Members of the U.S. military have guarded freedom’s door on the Korean Peninsula more than 60 years, ready to defend on a moment’s notice. Supporting them at U.S. bases are Defense Logistics Agency employees, quietly keeping U.S. Forces Korea ready, if called on, to make good on the motto “fight tonight.”
Terry Harrington, manager of DLA Disposition Services’ 24-acre disposal yard in Gimcheon, reflected on how even daily tasks have a greater meaning in this uneasy peace.
“We’re cognizant of … just how precarious and unstable things truly are,” Harrington said. “I tell my people that whether they’re driving a forklift or destroying equipment, we don’t want in the enemy’s hands, they’re contributing to warfighter readiness. Because of them, our warfighters are ready.”
USFK personnel stationed in South Korea know the country and its northern neighbor are only under what is technically a temporary cease-fire, not a permanent treaty. The bloody, three-year Korean War, which Harrington’s father fought in, ended in 1953 with an armistice that’s been repeatedly tested.
But every year and decade since, U.S. and allied nations have perfected the plans that would be required for any future military action. And logistics has always been an essential part of that.
“Our support in this time of armistice is pretty smooth,” said DLA Pacific Commander Navy Capt. Tim Daniels. “During a contingency, we would provide the same kind of support but with a larger footprint. That means bringing in additional experts from the [major subordinate commands]. And our rapid deployment teams and other DLA support teams across the agency could also help meet increased demands.”
Daniels’ team of planners and commodity experts work with U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii to integrate DLA into military planning and operations. More than 100 DLA employees on the Korean Peninsula provide daily support. They include more planners, teams from MSCs like DLA Disposition Services and DLA Distribution, as well as warfighter support representatives and DLA liaisons co-located with key USFK units. A representative from DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office is also there to arrange operational contracts that streamline support for all the services.
Customers are spread from the demilitarized zone to the southern port of Busan, but the ongoing Korea Transformation Initiative will soon consolidate most forces at one of two enduring hubs: Camp Humphreys in central South Korea and Daegu, a southeastern city that’s home to a small DLA Logistics Operations Center at Camp Henry and a DLA Energy team at Camp Walker. Daegu is also 14 miles from Camp Carroll, a supply staging ground since the late 1950s, where DLA Distribution manages materiel.
As units on the peninsula move south from USFK’s current headquarters in Seoul to Camp Humphreys, DLA will follow. A new DLA Pacific Korea headquarters is scheduled to open there in April 2018. For DLA’s fuel experts, unit relocations intensify an already busy schedule as the agency adjusts its footprint to best serve the warfighter.
DLA Energy Pacific at Korea Commander Army Lt. Col. Faith Chamberlain and her team are working to meet a year-end deadline to close one of multiple fuel facilities, according to U.S. and Korean government agreements, while opening a new one at Camp Humphreys.
“As my team does the hard work of clearing out seven different tanks at the old facility, testing that fuel and distributing it to other tanks throughout Korea, they’re also making sure the new facility meets contracting specifications and is testing fuel there,” Chamberlain said.
“At the same time, we’re anticipating an increase in drills where warfighters test contingency operations,” she said, adding that the pace of business has doubled in just a few months.
The moves have dramatically increased work for disposal experts, too.
“Some of these closing bases have been around for almost 70 years,” Harrington said. “It’s like moving out of your house; units are finding a lot of junk they don’t need anymore. They can’t just throw it away, because it’s on their property books and we don’t want it to end up in the wrong hands. So they’re bringing it to us.”
Getting equipment to DLA’s disposal yard is easy for customers, since it’s in a city that sits along a major highway and a rail line. The facility was built in 2010 with the relocation of troops nearby at Camp Humphreys in mind.
But the agency will make it even easier for units to transfer equipment when it opens a new facility at Camp Humphreys in 2018. This will significantly increase receipt and storage capacity and help Army units as they continue to return items ranging from individual equipment to tracked vehicles.
Moving new equipment to troops is the work of DLA Distribution Korea Commander Army Lt. Col. Gary Whittacre and his staff at Camp Carroll.
“We have dedicated trucks that go out daily with deliveries to 13 supply-support activities and other customers. Because we’re … in the center of Korea, those trucks spend an average of just four to five hours getting to our most distant locations,” Whittacre said.
Materiel destined for Korea is collected at DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California, then flown to Osan Air Base or shipped to Busan via commercial carriers. Air shipments take a few days, and surface shipments take much longer. But it takes only one day, and often less, for equipment to be offloaded at Camp Carroll, grouped according to destination, loaded onto outbound trucks and delivered.
“Ninety percent of the materiel we receive is shipped and receipted to the unit in less than 24 hours after it comes through our doors,” Whittacre said.
DLA Distribution also stores thousands of items, including stock reserved for use in a contingency and repair parts commonly required by maintenance units.
“The military has equipment here that we know has a high probability for repair parts, so item managers forward that stock to our warehouse and we manage it until a unit drops a request for it,” Whittacre explained. “Customers don’t have to wait for stuff to be sent over from California; we can put it on a truck and they’ll have it the next day.”
Item managers from DLA’s major subordinate commands correspond weekly with military supply personnel at units like the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 2nd Infantry Division, to determine what to provide ahead of the need — items known as forward stock.
