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News | Oct. 26, 2021

DLA, Navy Surgeon General discuss COVID-19, medical logistics

By John Dwyer III DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support leaders hosted Navy Surgeon General Read Adm. Bruce Gillingham for a meeting Oct. 20 in Philadelphia and discussed a variety of topics such as COVID-19 and medical logistics.

While primarily a meeting to provide information on DLA Troop Support’s Medical operations in support of the Navy, both parties leveraged the opportunity to share thoughts on lessons learned and how to address upcoming challenges while remaining adaptable to new environments.

“It’s impressive what you’re able to do,” Gillingham said. “I’m very much about high reliability and rapid-cycle feedback and how you improve, and it’s clear that you embody that.”

One “new” environment impacting DLA and the warfighter equally, was COVID-19.

DLA Troop Support Medical Deputy Director Elizabeth McMaster shared anecdotes of the agency’s support to military and federal partners throughout the pandemic. All while helping to establish domestic sources for certain personal protective equipment items, resupplying the strategic national stockpile – a short-term, stopgap buffer of materiel used in emergencies – and embedding DLA employees with partners to ensure timely, accurate responses to urgent requirements.

“DLA was right there on the ground,” McMaster said.

Gillingham was also curious about Medical’s learned experiences, including impacts the pandemic has had on the supply chain.

“We kind of went ‘back to the future,’ to the early 90’s model, and that was a muscle memory we had to exercise,” Medical Director Army Col. Matthew Voyles said.

That model, a more manual process referred to as Military Standard Requisitioning and Issue Procedures, or MILSTRIP ordering, was used as a stop-gap to help mitigate the issues, McMaster said.

“When [COVID-19] first kicked off, our prime vendors got flooded with requirements. Not just from us, but from the commercial sector,” DLA Troop Support Deputy Commander Richard Ellis said. “At some point they were overwhelmed. Demand was much greater than availability, so…we said okay and we wrote our own contracts and stocked material at the [DLA Distribution] depot.”

Though not in line with the more affordable, automated-process driven and highly regarded ecommerce solutions Medical now uses as a standard, it worked in the short-term in situations where items were either scarce or needed in a hurry.

The current prime vendor model, leveraging the commercial market and large distributors, makes DLA Troop Support’s Medical acquisitions a readiness enabler, keeping costs down by using online solutions like their Electronic Catalog and Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support. It also allows faster delivery through existing commercial distribution networks.

“The keys to what we do [can be found in] the way we do ecommerce…we don’t have a lot of [medical items] in DLA depots minus what we did for COVID-19, but our prime vendor structure has allowed us to be very, very effective and efficient at meeting customers requirements,” Voyles said. “The folks here at DLA Troop Support and the Medical supply chain take a great deal of pride in keeping overhead costs at a minimum to the service provider.”

Gillingham was also keen on discussing the future of medical logistics in a distributed maritime environment.

One key to that success, Ellis said, was to include pandemic planning in the services’ “go to war” requirements listed in the annually refreshed Medical Contingency File that tells DLA what items they will need to engage industry for in the event of an emergent Defense operation.

The MCF is the way to communicate: “this is what we don’t have, and we need [DLA] to be prepared to fill the gap,” he said.

Communication throughout the joint logistics enterprise was the overall key to success, Voyles said.

“I think between the services and combatant commands and on down, it’s just making sure that that clinical requirement is communicated over to the logistician so the requirement can get funneled up to DLA so that we can make those connections into the industrial base and plan,” he said.