BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
The fourth decade of what we now call Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services will be remembered for a variety of improvements and advancements. But chief among those evolutions will likely be the later development of frontline, expeditionary warfighter support capabilities borne from the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of civilians and uniformed teammates who served their nation downrange.
The U.S. military toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in late 2001 in retaliation for its role in allowing haven to terrorist groups that executed the 9/11 attack. Less than two years later, the Hussein regime was overthrown in Iraq. As the two conflicts transitioned into long-term democracy-building projects, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service was called upon to begin offering reverse logistics services from new permanent installations and forward operating bases across Southwest Asia and Africa. Hundreds of DRMS expeditionary civilians, and hundreds more uniformed augmentees brought their expertise to combat zones – in fact, throughout the entirety of both conflicts, DLA Disposition Services provided more than half of all DLA contingency deployers. The overall contribution that the agency’s reverse logisticians made is even more impressive considering that the sub-command represents just about 6% of the 25,000-person DLA workforce.
Vickie Rodgers helped establish the first permanent disposal site in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base. With no site, no equipment, and no fence line upon her three-person team’s arrival, she said early deployers had to solve challenges – like how to conduct local scrap sales in a combat zone – on the fly.
“Since the Defense Department had not sold items before in Afghanistan, [we] needed to determine what we could sell and what processes or procedures we needed to follow,” Rodgers said. “We read the regulations, called other sites for information, and figured it out as we went along.”
Rodgers said a positive deployment mindset includes thinking of the time downrange as an opportunity to work on yourself and not as putting a life on hold.
“Take an online class, work out, just do something for yourself so that when you get back you’re a better you,” she said.
Loraine Fahling was one of hundreds of agency logisticians who deployed to Iraq before DLA discontinued its reverse logistics support there in 2011. She said that her Camp Victory office was “part scrap heap and part secondhand store,” and she said one particular day really made the reality of where she was living and working sink in.
“I was coming back to my hooch — your little hut, or your room in a trailer — with my co-workers,” Fahling said. “On April 18th — I’ll never forget that day as long as I live — we were coming from the parking lot, where I’d parked my car, to go back to my hooch to rest for the night.”
Fahling said that suddenly, sirens began sounding and she heard “Incoming, incoming, incoming!”
“So my co-worker and I – he grabbed me,” Fahling said. “He said, ‘Run!’ And we ran to the bunker and just knelt down. He held my hand. I’m scared to death. He’s been in a war before, he was in Vietnam. And I’m just blown away by this. It’s really happening. You can hear it and see it. So as the bunker has [open] ends to it, you see the flash coming. Two rows over — the hooches were in rows — one hit and blew up the end of a trailer. So I’m thinking, ‘oh no!’ … It really hit me right then and there: I’m in a war zone. It’s one thing to go to work and help your soldiers and do your thing. But when you hear the rockets, and you hear the stuff going on. …”
DLA Disposition Services personnel also made significant contributions to DOD disaster response and humanitarian assistance efforts during events like the major tsunami in Indonesia in 2005 and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. But it wasn’t just other nations who needed help with disaster response – notably, the U.S. mainland was struck by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
As a monster Category 5 storm, Katrina made landfall 45 miles southeast of New Orleans, causing more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage. DRMS provided items to first responder organizations for rescue efforts and recovery assistance.
Later, during Hurricane Sandy, surplus vehicles and equipment DLA provided to first responders in New York and New Jersey played crucial roles in saving lives.
Detective Clint Daniel, of the Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., Police Department, said people who stayed too long had to be rescued from their homes. Two all-wheel-drive cargo trucks and three Humvees his city received through DLA’s Law Enforcement Support Office made the difference, he said.
“We had to go to the Coast Guard station and evacuate the Coast Guardsmen, and they helped us with the water rescues,” Daniel said. “64 people from Point Pleasant Beach and a neighboring small town were saved with excess equipment from DLA Disposition Services.”
In addition to providing vital equipment, DLA Disposition Services set up contracts for the removal of more than 75 million pounds of debris in the storm’s aftermath.
On the organizational side, the command saw some big changes and a few firsts, too. The primary-level field activity had long been led by a uniformed military officer. That changed in 2006, when Senior Executive Paul Peters became the first civilian to run DRMS. Shortly after, Twila Gonzales succeeded him in 2008 to become the command’s first female director.
“I am truly honored to become part of the DRMS team,” Gonzales said as she took the helm. “Our focus will be on the future and finding new and innovative ways to serve our warfighters.”
That same year, the DLA Law Enforcement Support Office was transferred from agency headquarters to the DRMS headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, a move that stemmed, in part, from the steady growth in interest by law enforcement agencies around the country looking to military surplus to help augment their local budgets.
The command marked 2010 with another name change. To help create better name recognition of all the various parts of the agency, the “We Are DLA” initiative was introduced and the primary level field activity DRMS became the primary sub-command DLA Disposition Services.
In the technology space, history-making DAISY was retired in 2012, and Reutilization Business Integration software, or RBI, was introduced. The team that developed RBI also tested E-docs to replace WEBDOCS, which was not a “certified system of records” as required by Bureau of Archives regulations.
Command personnel learned a lot through the command’s fourth decade, and technology began to allow work to be done more efficiently and in even more remote places. Even as the size of the command continued to shrink, its capabilities just kept improving. The Deployment Decade had set the table for the increase in expeditionary capability and flexibility that would come next.