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News | April 30, 2020

Pentagon’s logistics agency pivots to support national COVID-19 response

By Chris Erbe

The agency that traditionally contributes to America’s military readiness with items like fuel and food has so far ordered over $920 million in lifesaving supplies and equipment to support the nation’s COVID-19 response. 

Time-tested processes and partnerships developed during past humanitarian assistance operations enable the Defense Logistics Agency to provide supplies and services that few organizations, public or private, can match, said DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams. 

“While DLA is a combat logistics support agency whose mission is to support our military services and combatant commands, its support to the whole of government during times of national crisis is indispensable,” he said of the agency. It manages about $42 billion in annual sales for the military services, 11 combatant commands and 42 federal agencies, as well as partner and allied nations. 

DLA has supported the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response by increasing production and acquisition of critical items through existing large-scale contracts across multiple supply chains.  

“Our outreach to industry has been ongoing for years with strategic supplier alliances, prime vendor relationships and other tailored logistics vehicles,” said Tim Stark, DLA ombudsman. “These partnership-type connections allow us the flexibility to respond rapidly during times of stress on the industrial base like we’re seeing today.” 

By late April, the agency had procured over 4 million N95 respirator masks, 14.4 million non-medical and surgical masks, 92.2 million exam gloves, 816,300 hand sanitizers, 821,000 test components, 8,000 ventilators, and 2.5 million isolation and surgical gowns for military and federal agencies.

DLA also stocked the USNS Comfort and Mercy with over $14 million in protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, fuel, food and repair parts. Other military medical support went to Army field hospitals in places like the Javits Center in New York City. Respirators and other medical equipment have been used aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt. Gloves, masks and hand sanitizers were sent to troops in South Korea.

Specialized items like COVID-19 test kits, patient monitors and non-medical fabric face masks were also researched and introduced into DLA’s inventory. And to address critical supply shortages early, DLA broadened its manufacturing base to acquire medical supplies through global and domestic sources.

Using additive manufacturing technology, DLA procured 11,000 laser-cut protective face shields for New York City medical workers. The agency also met N95 mask shortages by awarding a contract to provide FEMA and HHS 60 Critical Care Decontamination Systems, each capable of sanitizing 80,000 masks a day for reuse.

Even items previously scheduled for disposal or reuse have been provided, with DLA Disposition Services sending thousands of respirators, surgical masks, gowns, gloves, goggles and other items to military and federal customers.

Luis Guzman, area manager for DLA Disposition Services at Camp Pendleton, California, said his team has provided temporary hospitals throughout the country with everything from tents and cots to mattresses, exam tables and diagnostic lighting. 

“Our personnel here are doing everything within their power to identify property that can support this COVID-19 pandemic response,” he said. 

The agency can also deploy expeditionary logistics capabilities around the globe at a moment’s notice.  

“DLA is a consequential partner in supporting the whole-of-nation response,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day, director of DLA Logistics Operations. “And while we recognize that COVID is the enemy here, we’re not losing sight of our mission to provide readiness support for all of the services.”  

Though DLA is a DOD agency, support to other federal agencies, i.e., the whole of government, is a priority that comes to the fore during crisis response such as COVID-19. The partnership involves federal, state, local and tribal entities, said Stephen Dubernas, chief of DLA’s Whole of Government Division. 

“In fact, through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, we’re integrating with many foreign countries, so I would call it a ‘whole-of-globe’ response.”

Dubernas said the agency’s focus pivots to support the nation when needed. 

“Never has this been more important than the response to COVID-19,” he continued. “On a daily basis, we’re touching a large number of our more than 40 interagency partners.”

DLA has provided logistics support for 26 disaster relief and humanitarian assistance responses since 2010, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, and Florence and Michael in 2018. The agency also played a major role in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Those events gave agency employees real-world experience consolidating support with government agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of State and Army Corps of Engineers.

To support the current crisis, DLA liaisons are embedded with FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House Task Force, U.S. Northern Command and the Pentagon’s Joint Acquisition Task Force.

“I think in many ways DLA was put together for such a time as this,” Day said. “We’re what the nation needs right now, and I’m really proud of the people who are making it happen.” 

Williams added that DLA is solidifying its role as an invaluable asset for DOD and the federal government by showing its unique ability to leverage logistics expertise for humanitarian response while maintaining warfighter support.

“I’ve always been proud of DLA’s support to our warfighters and our nation,” he added. “Our people remain the secret sauce of this agency – they’re the ones who make all of this support possible.”