A recent analysis by DLA Pacific and Army units, for example, evaluated which items were vital to maintaining the readiness of critical weapons systems needed to support USFK’s “fight tonight” posture.
“The result was a recommendation to forward-stock critical items in Korea. It was the first request of its kind for the Army here,” said Sly Ahn, DLA Pacific chief for operations in Asia.
Collaboration with warfighters in Korea has also shaped how the agency provides materiel for countering weapons of mass destruction, he explained.
“A key part of the concept is DLA’s ability to ‘kit’ items, meaning that DLA can group multiple items under a single item number to streamline ordering and delivery of material to customers. The plan is to designate a site where CWMD kitting operations will occur, test the building of kits as a proof of concept, and then add CWMD kitting and sustainment to operational plans around the globe,” Ahn said.
In 2020, DLA Distribution will open a new state-of-the-art facility at Camp Carroll to store materiel like those CWMD kits and millions of maps. The maps include sea charts, aerial charts and topographical maps that would be used by incoming units in a contingency.
Annual training exercises like Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian are an important part of how warfighters prepare for possible real-world events. They also give DLA the chance to rehearse logistics support and keep up with support plans that are susceptible to change due to the high turnover rate of military members in Korea, Daniels added.
During these exercises, DLA Pacific stands up a 24-hour logistics operations center manned with liaisons who can answer urgent calls for support and help solve problems like transportation delays.
“Our rapid deployment teams and DLA support teams also fly in to participate in the exercises, so customers get to see the broad scope of DLA’s expertise,” Daniels said. “And these exercises help us make continual improvements in our support, based on lessons learned.”
U.S. forces also participate in numerous routine, multinational exercises in other Pacific nations, like Japan, Thailand and Australia, that draw support from forces and DLA assets in Korea. The exercises help DLA iron out how it supports allied nations, and they give U.S. and South Korean military leaders the opportunity to hone the agreements that authorize the two nations to provide mutual support — not only on the peninsula but even in distant operations, such as those in the Middle East, Daniels noted.
“During Operation Pacific Reach, we saw the great level of interoperability between U.S. and Korean forces to the point where Korean forces were doing maintenance on U.S. equipment and vice versa,” he said. This really shows how closely integrated and tight we are in the realm of logistics.”
The hectic schedule of exercises also includes non-combatant evacuation rehearsals for families of DLA employees in Korea and DLA civilian personnel who aren’t considered emergency-essential. The exercises are a chance to review emergency data for non-combatant evacuees and for them to practice what they would do in an evacuation.
“This makes our employees and families familiar with what would actually happen [in a conflict]. Often it’s the unknown or uncertainty that leads to anxiety in these situations,” Whittacre said, adding that DLA is also prepared to provide disaster relief items like cots, bottled water and meals in support of non-combatant evacuations and foreign disaster-relief efforts.
Other contingency preparations include DLA’s use of the agency’s Joint Reserve Force Individual Mobilization Augmentee Program, which lets the activity train DLA reservists to test fuel at South Korean refineries and conduct batch testing on fuel products like jet propellant.
“This helps us build a bench of seasoned quality assurance representatives who understand the uniqueness of business on the peninsula and who are ready to augment the team if a contingency were to occur,” Chamberlain said.
And since DLA fuel points are often used by forces not regularly stationed in Korea, DLA Energy also oversees maintenance and repair programs for fuel infrastructure there. Recent work arranged by DLA Energy and DLA Installation Support fixed scores of deficiencies at fuel points used by a Marine Corps unit that could be a key player in any future action, even though it’s based elsewhere in the Pacific.
“If something were to happen, these facilities would be really important to forces who need fuel to carry out their mission,” Chamberlain explained. “So providing regular maintenance and repair contributes to a strong defense posture.”
“We’re not just patching things up or applying a Band-Aid fix; we’re making sure these facilities are in good working order for the next 10 years and beyond,” she added.
Leaders say that in any potential future conflict, U.S. and allied forces would greatly benefit from DLA’s longstanding presence and partnerships with local nationals and vendors who provide goods and services.
“South Korea is a very capable first-world country that’s continually growing,” Daniels said. “Even though we’re not in an active fight, we’re already doing daily business with some of the same companies and customers we’d work with during a contingency.”
Whittacre added that decades of continuity between U.S. and South Korea mean both nations won’t have to spend precious time establishing critical support during an operation.
“The institutional knowledge we have here would be invaluable when you consider situations like we had in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we had to create brand new ways of providing logistics support while also being worried about force protection and convoying material to austere locations,” he said.
Whittacre and Harrington agree that the local-national workforce, making up more than half of DLA’s employees in Korea, are as loyal and dedicated to the U.S. mission as their military counterparts.
“Our local nationals come in the door each morning ready to work hard, and that’s a benefit to both the U.S. and South Korean governments,” Harrington said.
News reports of increasing missile tests make it even more important that DLA employees avoid complacency, he noted, citing a recent news report that under the administration of the current leader of North Korea, there have been twice as many missile tests in the last three years as during the previous leaders combined.
“It seems like there’s a new threat every day, so we have to know our jobs and be ready for the worst, Harrington said. “Warfighters on the front line are depending on us.”