Ready ‘Round the Clock

By Dianne Ryder

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People around the world know the Defense Logistics Agency as a logistics provider and combat support agency, but its roles in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance have expanded exponentially in the past decade. The need for teams that can readily deploy to meet those requirements is greater than ever.

Program History

In early 2014, when the Ebola crisis struck West Africa, DLA quickly responded by sending in civilians as well as military members to assist. The problem was that the volunteers lacked official authority for their presence until well into the mission.

That event was an early indication that DLA needed rapid-deployment capability, said Don Bruce, deputy chief of the Joint Logistics Operations Center, part of DLA Logistics Operations.

“The rapid deployment initiative was focused on having the proper authority and the capability to respond rapidly,” he said. “That’s what really drove the initiative that is now a program.”

In October 2015, the Logistics Operations directorate established initial operating capability, Bruce said.

“It was a much smaller version, but it was at least a capability that bridged us through until Jan. 1, 2016, when we had the first teams onboard,” he said.

Current DLA support teams in Kuwait and Afghanistan rotate every six months on a known, recurring mission. For these standing DSTs, the JLOC usually has several months to recruit and train an individual before they deploy, Bruce said.

“Our mission support team is responsible for recruiting, training, equipping and deploying DLA personnel for our DLA support teams, which has literally been going on for decades,” Bruce said. “The rapid deployment teams are much different from our standard DST, though.”

Bruce explained that in an emergency, finding the right people who are ready to go at a moment’s notice is just one challenge.

“We couldn’t always get our team into the theater of operations because in a crisis, there’s competition for the available airlift to move people in,” he said. “You need permission from the combatant commander.”

That permission is ultimately granted by the secretary of defense. Combatant commands submit a request for forces to the Joint Staff, and the requirement is eventually tasked to DLA. But that process takes time. In 2015, former DLA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch charged the JLOC with establishing a rapid deployment program to dramatically reduce the time to get DLA personnel on the ground when and where they were needed.

Bruce said his team did analysis on available options to make the director’s vision a reality.

Strategic Partnering

“We developed what was initially the rapid deployment initiative concept, because in a contingency or crisis scenario if you had to create a DLA support team and deploy it, it was very challenging,” Bruce said. “That’s what caused us in the RDT concept to partner with U.S. Transportation Command — there’s a standing Joint Staff execution order for the Global Response Force, which is a menu of capabilities a combatant commander can look at and pick from.”

Any of the forces in the GRF have to maintain a certain set of standards, such as training, equipment and medical readiness. But if an agency’s capability is on that menu, they’re “pre-approved,” Bruce said.

USTRANSCOM has its Joint Task Force Port Opening as a portion of the GRF, and DLA senior leaders recognized a way for DLA to be included in the GRF.

“We realized that if we could partner with USTRANSCOM, they could help us out in that process with many of the associated readiness requirements,” Bruce said.

Following discussions with senior leaders, DLA built on the relationship and established a Memorandum of Agreement between DLA and USTRANSCOM.

“We derive our authorities through that relationship with USTRANSCOM, and we use it to get airlift in order to send our forces,” Bruce said.

Setting the Standard

Since all the other forces in the GRF are military, DLA had to adapt USTRANSCOM’s process to civilians in setting up the RDT program.

“There weren’t rules in place for how you place a government civilian on that type of requirement to meet those expectations,” Bruce said.

Bruce said they had to work closely with DLA Human Resources.

“We had to build readiness standards, determine a process for screening the individuals to make sure they were medically fit, and train them on all the things they need to be able to do in a deployed environment,” Bruce said. “We now partner with USTRANSCOM and exercise with them at least twice a year in a Turbo Distribution exercise, which is what they use to validate that their force is ready to support the mission.”

The RDTs are now in their second iteration of deployments among the three teams: the Black Team, led by Navy Capt. Paul Haslam, DLA Acquisition chief of staff; the Gold Team, led by Navy Capt. Timothy Phillips, DLA Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office Mission Support Team director; and an alternate team, which augments the other two teams.

Team Architecture

Each team consists of 13 members. In addition to the commander at the colonel/Navy captain level, there is a deputy commander (generally, a GS-15 civilian or military equivalent) and an operations officer (a GS-13/14 or equivalent). The latter positions can be civilians or military members, but they must have a broad knowledge of DLA.

The other members of the team are subject matter experts/liaisons appointed by their organizations according to the relevant supply chain or logistics service:

 

  • Class I: Subsistence, provided by DLA Troop Support
  • Class III: Energy, provided by DLA Energy
  • Class IV: Construction and Barriers, provided by DLA Troop Support
  • One DLA Distribution liaison
  • One DLA Disposition Services liaison
  • Two customer account specialists, provided by various DLA organizations
  • Two information technology application support representatives, provided by DLA Information Operations
  • One DLA General Counsel representative

This Is a Call

Team members can either be nominated by their commanders or directors, or they can apply via the USAJOBS website when the JLOC announces the positions.

Bruce cautions DLA leaders to nominate only qualified people for the three teams.

“Anybody who joins the program will sign an agreement similar to the emergency essential agreement. They state that they understand they’ll be in the program for one year and that they’re subject to deployment,” he said. “The DLA director has placed a high priority on this program. It’s not your full-time job, but your RDT commitment takes precedence when there’s a need.”

Haslam emphasized the importance of having a broad understanding of DLA and its structure, functions and mission.

“If you’re going to be an operations officer or a deputy, you really have to have the full span of understanding of what DLA does as a whole,” he said.

