could clearly see that the components and combatant commander had to look for a rep for each one of those silos of excellence, to get anything done.

Similar to what Tim said, now all they have to do now is just call one entity. All they have to do is contact us, and we make the phone calls and do all the coordination — vice making one call to DLA Energy, one to DLA Distribution, and it’s all for the same mission. Just give it to us, and we’ll coordinate the support of DLA to that mission.

What kind of feedback have you each received from customers since C2 began?

Williams: Here is where DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM is different from DLA Pacific and DLA Europe & Africa: My command is located inside the combatant command (CENTCOM) headquarters, nested in the CENTCOM [Logistics] Directorate. Therefore, feedback on DLA performance is instantaneous, to say the least.

With that said, the initial feedback is that the ability to push issues to one node, to resolve/mitigate internally to DLA is greatly appreciated. It doesn’t cut them off from any of the PLFA entities in the theater, because I encourage dialogue and because each PLFA has a specialized skill set and SMEs internally to resolve or mitigate any concerns associated with any mission in the CENTCOM AOR. The difference is, we are included in all of the discussion or development of the resolution issue. In some cases, this is business as usual; in other cases, we’re establishing the information flow. In the end, it’s uniform across the board now, because of the C2 change. Therefore, the director’s intent is being met in the CENTCOM AOR.

Keough: I’ve always heard accolades given to DLA anyway. And yes, they like C2. It streamlines the interface. It shortens the response time.

But on the flip side, from the PLFAs in my region — the commanders and the ops and the plans-and-exercises side of the house — we also help [speed up] efforts and improve communication within the enterprise. So being tied to the J3 and the director and being equivalent with the J-codes and on the PLFA level — an authority C2 has given each of us as regional commanders — I can now better set priorities and get information sometimes before those commanders in the region hear it from their PLFAs. So I think it improves communication among the enterprise, and I’ve heard that feedback from some of the commanders in my region also. So not only just accolades from the customer, but also within the enterprise, I think it’s improved communication and made DLA’s response times better.

Daniels: Definitely, it has sped up the responsiveness and the communication with the customer out here — PACOM in the Pacific, as well as our subunified commands, U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. Forces Japan.

But Lisa hit on a great point earlier: It has really streamlined the communication among the PLFA presence in the region, in particular on the plans and exercises aspect. We have really improved the cross talk in terms of a planning support effort and exercise support effort to a COCOM or service component out here. We’ve really simplified things and are producing better support to the customer through improved external and internal communications.

Williams: My location inside of the CENTCOM headquarters coupled with my liaison officer’s location inside of the Operations, Plans and Distribution Branches of the CENTCOM [Logistics Directorate]; inside of SOCOM, SOCCENT and MARCENT headquarters; and inside of the component headquarters in the AOR allows my organization to deeply root itself in the planning and decision cycle of the COCOM and components. Therefore, we’re able to get ahead of the requirements and know what’s coming across the horizon in terms of emerging missions. The end result is responsive support to the warfighter.

The added benefit under C2 is that I can now bring all DLA entities in the AOR together in our theater synchronization meeting and share the information — according to classification, of course. The information sharing is amplified when, on occasion, the supported warfighter will brief the forum on their plan. Synergy at its best!

The end result is the PLFA entities in the CENTCOM AOR become CENTCOM current and future operations SMEs for their PLFAs. If any PLFA has a question about an emerging mission or steady-state operation, their entities in the AOR all have increased awareness — not only of how the PLFA is supporting the mission, but also, because of the dialogue, of how other PFLAs are supporting the same mission.

How about feedback from the combatant commanders?

Keough: Everyone’s always pleased with DLA’s support, in terms of what they get and how fast they get it. They don’t see all the struggle behind the scenes. In my AOR, other than the quick action on different issues, having one person to deal with — that’s what they appreciate. Vice just throwing the DLA issue in the air and seeing who catches it, they can push it to one person and have us work all aspects of the supporting one of the operations.

Daniels: From the Pacific side, extremely positive feedback from both the geographic component commander out here, as well as our subunified commanders. For example, as we lead into exercise season out in Korea, we have really singled up the DLA presence out there and are a lot more responsive in terms of how we prepare for and execute that exercise.

And to Lisa’s point, I think out here in the Pacific as well, I think we’ll start to exercise DLA as a training audience within the exercise cycle. We’re trying to insert ourselves earlier in the planning cycle, so we are able to test DLA support concepts to find areas where we can improve support overall.

Could any of you share any challenges along the way? Or was it all smooth sailing?

