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News | Oct. 17, 2022

2013-2022: Agency disposal team increases agility

By Jake Joy DLA Disposition Services Public Affairs

With the primary Iraq mission completed and U.S. leaders expressing an intent to gradually leave Afghanistan, Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services earned opportunities to more closely consider its future challenges starting in the early 2010s.

As a large percentage of its workforce gained deployment experience and compiled lessons learned from years of downrange support, the command placed higher premiums on developing a fully-manned, confident, and trained cadre of expeditionary civilian specialists and reserve military units – Disposal Support Units 1 through 6 – to go wherever the next contingency might lead them.

A central part of that effort was the summertime field exercise dubbed Overseas Contingency Operations Response Training, or OCORT, and eventually renamed Contingency Readiness Exercise, or COREX, inaugurated in 2013. During this annual capstone training iteration, dozens of civilians and uniformed logisticians from across the organization congregate for a two-week deployment simulation, complete with field conditions like Meals, Ready-to-Eat, for their lunches, and the kinds of manufactured obstacles that arise when supplies don’t show up on time or equipment failures occur in an austere environment.

“Equipment goes down downrange,” said Greg Dangremond, a 2017 OCORT site area manager, who was adamant that deployers must learn to overcome the inevitable challenges of expeditionary work. “Depending on how long your equipment has been in country, it may be super reliable, it may be unreliable. But we’re the subject matter experts when it comes to the ultimate disposal of property. We’re the ones that dot the final I’s and cross the final T’s. We have to do our due diligence.” 

In tandem with a focus on deployment preparation was development of four Expeditionary Site Sets, which essentially served as full-service disposal sites “in a box.” These modular, scalable equipment groupings included all the essentials that property disposal specialists would need to arrive at a destination and quickly begin receiving property from warfighters. From unpacking shipping crates, to erecting work and living spaces, to running industrial shredders and cutting torches, the annual training allowed the agency’s reverse logistics specialists could come together and prove that they were ready to ship out at a moment’s notice, build an operating site, and begin accepting property as a team. 

“You’re going into a site with no amenities,” said exercise area manager Bill Kelley, on having to deploy without site sets. But with the ESS, the agency saves “hours and days, versus having to put all the stuff together and figure out how we’re going to get it there. … We’ve got a lot of different capabilities [with ESS]. We can basically do anything from A to Z.” 

Navy Logistics Specialist 1st Class David Freeman, a member of Disposal Support Unit 2 out of Anniston, Alabama, prepares to drop a load of electronics into an industrial shredder at Camp Grayling, Michigan, during OCORT ’18.
Navy Logistics Specialist 1st Class David Freeman, a member of Disposal Support Unit 2 out of Anniston, Alabama, prepares to drop a load of electronics into an industrial shredder at Camp Grayling, Michigan, during OCORT ’18.
Navy Logistics Specialist 1st Class David Freeman, a member of Disposal Support Unit 2 out of Anniston, Alabama, prepares to drop a load of electronics into an industrial shredder at Camp Grayling, Michigan, during OCORT ’18.
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Navy Logistics Specialist 1st Class David Freeman, a member of Disposal Support Unit 2 out of Anniston, Alabama, prepares to drop a load of electronics into an industrial shredder at Camp Grayling, Michigan, during OCORT ’18.
Photo By: Jeff Landenberger
VIRIN: 180614-D-YU183-218

While most annual training iterations took place in Battle Creek, Michigan, near command headquarters, the breadth of the command’s field training continuously grew, incorporating real life military turn-in customers and expanding the circle of organizations involved. Prior exercises included customers at Camp Grayling in 2018, with Kosovo Support troops at Camp Bondsteel in the Republic of Kosovo in 2019, and with Navy and Marine Corps customers in Guam in 2021. 

“I think the support is fantastic,” said Army Col. Ed Hallenback, the Michigan National Guard Camp Grayling Garrison Commander, who witnessed the real-life property disposal assistance DLA personnel provided to his installation while conducting annual deployment readiness. “It helps us out a tremendous amount, so we’re not adding waste to the stream, and the ability to put some money back into DOD is a good thing.”

The command expanded its ability to react – through not only expeditionary capability, but improved online support, the flexible outreach abilities of its disposal support representatives, and its growing leverage of “receipt in place” (taking responsibility for property without a customer having to move it). At the same time, larger DOD financial goals meant two things: that every agency was forced to trim budgets to focus department funds more tightly on lethality, and that the department would need to become auditable.

Guiding the command through that extended period of unavoidable transition was Director Mike Cannon. After coming aboard as interim leader in 2013 while still an active-duty Air Force colonel, the now-Senior Executive Service civilian leader has become the organization’s longest-tenured director and steered it through a decade of constant change.

One change was the “audit readiness” mandate. To pass an audit, an organization must show an independent financial auditor a clear track record of evidentiary matter related to all expenditures like equipment and supply purchases. To help ensure that evidentiary matter looked the same across the command, Cannon instituted the development and fielding of new standard operating procedures. For nearly all repeatable work functions, procedures were adopted and shared with field sites to help personnel avoid excessive “touch points” and keep property flowing as efficiently through the system as possible. 

An empty cage.
A security cage for the storage of sensitive and pilferable property takes up part of the recent 40,000 square foot addition to the DLA Disposition Services site at Maryland's Fort George G. Meade near Baltimore.
An empty cage.
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A security cage for the storage of sensitive and pilferable property takes up part of the recent 40,000 square foot addition to the DLA Disposition Services site at Maryland's Fort George G. Meade near Baltimore.
Photo By: DLA photo
VIRIN: 200624-D-D0441-1234

As DOD pursued its first ever clean audit, it also looked to reprogram its money toward warfighting. Beginning in 2018, Network Optimization, headquarters realignment and a more recent Field Office Realignment all used analyses of customer support metrics and field personnel suggestions to help re-allot manpower to where it could better serve a shifting DOD footprint. The effort also created a headquarters structure designed to better respond to the needs of its global field offices.

No survey of the past decade would be complete without the acknowledgement of technological progress. While DLA Disposition Services has trimmed dozens of facilities from its real-world inventory, connectivity has allowed it to further improve its customer response abilities. Using DLA’s online applications from their personal device, a turn-in customer can file an electronic turn-in document from nearly anywhere, arrange for receipt in place with DLA’s outreach specialists, and sit back as an authorized reuse or transfer customer coordinates pickup and transportation of the item. For items that do make it into DLA used goods warehouses, more powerful tools allow a larger pool of reuse customers to have a better grasp of what’s available, with more photos and better condition descriptions, and equipment and warehouse standardization efforts mean that items are more quickly processed and take less time getting packaged and readied for movement to their new recipients.

Regardless of what the next decade of DLA Disposition Services warfighter support may hold, providing reliable, professional reverse logistics knowledge and assistance to U.S. servicemembers and our partners will undoubtedly drive a continuous focus on improvement.