Harvey. Irma. Maria.
As military service members helped search for people trapped in flooded homes, delivered supplies, and flew helicopters to airlift victims, coordinating it all was the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Managing the Department of Defense contribution was U.S. Northern Command.
And providing whatever was needed — from personnel to petroleum, meals to medical supplies, contracting to communications — was the Defense Logistics Agency.
The numbers are staggering. But just as profound are the individual stories of DLA people, hard at work to help their fellow Americans.
Finding a Way
About 600 miles to the southeast of Puerto Rico, the island nation of Dominica is home to numerous American expatriates and visitors. And like Puerto Rico, Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
After the storm, the main hospital in the capital city of Roseau suddenly needed a critical part used in its emergency department and its intensive care unit. A pressure transducer, used in pumping oxygen and regulating air flow, is a small part that looks like a spark plug.
The part has nothing to do with military aircraft — which is why it isn’t managed by DLA Aviation. Nonetheless, the request ended up with DLA Aviation personnel, who found a way to get this critical item to the customer.
Paula Kanervikkoaho, lead customer account specialist on the Air Force Foreign Military Sales and Civil Aviation Team, discovered this exact transducer was no longer in production. However, she found the transducer in a higher pressure capability from a commercial source.
The U.S. Southern Command chief surgeon approved the alternate part. Once the funds were finalized, Kanervikkoaho created a purchase requisition using an unassigned local part number. Kanervikkoaho forwarded the information to Danita Davis, a supervisory contract specialist in the Emergency Contracting Supplier Branch of the Supplier Support Division.
Davis said several actions started happening at once to turn the request around in three days. DLA Finance–Aviation coordinated the transfer of funds between the hospital and SOUTHCOM and purchase approval with DLA Headquarters. Meanwhile, Davis and her supervisor, Marita Beckles, worked with the supplier to get a quote that same day.
Davis sent the purchase request to Chester Keeton, a product specialist in her division. Keeton verified the supplier could make the part to its specifications while Davis coordinated transportation with David Pferdehirt, who works in DLA Distribution’s Transportation Office.
Once all the pieces were in place and Keeton finished his review, Davis awarded the contract in less than an hour.
Pferdehirt arranged for three transducers to be picked up by a 24-hour carrier delivery service at the contractor facility. With Dominica’s airport closed to commercial aircraft, DLA coordinated a direct shipment and made sure it was placed on the next available aircraft headed to the island.
Just one tiny part for one hospital in one small nation — but thanks to the resourcefulness and commitment of people at DLA Aviation and DLA Distribution, the hospital could rely on uninterrupted power as it treated victims of Hurricane Maria.
Helping at Home
For some DLA employees, hurricane relief had an even greater meaning.
Luis Peña works for DLA Disposition Services as a property disposal specialist in his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He runs a one-man show that covers the military’s disposition needs throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean, Peña’s home was uninhabitable, with no electricity or running water. The same was true for his DLA Disposition Services office at Fort Buchanan. Peña lived with his wife in a hotel — their second, after the first hotel ran out of generator fuel and went dark.
Despite shortages of drinking water, extremely limited communications and hours-long lines for gasoline rations, Peña remained hard at work linking DLA scrap contractors with the military units requiring help cleaning up storm debris.
Peña said doing so without the luxury of email or the phone requires face-to-face meetings, meaning driving through “a lot of traffic” because of damaged infrastructure and no working traffic lights.
“He’s having to do everything in person,” said Terry Surdyke, his supervisor.
Peña first evacuated for three days in early September for Hurricane Irma, another Category 5 storm that grazed the north of the island while churning westward and eventually causing an estimated $63 billion in damage.
Fort Buchanan reopened shortly after Irma passed. For the next week and a half, Peña continued issuing equipment even as predictions for Hurricane Maria warned of a direct hit.
Peña said he was still providing generators to law enforcement and Government Services Administration customers in the days leading up to Maria’s landfall, down to the moment the base closed at noon and the evacuation order took effect Sept. 19.
