Fort Belvoir, VA –
There’s no corner store or quick trip into town to restock supplies in the middle of the ocean. With a mission at sea, that’s familiar territory to the Navy and the full focus of the Defense Logistics Agency Navy National Account Manager team
, which works in concert with activities across the agency to ensure literal and figurative smooth sailing.
Michael Olness, customer account manager for the Navy NAM team, describes their role as intermediaries, looking at things from customers’ points of view and keeping watch on their behalf. The team takes on the service’s problems as their own and works issues to make sure the Navy gets what it needs.
To fulfill those needs, the Navy NAM team approaches logistics support with a sense of the unique and often remote locations where the Navy operates.
“If I’m sitting in a Marine camp in any country in the world doing an exercise or an operation, if I need something, I get in a vehicle and I drive to the next camp over. If I’m on a ship in the middle of the Pacific, my nearest ship might be a three-day sail away or more,” said Olness, who spent more than 20 years in the Marine Corps.
Olness’ experience helps give the group a more holistic perspective of the Navy’s mission, said the team’s deputy director, Navy Cmdr. Chris Lounsberry. The rest of team’s background is rooted to the Navy, with time aboard carriers, cruisers and submarines that all pose unique challenges.
“When you’re in a ship at sea you can get your emails and such,” Lounsberry said. “But if you’re on a submarine, that’s a whole different story because you can go dark and can’t communicate for days. Some people outside of the Navy have a hard time fathoming that idea of being disconnected in that way."
Differences in the classification of submarine systems can also make it difficult for logistics systems to communicate.
“They fall off the net pretty often, but they still need to get their parts ordered, received and processed. They still need to get their requisitions in,” Olness said, adding that the team reaches down to the tactical level and communicates with submarine supply departments and submarine commanders to resolve issues.
Though the team is small, members’ experience helps them proactively address the service’s readiness issues.
“If we’re doing our job, we can see problems out on the horizon and engage early on to prevent them from becoming bigger,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kidd, the team’s action officer.
The team reviews reports and analyzes trends from DLA’s Customer Interaction Center
to see which commands call in for help the most, added Navy Chief Petty Officer Loreatha Guzman, the NAM team’s readiness superintendent for logistics operations. Reaching out after noticing a pattern of minor issues can help prevent major ones.
“One month we saw the USS Forrest Sherman had an unusually large number of call-ins just for a destroyer,” Guzman said. “I reached out to a fellow supply chief on the ship and asked what was going on, and what could we do to help. I was able to give her some resources from my experience on a small ship, and from my experience at DLA, I was able to get her the help she needed to get the number of calls down.”
Successful support like this often means building and leaning on relationships forged both at sea and at DLA. Among a relatively small community, if there’s something the team doesn’t know how to handle directly, they find someone who does.
“There’s a saying that the most effective supply officer is the one with a phone and a pen,” Lounsberry said, adding that knowing the right people to call gets results.
“We’re making sure the right people are talking to each other,” Kidd explained. “Essentially, we’re facilitators. We aren’t writing contracts. We aren’t moving pallets. But we’re making sure that the right people talk to the people in need.”
Guzman likened one of the team’s roles to connecting lines across a switchboard. And as much as they connect people, they also serve as translators. She noticed while working in DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office
that a lot of people don’t “speak” Navy.
“When it comes to a joint effort, a lot of people can be more geared toward Army and Air Force methods and procedures,” she said.
And while the other services have dedicated organizations that help facilitate logistics support, such as the Army with Army Materiel Command, the Navy decentralizes supply support, Kidd added.
“So it’s nice and refreshing to have a voice saying ‘Hey, this is not a one-size-fits-all. Sometimes Navy does things different,’” Guzman said.
The NAM team also helps DLA employees understand the Navy’s way of doing things, as with an ongoing DLA Troop Support
project to expedite back orders for hazardous material needed for urgent maintenance by deployed units.
“HAZMAT is hard to manage because of short shelf life, shipping restrictions, customs restrictions and the fact that a large part of the Navy operates forward-deployed overseas,” Kidd said. “Had we not been deployed on ships and submarines and understood how challenging that HAZMAT pipeline can be, we would’ve been less able to make those connections.”
Calling on past knowledge as a customer helps the NAM team in the present, but for military members of the team who will eventually move on to other positions, understanding both DLA and Navy perspectives will pay dividends in the future.
Guzman said her knowledge has grown from only knowing DLA’s 1-800 number to knowing how DLA manages items. That’s information she can take back to the fleet.
“On a ship like a destroyer, daily operations happen quickly. You don’t have a lot of time to stop and learn something new when you come onto the ship,” Olness said. “DLA has a lot of tools, but it’s not very often somebody says, ‘Here, this is how you use all these.’”
Seeing the big picture and providing a personal connection to customers goes hand-in-hand for a team working to make sure nothing’s overlooked.
“DLA is often a numbers business,” Kidd said. “We are very good at the business of logistics, but our role is to augment that with the operational perspective of the customer that sometimes doesn’t fall within the business models.”
“That’s what we bring,” he added. “The team is the relationship between DLA and the Navy.”