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News | Dec. 13, 2022

Historical commentary: DLA regains mission balance, responds to crises during 2022

By Colin Jay Williams DLA Historian

These past twelve months were the transition everyone thought 2021 would be. As COVID-19 receded in summer 2021, the Defense Logistics Agency began supplying more hardware, fuel and troop support items and less personal protective equipment, vaccines and test kits. The omicron variant reversed this trend, keeping DLA involved in mitigation well into 2022, when crises not related to the virus came to the fore.

Four events in December 2021 defined 2022. One was connected to COVID-19. After the Biden administration decided to issue free at-home antigen test kits to the American public, it needed an organization to forward shipments to the U.S. Postal Service. The White House selected DLA, which proceeded to transship 731 million units.

A group of men and women stand in front of exhibit displays
Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Deputy Commander Kenneth Watson greets exhibitors at the Greater Columbus Convention Center during a visit to the exhibition hall April 6 shortly after the 2022 DLA Land and Maritime Supplier Conference and Exhibition kicked off in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The exhibition featured nearly 70 exhibitor booths representing organizations that produce or supply equipment or services to support warfighters.
A group of men and women stand in front of exhibit displays
220406-D-D0441-001A
Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Deputy Commander Kenneth Watson greets exhibitors at the Greater Columbus Convention Center during a visit to the exhibition hall April 6 shortly after the 2022 DLA Land and Maritime Supplier Conference and Exhibition kicked off in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The exhibition featured nearly 70 exhibitor booths representing organizations that produce or supply equipment or services to support warfighters.
Photo By: Shannon Mormon, Defense Supply Center Columbus
VIRIN: 220406-D-D0441-001A
Two other events involved energy. A spill at the Navy’s underground fuel facility at Red Hill in Hawaii contaminated the local aquifer. DLA’s response began by ensuring uninterrupted support and continued by providing bottled water, researching storage alternatives, devising a refueling plan and executing that plan. Related was Section 352 of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law three days before 2021 ended. This section made U.S. Transportation Command responsible for global bulk fuel management and delivery. Working out what this meant in practical terms consumed much of the year. In the end, TRANSCOM assumed authorities that will assure supply in contested environments while DLA kept its material management responsibilities and people.

The final December event was Russia staging forces on its western border. Purportedly for exercise purposes, these forces eventually invaded Ukraine in February. The Biden administration responded by rushing forces to Europe. DLA provided food, fuel and barrier material along with other commodities and logistics services in support of U.S. European Command efforts.

The national security strategy released in 2022 labeled Russia as America’s secondary threat. Primary designation went to China, which had expanded its influence in the Indo-Pacific while America fought terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to addressing Red Hill and enacting Section 352, DLA strengthened service capabilities by establishing fuel points in Darwin, Australia, and the North Pole, Alaska; sending Taiwan Patriot missile spare parts; and disposing of items the services no longer need in the region.  

DLA took these actions as COVID-19 missions ceased or waned. The agency continued distributing vaccines to overseas personnel and family members but not in 2021 numbers. Test kit transshipment peaked, decreased and then stopped entirely when funding expired. At the same time, the agency finished refilling the Department of Health and Human Services’s strategic national stockpile, leaving the nation ready for the next pandemic.

Simultaneous with COVID-19 close-out were efforts to improve performance. Driven by Navy Vice Admiral Michelle C. Skubic’s strategic plan, enterprise-wide projects advanced throughout the year. Supplier conferences – in person for the first time since before the pandemic – expanded the customer base, targeted key socioeconomic sectors and provided a forum for key relationships to grow. DLA Information Operations uploaded almost all the agency’s programs to the cloud, securing them from cyberattack. Perhaps most important was the debut of the warehouse management system. WMS adds functionality and increases audit compliance. The agency installed the program at DLA Distribution Corpus Christi and is deploying it to other distribution centers, DLA Disposition Services sites and depot-level reparable detachments.   

Transactions at these locations are increasing as the services resume normal operating tempos. Even with military missions on the rise, however, DLA continues helping the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency respond to natural disasters. Having proved its competence in supporting the whole of government on a national scale, the agency has returned to an operational balance that includes assistance to federal agencies but focuses on providing commodities and logistics services to the nation’s military, its chartered mission.