Williams: Smooth sailing? I wouldn’t categorize it as that. [Laughter from group.] But all the challenges were discussed during various working groups established by Logistics Operations. In the end, the working groups proved to be invaluable to the overall understanding of any second or third order effects of the C2 change. In addition, there were multiple briefs to [DLA Logistics Operations Director] Rear Adm. [Vincent] Griffith and [Deputy Director] Mr. [Mike] Scott to adjudicate any friction points and provide additional guidance.

We would then brief the DLA director on the updated status of our respective C2 transition and associated requirement needs. It was truly a collaborative effort to ensure we addressed the C2 transition in a holistic manner. SOCOM was just tracking the change and wondering, “Will our support be diminished?” And in the [CENTCOM] AOR, the question was, “Is everything going to stay the way it is, in terms of support?” In terms of the warfighter, we had to ensure the transition was transparent and didn’t impact ongoing operations. So we at DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM reorganized to ensure we didn’t lose any touchpoints.

For example: Prior to the C2 transition, we were arrayed in functional branches of the Plans, Operations, and Business Management Office. To caveat, we didn’t have a joint logistics operations center. So with C2, we developed a cross-functional organization consisting of the CENTCOM Support Branch, our one face to CENTCOM, with rapid-fire information flow; SOCOM Support Branch, executing the same mission for SOCOM; and our Business Management Office. So everyone still has their touchpoints.

So communicating was a big part of making this work?

Daniels: Communicating with the customers as well as internally. Having the entirety the DLA workforce in a specific region understanding what was taking place and how things were structurally changing. I’ve done a number of regionwide town halls and have done them throughout the region when I travel, to talk about the C2 changes. It’s really taken a lot of great communication with the PLFAs and their leadership, plugged into the routine PLFA battle rhythms across each of the PLFA activities as we work through this — everything from situation summaries to who’s going to report on what.

As an example, on the Energy side, an operational issue can really bleed over to a supply chain issue. It’s been a lot of direct communications with [DLA Energy Commander Air Force] Brig. Gen. [Martin] Chapin to make sure if I was going to report on something, we de-conflicted that and vice versa. I’ve been extremely impressed with the way as regional commanders we’ve been able to talk directly with PLFA leadership as well as DLA headquarters leadership to effect the C2 changes, to make it successful.

Putting aside C2, are there any larger trends affecting your commands or AORs that the DLA workforce should be aware of?

Keough: The biggest thing is, Europe and Africa is a changing environment. EUCOM is transitioning to a warfighting combatant command. And I think moving from assurance to deterrence is a key aspect for EUCOM.

And then with our support to AFRICOM, it’s just harder. We use “2.5 times” on anything you do. It’s 2.5 times harder, it takes 2.5 times longer and it’s probably 2.5 times more expensive when you do something in Africa.

But I want to say that C2 has strengthened DLA as an enterprise. It’s made us stronger in supporting the warfighter. And I just appreciate everybody’s support out there. It has not been smooth sailing, but I think the execution of C2 has gone as good as it can go, because of all the support from the enterprise from everybody.

Williams: I would add that it’s also strengthened the relationship between the three of us. I knew we had differences, but now I clearly understand their challenges and the differences that we have. And we can feed off each other in terms of executing and resolving problems.

Daniels: I learn a lot from the conversations we have with each other. I think it’s been very beneficial.

On the Pacific side: One thing we always talk about when folks come out here is the tyranny of distance. You have the East Coast interactions early in the morning out here, and that bleeds over across the International Date Line to the interactions in the afternoon. And I think it’s also true for Lisa; it’s her evening and my early morning when we’re in some of these forums.

One of the challenges that our theater is working is the growth of some near-peer adversaries or elements. Same with the Europe and Africa side — especially Europe. How do we get at that? It’s very complex, from a logistics standpoint, in how we plan and execute support for the warfighter in the Pacific theater. You have an expansive theater, and you have a lot of different concepts being explored out here — “dynamic basing” being one of them. How do we logistically get at supporting some of these warfighter concepts?

Another term being put out there is “multi-domain battle.” How do we as logisticians make sure we’re poised to support the full spectrum of that multi-domain battle?

Williams: The first thing I would tell the workforce is that DLA is winning in the CENTCOM/SOCOM AOR. But because of those successive wins, I think we’ll see an emerging trend of continued reliance on DLA subject-matter experts, as well as capability, in the CENTCOM AOR. And really, that’s dictated by the force-manning levels that are imposed, which we can’t exceed. Those allow DLA to fill critical gaps in the theater, bringing to bear SME and the capability we bring from across the globe.

A lot of times, we allude to the analogy of the duck floating across the placid lake. On the surface it looks effortless, but underneath, there’s a lot of work that goes on in — in DLA Pacific and DLA Europe & Africa as well as DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM — to make it happen.