Team commanders put out the call for team members during mid-summer. They also ask if current members want to extend. Prospective new volunteers are vetted first by the leaders of their parent field activity or staff directorate and then screened by the JLOC.

Haslam said he can provide training to hone an individual’s expertise, but some things can’t be taught.

“What’s really difficult is if they don’t have the right disposition or attitude for the job,” he said. “But generally, we haven’t seen that. I’ve never really said no to anybody we’ve sat down with.”

If accepted, team members will go through a standard screening process, including medical tests. If they are deemed medically fit to serve, they’ll be issued a duffel bag, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, Kevlar vest and Kevlar helmet.

“We’ve had a couple of people who haven’t made it through those processes,” Haslam said. “We found out medical things after the fact, so sometimes people fall out. But that’s why we have an alternate team.”

“Generally, the operations officer is a GS-14, but one of my guys had knee surgery, so I moved my operations officer up to be the deputy and I brought in a GS-13 from the alternate team, and he’s my operations officer right now.”

Commitment

“There aren’t many civilians within the Department of Defense who can say they are part of DoD’s GRF,” Bruce said. “As a matter of fact, the only civilians within DoD who can say that are the members of the DLA RDTs.”

Supervisors of volunteers should also recognize the level of commitment, because they’ll need to assign others to pick up the duties of that individual in their absence.

“One of the director’s decisions was that we would ensure each RDT has at least two deployments each year,” Bruce said. “In a crisis situation, the team members give us a capability that is readily available.”

Whether or not DLA is part of the GRF, the national command authority has identified operational plans for different threats and combatant commands must be prepared to support them. And DLA is tasked to support those combatant commands, Bruce said.

Haslam notes that after the medical tests and training, the first step in codifying the team is through the Turbo Distribution exercise. A DLA assessment team of four volunteers is assembled. The DAT flies into the exercise area first.

“That DAT consists of a commander, one contingency contracting person, an information technology person and then the fourth member, who I pick based on what’s going on in the world,” Haslam said. “Once we assess the situation, we’ll look at our different classes of supply and make the call on who we need to pull forward.”

Haslam explained why an information technology specialist is just as important to have on this early advance team as the other three members.

“You’re dead in the water if you can’t communicate,” he said. “The IT guy brings the communications package that can be set up and can actually be run off a car battery [if necessary].”

Within 24 hours, the rest of the team arrives, and they set up camp, Haslam said.

“You’re sleeping in a tent with the sleep system, eating Meals, Ready‑to‑Eat, using a porta-potty, and there are really no showers,” he said. “It’s always based on a simulated scenario. We do that for a week, and what that does is help us work through getting to know people.”

There are incentives associated with being a team member, including overtime, awards and the opportunity to continue with the team after the first year. Bruce also stressed non-monetary rewards, such as unique expertise and experience the team members can list on their resumés.

“Those 13 members of the team really do represent the breadth of DLA’s mission,” he said. “You have subject matter experts on that team who can cover all the supply chains, all the logistics services, communications capability and command and control capability provided through the staff.”

Volunteers should know that being a team member involves certain restrictions while their team is on alert, which occurs in blocks of one to two months, for a total of six months during the year.

“For example, they can’t go on a cruise,” Bruce said. “They can go on leave, but have to stay within three hours of their home, so if an emergency comes up, they can be recalled.”

If a team member has a family or medical emergency, a substitute can be called in from the alternate team.

“Alternates provide us flexibility and can be used as individual replacements or as an entire team,” Bruce said.

‘Superstars’

“On the Black Team, we’ve had the longest [standing] group of people — most of them have been with me for two years,” Haslam said. “After you’ve been with people for two years, you get to know their quirks, you know what motivates them.”

He said this helps build a particularly cohesive team. While each member has their strengths and weaknesses, as a team they are superstars.

“When we went to Korea [for exercise Key Resolve], we were there for two weeks, and we really knocked it out of the park,” Haslam said. “It was amazing what that team did — the amount of requests for information that we answered, the processes, how we understood stuff, how we worked together — and that is really what the success of the whole team is.”

Haslam said he likes to see people come back for another year.

“We’re not asking for rocket science, but once you understand the movements and everything else — then by the time you get in there, you can really make a difference because you understand what it is we’re asking for,” he said.

Phillips has not had a long history with the Gold Team, but his confidence level in his team members’ abilities is high.

“I was really impressed by the quality of the people,” Phillips said. “I’m more confident in them than I am in myself. If I ever need anything, I certainly have backup on my team.”

The team was scheduled for their first Turbo Distribution exercise in early fall of 2016, but it was canceled because of Hurricane Matthew.

“Four of us had the opportunity to participate in the Integrated Advance exercise at Joint Base Guantanamo Bay, so we got a little flavor for working, bringing together a lot of different entities and bringing DLA’s resources to the table,” Phillips said.

Phillips first saw the capabilities of his team during initial training.

“Training gets progressively better as the organization matures,” he said. “They gave us a problem set … a scenario, and then we had to say what we would do.”

Each member of the team briefed the DLA Logistics Operations executive director for operations on how they would handle the scenario based on their expertise and supply chain knowledge.

“That was really a great capstone event for our team and will probably be repeated in the future because it worked out so well,” Phillips said. “Nobody is an island, and everybody worked together really well to rise to the occasion.”

Bruce emphasized the team members’ dedication to duty.

“As civilians, they’re willing to commit to being on a 24-hour notice, deploying for any crisis, any contingency, no matter what it is — they’ll volunteer up front and say, ‘Yes, I’ll go,’” he said. “When the nation needs them most, they may actually get the opportunity to be among the first people to answer the call.”