Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
Former Army Staff Sgt. Todd Lutz regularly rolled through Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 on a two-and-a-half-ton cargo truck to make rations runs.
Lutz and four of his fellow 75th Ranger Regiment cooks were trans-porting food to feed a task force deployed to counter a warlord’s attacks on a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The book and movie “Black Hawk Down” depicted Task Force Ranger’s mission to capture the warlord’s two top lieutenants and the ensuing, bloody battle after two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu’s Bakara market.
The five cooks prepared meals to feed 530 troops in the task force, made up various special operations units, including the cooks’ fellow Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. It was a food-service mission that normally calls for 17 soldiers to support.
So Lutz is no stranger to the perspectives of the 290,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines he now helps feed throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
He’s a customer operations supervisor with Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Europe & Africa. From Kaiserslautern, Germany, he leads a team of 19 dispersed throughout five countries.
His team is the face to its military customers and the forward element for the global subsistence supply chain based out of DLA Troop Support in Philadelphia.
They tailor food support based on their customers’ requirements, whether those customers are participating in exercises in Europe, in need of specific dietary meals or navigating customs to deliver rations to a remote location within Africa’s 11.7 million square miles.
Lutz’s 30 years of experience, in food service and leading soldiers, help him oversee a team that requires “mature competence in communication, critical thinking and collaboration skills” to support the “complex” areas where their customers operate, he said.
‘University of Hooah’
Lutz was born in Minnesota and eventually moved to Wisconsin. But since enlisting in 1986, he considers himself “from the Army.” He retired as a first sergeant after 21 years of Army service.
He also served as a drill sergeant. He later trained noncommissioned officers during his last assignment with the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officers Academy in Grafenwöhr, Germany.
Being in the Ranger Regiment and airborne qualified provided Lutz a perspective to appreciate the good things in life, he said.
“Surviving a 500-foot jump, hanging from a tree upside down and sleeping on the cold, hard ground were true character builders,” he said. “As long as I’m not sleeping on the ground or getting shot at, life’s good.
“How lucky was I to be mentored, with a 70- to 100-pound ruck on my back, on such Ranger science as how to associate terrain to a map or call in birds to evacuate casualties, under 30-percent moonlit skies in dark forests, by a Ranger-rolled-patrol-capped, dip-spitting, hardcore infantry Ranger NCO?” Lutz said.
Joining the Army as a cook allowed him an opportunity to join the Ranger Regiment. He’s done everything in food service, from ordering food supplies, picking cases from pallets in a ware-house, delivering orders, to “the cooking and serving of food for hungry Rangers,” he said.
That experience helped Lutz develop the problem-solving skills needed to support customers in the unpredictable areas where they operate.
“I’ve been in similar situations in some of the dustiest, nastiest, all-expense paid, exotic ‘vacation’ spots at remote ends of the earth,” Lutz said.
An Army Marches on Its Stomach
The Continental Congress passed legislation in 1775 to provide soldiers fighting the American Revolution with meat, milk, rice, bread and beans or peas. But food preservation techniques hadn’t been developed, and perishables were rarely edible by the time they reached the field.
Soldiers died and suffered from diseases such as scurvy. Their morale also suffered.
DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain now works with regional food vendors to feed military dining facilities all over the world, ensure Navy ships at sea are stocked with fresh food and provide soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan with a taste of home for the holidays.
Lutz’s team has a vital role in that support, said Rich Faso, deputy director of the Subsistence supply chain in Philadelphia.
“The Subsistence team in Europe and Africa is critical to our customer service in the very strategic [areas of responsibility] of Europe, Africa and the Middle East,” Faso said. “Their knowledge and expertise of Class I subsistence and their awareness of the environment in these AORs, as well as being in the same time zone, provides great comfort to our supported customers.”
According to Lutz, military food service operations and subsistence provision is a consistent, three-times-per-day, seven-days-a-week mission to our customers. Our customers are based in some of the most complex, arduous and dangerous zones.
His team manages food procurement for exercises, operations and Navy ships throughout three continents in 121 countries, so that military food-service operators can feed their units’ missions.
“Our sole existence is to serve our customers,” Lutz said of his team.
They want to make subsistence support as easy as possible for their customers and ensure their processes include the warfighter perspective, Lutz said.
Team members travel to Army sustainment commands to conduct pre-deployment training on subsistence operations. The training is one of the first steps in developing strong relationships with those units as they lean on DLA to sustain the forces during their deployments.
Customers are able to reach Lutz’s team 24/7, he said. The team adjusts their method of communication to their customers’ technological capabilities and geographical location.
They’ve even received customer requirements from remote bases in Afghanistan that were first scribbled on toilet paper, Lutz said.
“Adopting a mentality of total ownership of a customer’s perspective helps to ensure that decisions are made from a customer-based view,” Lutz said.
Empowering His Team
Aysu Cesmebasi works with subsistence customers as a tailored vendor logistics specialist on Lutz’s team. She wondered how she would fit in on the team when she arrived in Germany in February 2014.
Not only did Lutz make his expectations clear, he showed confidence in Cesmebasi’s ability to work with customers and backed her up, she said.
When a vendor had a problem providing rations to an Army unit in Africa Cesmebasi supported, Lutz encouraged her to work it out. She talked with the vendor and the unit to discover a disconnect in the rations deliveries.
She facilitated a solution in which the vendor began delivering the rations directly to the unit, saving time and money, Cesmebasi said.
“He’s always encouraging us to re-evaluate and analyze our support,” she said about Lutz, “always encouraging us to find better solutions.”
Cesmebasi also serves as a food service warrant officer in the Army Reserves. She said a lot of Lutz’s leadership carries over from the military to their civilian careers.
Lutz earned an award in 1999 through the Army suggestion program for a handbook he created. It consolidated parts of the Army common task training guide and the NCO manual, with additional notes and pictures, and was designed for soldiers to use in the field.
“In the Rangers, everything I needed was in two pockets, including the Ranger handbook,” Lutz said.
Lutz can’t package all of his leadership and food-service experience into one handy guide. But he constantly shares what he can.
“He continuously mentors, stressing continuity and standard operating procedures,” Cesmebasi said, “always to ensure seamless support to our customers.”