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News | June 28, 2021

Commander returns after tour with White House COVID-19 Task Force, sets sights on future warfighter support

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs Office

When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping through the United States in March 2020, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Commander Air Force Brig. Gen. David Sanford was called upon to help this nation get through one of the worst health crises in history.

Sanford left Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia the next month and headed to the nation’s capital to serve as the deputy director of the Supply Chain Task Force as part of the White House Task Force for COVID-19 Response led by former vice president Mike Pence.

“What I was doing was the same stuff we do at DLA Aviation, supply chain management. I was just doing it for medical supplies, instead of weapon systems parts,” he said. Sanford and the other members of the TF worked out of the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, D.C. 

“The Department of Health and Human Services has some of the most brilliant scientists, doctors, nurses and pharmacists in the world, but this was a logistics fight,” Sanford said. “They didn’t have the right skillsets to do this and that’s why the Department of Defense was brought in to help and continue to help while they grow capability,” he said.

The TF was working all supply chain constraints, which encompassed the daunting task of acquiring and distributing personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, ventilators, and key pharmaceuticals to those who were on the front line of the pandemic battle.

“What you found was seven billion people on the planet needed PPE, and at the time manufacturing was concentrated in certain parts of the world, primarily the Far East. While some PPE was made in the U.S., we didn’t have enough to go around. We were managing scarcity,” he said.

Sanford said this well-documented shortage led to frontline medical providers having to wear PPE for days or even weeks at a time, putting their health at serious risk.

“We worked really hard to ease supply chain constraints, both in the United States and abroad, while at the same time focusing on growing our own industry,” he said.

Sanford said the last six months of his tour were spent putting together a plan to sustain our national medical industrial base, which he said must include passing new legislation and providing additional funding for technology investments.

“It will require congressional support to sustain what is really a low-cost, low-skill type of manufacturing,” he said.” Otherwise, we may be making investments that will go away in three to five years.”

Sanford returned  to Richmond full time on June 1 after what was supposed to be a temporary assignment.

“Being gone 420 plus days is a long time,” he said.

Sanford was scheduled to rotate out for his next assignment in June 2021, but the Air Force extended his assignment at DLA Aviation through June 2022.

He laid out several of his priorities moving forward.

His number one priority is reconstituting the workforce back into the workplace after a long period of being under an DLA enterprise-wide maximum telework mandate due to COVID-19.

“Post COVID reconstitution will present new challenges.  We have learned things through virtual work and we don’t want to lose those hard won lessons.  We have to work through bringing back everyone together and working in person,” he said.

Sanford is also aiming to promote a more diversified, senior workforce, which he said can be achieved through training and promoting greater awareness of available opportunities.

“We’ve had some job positions become available and we are not getting a diverse workforce to apply for them. It befuddles and saddens me, because I’m all about diversity and promoting a more representative workforce. But it’s tough when people won’t apply for the jobs. We can always tighten up the team and make it better.” Sanford said.

Lastly, Sanford stressed there will be budgetary constraints and challenges moving forward.

“New administration, new priorities. The budget growth is not there. We are going to have to learn to work within our means, minimizing impacts to readiness,” he said.