“We all faced something we’ve never seen before,” Peña said.
Food for the Fight
Supplying those in need also meant providing balanced nutrition to those helping provide the relief.
For Hurricane Irma, DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain managed a rush delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables to the USS Oak Hill before it departed for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The ship was running low on fresh fruits and vegetables and would need to be replenished by the USNS Supply, a Military Sealift Command ship.
An error in the order had left the Oak Hill in limbo. Once the error was fixed, only four hours were left before the ship would close its cargo holds for departure. To get the food there on time, Larry Muñoz, a field representative for the Subsistence supply chain, with the help of fellow Subsistence acquisition professionals, executed several emergency orders.
Dave Jolls, who manages Subsistence’s produce division, said he had a vested interest seeing the order filled.
“I know how it feels to be on a ship and not receive those fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Jolls, who spent 24 years in the Navy.
But getting the order to the Oak Hill was complicated, Jolls said. The primary vendor was unable to deliver in time. So Jolls coordinated with vendors in the Norfolk area who were able and willing to work with the vendor under contract to meet the requirements.
Jolls and Muñoz, also a Navy veteran, worked the phones, drafted contracting documents and fired off email after email to accomplish their part of the mission. Their efforts paid off.
“It really, literally, made it there just on time,” Jolls said. “And to be able to fill 100 percent of their order, that’s the icing on the cake.”
Like military operations, disaster relief can’t happen without communications — reliable phone and internet. Yet these are often the first things to go in a major weather event.
For all three hurricanes, DLA and its customers relied on the Contingency Information Technology Support Team, part of DLA Information Operations.
To support relief after Hurricane Harvey, information technology specialists Robert Garcia and Charles James deployed to Texas for about a month.
“There was a lot of hard work involved, but I enjoyed that we were a part of the humanitarian effort to support those affected by the recent hurricanes,” Garcia said.
Their mission on ground was to create a command-and-control element for the incident support base at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The Mobile Emergency Response Center, along with Garcia and James, were required to establish communications for the DLA Distribution Expeditionary teams from Red River, Texas; Susquehanna, Pennsylvania; and Tracy, California. The services allowed DLA personnel on site to access data, make phone calls, print and copy required documents and coordinate ISB operations with handheld radios.
“Seeing the different organizations within DLA come together and work to support FEMA during this unfortunate natural disaster has been a beautiful and humbling, eye-opening experience,” said Philip LaGamba of the Cyber Emergency Response Team, who volunteered to serve on the Maxwell ISB in Florida.
“As a DLA employee, volunteer, Navy veteran and American, seeing everybody work together for a greater cause is something we should all be able to experience in our lifetime,” he said. LaGamba also helps with the inbound and outbound supply trailers on the ISB.
“It was surely worth the effort knowing the positive effects our mission had in providing supplies to the many Americans that were devastated by all the storms,” said Charles James, IT specialist for CIT West.
James drove the Mobile Emergency Response Center, which provided communications at the Randolph ISB.
“It was truly rewarding to support such a large scale effort. Knowing that so many agencies can work together jointly and have a positive effect on the many Americans in need made the difficult journey worth it,” James said soon after finishing his duty supporting hurricane relief in Texas. “I look forward to supporting the mission and agency again in my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico.”
Food, water, electricity — as critical as these are, there’s another thing many people can’t live without: their medicine.
When the U.S. Navy Ship Comfort arrived Oct. 3 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, it was stocked with pharmaceuticals provided by Medical supply chain professionals at DLA Troop Support.
The Comfort is a seagoing hospital ship that can support complex medical procedures. It has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States, with four X-ray machines, one CT scanner, a dental suite, an optometry lens laboratory, physical therapy center, pharmacy, angiography suite and two oxygen-producing plants, according to the Navy.
About 800 personnel embarked on the Comfort for the Puerto Rico mission. The Comfort ordered medications for the ship’s routine use, as well as controlled substances required for surgeries and postoperative care, said Randy Owens, a supervisor in Medical’s operational customers division.
