News | Dec. 26, 2016

Out with the Excess

By Beth Reece

Like closets and garages at many American homes, Army supply sites are crammed with mounds of stuff tossed aside for the trash, later use or repair.

“The problem is, every piece of excess equipment the Army hangs on to is something soldiers have to store, maintain and account for on a continuous basis, without any benefit,” said Army Maj. Matthew Maxwell, services support officer for the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.

To free the Army of that burden, Defense Logistics Agency employees are traveling to Army installations across the nation and overseas to help units shed up to 1.2 million pieces of excess and outdated equipment through the All Army Excess initiative. In fiscal 2016, the agency sent DLA Distribution and DLA Disposition Services teams to 14 locations, where they provided immediate relief of accountability for more than 144,000 pieces of equipment and 1.5 million pounds of scrap.

“All this extra equipment encumbers the service in terms of people, manpower hours, resources and money for parts,” said Army Col. Mike Arnold, DLA Logistics Operations’ Army national account manager. “As we help take unneeded equipment off the Army’s property books, soldiers can focus on the mission-essential equipment that’s staying in the force structure. It’s all about readiness,” he said.

Distribution and disposal teams are scheduled to conduct turn-ins at another 14 sites this fiscal year, and the effort could stretch into fiscal 2018 and 2019 as the agency accommodates units’ training and deployment cycles, Arnold said.

At each location, a joint working group of installation and unit leaders does the initial planning, joined by representatives from the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army Forces Command and Army Materiel Command. The group determines turn-in projections based on the Army’s Master Divestiture List and on the equipment calculations in the Army’s Decision Support Tool, which compares the items on units’ property books with what units are authorized.

Equipment being turned in ranges from common items like tools, tents and body armor to entire fleets. All light tactical vehicles that aren’t fully armored are considered excess, as well as some versions of the mine resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, Arnold said.

“Due to the rapid nature of how we procured MRAPs to keep soldiers safe in combat, we ended up with several different versions from numerous manufacturers. By streamlining the fleet to particular models, the parts become standard and how the Army fixes them becomes routine,” he added.

DLA gives units two options for turning in surplus equipment: They can turn it in to DLA Disposition Services, which will make it available to other federal agencies, as required by law. If no federal agency wants the materiel, DLA Disposition Services will demilitarize it and auction it off to the public or break it down into scrap that can be sold.

The service may also transfer excess equipment to DLA Distribution for repair and storage. In the past, the Army paid to ship equipment to Red River Army Depot in Texas or Sierra Army Depot in California, only to have it shipped elsewhere. Now, DLA Distribution teams are traveling to installations to accept items and ship them to the appropriate depot.

Army Sgt. Wendy Honeycutt, a supply sergeant for Fort Drum’s 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery, said DLA made the process simple for those participating in turn-ins there for two weeks in September.

“This is one of the easiest turn-ins I’ve ever done; usually it’s very difficult. And for us to finally get rid of some of this stuff, it’s a really big deal because it makes room for things we actually use,” she said.

Army Master Sgt. Neil Craig, noncommissioned officer in charge of Fort Drum’s Army Field Support Brigade, was a key coordinator between local units and DLA employees during initial planning and turn-ins.

“DLA hasn’t turned anyone away. Even when a soldier arrives with incomplete paperwork or equipment containing batteries or hazardous material, DLA employees are patiently teaching them how to make it right so they can still get things turned in quickly,” he said in September.

Early planning at Fort Drum last summer set the stage for how much material was turned in, by what unit and where before DLA representatives arrived on-site, Maxwell added. Once all parties agreed to a turn-in timeline, unit leaders met biweekly with supply personnel to ensure equipment was being prepared on schedule: that documents were being filled out correctly and to address concerns such as the accuracy of equipment condition codes.

The hardest part of All Army Excess for unit leaders has been squeezing it into a schedule already packed with training requirements, the fielding of new equipment and preparations for other missions, Maxwell continued. His advice to other unit leaders: Make it a priority.

“It absolutely has to be leader-driven and operationalized. Leaders have to understand the turn-in process themselves and make sure that the information gets down to the privates, specialists and sergeants who are going to be executing,” he said, adding that maintenance personnel responsible for preparing equipment must also be included.

Sometimes, leaders underestimate DLA’s ability to handle large amounts of equipment in little time. 

“I don’t think they realize the actual velocity at which we’re able to receive equipment. The plan is usually for us to be on-site for 10 days or two weeks, but we could probably get done in just four days if the units really hit us hard,” said Michael Boone, DLA’s deputy Army national account manager.

All Army Excess has given DLA employees the chance to mentor future logisticians and change the borrow-use-return mentality that soldiers adopted during the past decade of war. Although soldiers have grown comfortable receiving equipment in theater, using it and then returning it to someone else who repairs and maintains it, Arnold said that pattern isn’t sustainable given current budget constraints.

“We’re working with every level of the Army, from strategic to tactical levels, to put into place procedures where soldiers understand how to maintain accountability for the full lifecycle of their equipment,” he said. “That starts from the time it’s issued as a new piece of equipment and lasts through all the phases of use to the reverse piece, where it’s time to turn it into scrap or dispose it.”

The effort also lets DLA employees like Shannon Woodyard, a disposition process worker for DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, see the results of their work.

“When we’re back home, it’s just us government civilians shipping out materiel to them. Now, we’re actually working alongside soldiers, so when the materiel is taken off their records, we can see the happiness on their faces,” he said.

Turn-ins are being planned for such areas as Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart, Georgia; and at installations to be determined in Hawaii and Europe.