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News | Aug. 18, 2017

Eliminating backorders keeps warfighter cooking

By Shawn J. Jones DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

When soldiers want an oven or sailors needs a freezer, the Defense Logistics Agency doesn’t want them to wait.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain employees, the number of backorders for military food service equipment and food field equipment items has been hovering near zero for the past several months.

This represents a stark contrast to August 2011, when the supply chain’s backorders grew to more than 2,000.

Since 2013, they have averaged no more than 100 back orders at any time before driving it down to zero in early July.

“It’s an accomplishment we’re proud of,” said Thomas Hall, the supervisor of Subsistence’s Group Rations and Equipment branch.

Backorders can lead to quality-of-life and morale-related concerns for service members stationed across the globe.

“If they require a griddle assembly, and we don’t have it, well they’re not eating pancakes that day or anything else they make on the griddle,” Hall said.

He said his team and fellow Subsistence co-workers in food-equipment acquisitions strive to ensure their customers have the equipment they need to feed the warfighter. An increase in backorders could mean more service members stationed in remote locations must eat prepackaged Meals-Ready-to-Eat, known as MREs, instead of a freshly prepared meal.

“It’s all about readiness,” said Rich Faso, Subsistence’s deputy director. “No matter the item or the priority, it is important to the overall mission.”

Early last year, former Subsistence Director Navy Capt. Chris Mosher challenged food-equipment employees to reduce backorders.

Hall said they started a regularly recurring meeting to specifically deal with backorders, and they soon identified and implemented several process improvements.

First, they improved communication. Material planners developed a weekly report that helped contracting officers prioritize their efforts in a manner that would mitigate the effects of product demand surges or inventory shortages.

Next, a team was established to track orders after contracts were awarded, said Dean Schoendorfer, the supervisor in charge of the food service equipment buying team. The new post-award team identified several issues, known as quality notifications, which caused delivery disruptions due to minor processing errors.

With the help of quality assurance specialists, quality technicians, resolution specialists, and other employees in the organization, the post-award team rectified many of the disruptions, ensuring the warfighter received their product in a more timely manner.

“We started with a lot of QNs, but we worked it down to about a dozen,” Schoendorfer said. “We really worked on quality notifications to make sure stock didn’t become blocked due to unrelated errors, such as incorrect labeling.”

The food-equipment team also conducts a monthly meeting with the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, in Natick, Massachusetts, in an effort to increase the lines of communication. The meetings help the team identify potential issues before they became major problems. 

Hall said no individual alone could have reached the zero backorder goal.

“This is truly a group effort, from supplier operations to customer operations and our support folks,” he said. “We have a lot of dedicated people who took it as a personal goal to get backorders down to zero.”

While the team met its goal, Faso said there’s always room for improvement when it comes to supporting the warfighter.

“Overall, when put into perspective, of the thousands of orders we receive, only a small portion are missed,” Faso said. ”But to that customer, it doesn’t matter how great we were on everything else to everybody else. To them, we missed, and that bothers us and will make us better suppliers.”