DLA’s pharmacy team worked with the Military Sealift Command and the pharmaceutical vendor to ensure the ship left port with the medical materiel it needed, Owens said.
The medicine was delivered Sept. 29. But Linda Grugan, DLA’s lead pharmaceutical contracting officer for Navy hospital ships, said it took a lot of extra work.
“As always, the challenge when a humanitarian crisis hits is getting large quantities of pharmaceuticals ordered, picked and delivered to the hospital ships in a very short time,” Grugan said.
Power to the People
Fuel may not be as photogenic as other supplies, but it’s just as critical in a disaster.
Every helicopter, rescue boat, cargo plane and hospital ship runs on some type of fuel. So too do the portable generators set up in locations with no electrical power.
In the response to a major hurricane, that’s millions of gallons of diesel fuel, jet fuel, gasoline and propane.
As Hurricane Harvey approached, DLA Energy was already working with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to put fuel in place. By Aug. 31, DLA Energy had delivered 11 generators to the FEMA and USACE, and 100,000 gallons of gasoline and 493,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Fort Hood and FEMA’s ISB in near San Antonio.
Before Hurricane Irma struck Florida, DLA Energy, FEMA and the National Guard were on standby at Warner Robins and other nearby towns, ready to support emergency-response teams.
“Our team closed operations at Warner Robins and became 100 percent operational at Camp Blanding in less than 48 hours, without degrading fuel operations,” said Army Lt. Col. Josiel Carrasquillo, commander of both DLA Energy Americas at Houston and Task Force Americas.
Army Col. Craig Simonsgaard was the deputy commander for DLA Task Force Tempest during Irma, Maria and Nate and is also the commander for DLA Energy Americas, which administers a fuels contract with Foster Fuels to meet FEMA’s needs for diesel fuel and gasoline.
Task Force Irma’s members included some who were themselves displaced form their homes.
“One of our employees had two trees fall on his house. Another left his wife and daughter at home pulling drywall out while he went to Camp Blanding for Irma; Simonsgaard said.
Supporting hurricane relief was a simpler task in Texas than in Puerto Rico and even Florida, he noted.
“One, the power didn’t go out. And two, there’s a whole bunch of ways you can come into Texas.” In Florida, the fact that so much of the damage was on the Florida Keys, which are accessible by one highway, made the job challenging there.
Because Puerto Rico is likewise a group of islands with no highway access to the mainland, it required that supplies be delivered via ship and airplane, Simonsgaard noted.
And even when a supply ship arrives, there’s still the need to staff the port at a time when employees can’t get to work due to damaged roads and gas shortages, he added. In addition, the bottom of the harbor underwater must be surveyed for any sunken debris that could damage the ship. Finally, ports require electricity to operated.
“When Harvey started, it knocked out the whole petroleum center of North America,” Simonsgaard noted. “These refineries [near Houston] represent 60 percent of the refining capacity in the United States. So when they were all down, that meant there was no resupply on the way.”
Whole of Government, Whole of DLA
Individuals like these are not unusual at DLA, said Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams, the DLA director. Their efforts show just how committed DLA people are to providing what customers need, no matter the difficulty.
“As I’ve visited our staging bases, I’ve seen so many truly inspiring DLA people,” Williams said. “I’ve met person after person who found a way to get the job done, even when the power was down, even when there was no cell signal or no internet. I’ve met many who had been working days at a time and in some cases when their own homes have been destroyed.”
“Our role as an agency is inherently one that’s in the background,” Williams continued. “Our job is to support those leading the effort. But when I see the faces of people who have just received their first meal in days or their long-awaited medication, I realize more than ever just how much our fellow citizens rely on the hard work of people throughout the Defense Logistics Agency.”
- Tanekwa Bournes, Cathy Hopkins, Ron Inman, Jake Joy, Jeff Landenberger, Kenneth MacNevin, Shawn J. Jones, Amber McSherry, Annette Silva and Mike Tuttle also contributed to this story.