News | Jan. 26, 2018

DLA hosts summit to strengthen warfighter food supply chain

By Shawn J. Jones DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

Feeding warfighters is a complicated process, especially when they’re engaged in major overseas operations or training exercises. If food supplies don’t arrive when expected, the warfighter is forced into a last-minute logistics scramble to find alternatives.

It’s the responsibility of the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support to ensure the only things that scramble are the eggs.

And that is why Subsistence supply chain professionals from DLA Troop Support hosted a series of meetings at DLA Headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Dec. 18-19.

The meetings aimed to increase synchronization and efficiency among the supply chain’s many partners and stakeholders, including private vendors, carriers, military transportation organizations, contracting specialists, customers and other logistics professionals.

Jeff Olenick, the chief of the International Movement Support Division with the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, said providing food, also known as Class 1 materiel, to the troops requires effective coordination and communication among stakeholders.

“Shipping Class 1 cargo isn't rocket science, but it can be an enormously complex process,” Olenick said. “And that process can often become even more difficult to execute when you consider some of the austere environments where we deliver. With the number of stakeholders involved, and with individual segments that often overlap and have second- and third-order effects further down the supply chain, an effective partnership based on mutual understanding is a must.”

Some of those second- and third-order effects include:

  • forcing troops to adjust to a less desirable feeding cycle
  • shift from unitized group rations to individually pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals
  • reposition stock from one site to another
  • use air transportation to expedite a delivery

Army Lt. Col. Abel Young, the director of DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain, said the partnership has been effective, but like most complex systems, there is room for improvement.

“We are doing a pretty good job when you consider the global scope of the Subsistence supply chain, but there are opportunities to be more effective and more efficient,” he said.

The supply chain is a combination of multiple supply chains with several independent agencies and mutually exclusive contracts which Young said results in “a breeding ground for stakeholders with potentially different expectations and objectives.”

To improve the supply chain, he said he saw a need to better integrate internal and external stakeholders into a streamlined process with a continuous flow of data.

The two days of meetings placed an emphasis on improving the on-time delivery of operational rations to troops in Europe and the Middle East.

Navy Cmdr. Andrew Henwood, the chief of the Readiness Division within Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain, said there have been a few instances of late deliveries. To help identify potential solutions, Young and Henwood have been working with DLA Troop Support’s Continuous Process Improvement office.

The CPI office mapped the operational rations supply chain, step by step, from the vendor to the customer. The map illustrated the numerous intersections that involved more than one organization. Henwood said walking through the process with all of the stakeholders in the same room was useful for revealing where miscommunication occurs, where assumptions may differ and where coordination could be improved.

“We identified gaps and seams where there are hand offs between us and the vendor, the vendor and the carrier, and the carrier and the port,” he said. “Each handoff is an opportunity to add time and delay to the process.”

Henwood said the handoff between the vendor and the carrier was an area where, in several cases, inefficient coordination led to late deliveries. Going forward, Troop Support and Transportation Command will use contractual language that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the vendor and the carrier to better synchronize the timing of those handoffs.

The event’s attendees also identified foreign ports as another point of delay within the supply chain. Most delays are caused by shipping document errors. When shipments can’t clear customs due to paperwork, time is wasted on administrative actions to correct the issues while the cargo sits.

Henwood said greater attention must be paid to the requirements of specific ports because they can vary.

Improving efficiency during handoffs should reduce delay, but Henwood said additional visibility of in-progress deliveries would benefit the supply chain’s customers. Under the current process, Troop Support isn’t made aware when a delivery is running late until it doesn’t arrive on its required delivery date, known as an RDD.

“As the entity the customers place the order with, Troop Support must be informed any time a sail date is missed or a shipment is rolled from one ship to the next. Right now we’re not getting that visibility,” he said.

Henwood believes greater visibility would allow for more predictability, whether a delivery is delayed or not. Going forward, he said DLA would take a more active role in tracking in-transit overseas food shipments.

“If we know that we’ve rolled an RDD, I’d rather know in day three of the 90-day process instead of day 90, when it doesn’t show up in the port. Because then you have to scramble,” he said. “Rather than relying on crisis management at the last minute, we’re getting out in front of it and managing the solution. The warfighter shouldn’t suffer because of an error.”

Overall, Henwood said event participants helped identify 30 action items to improve the process. Some will be implemented immediately, but others will require more time and coordination.

The face-to-face meeting also helped the attendees establish a rapport with their fellow stakeholders. Henwood said greater familiarity reduces the time required to fix problems when they arise.

Olenick agrees.

“You can't develop any workable solutions to problems without a common understanding of the challenges we face together,” Olenick said. “This was the first step towards a greater partnership between all of the stakeholders. It was absolutely worthwhile.” 

Going forward, Henwood said he expects the stakeholders to meet every six months to continue to optimize the supply chain, ensuring the troops get what they need when they need it.

Young said the efforts to increase efficiency in overseas deliveries of operational rations is noticed and appreciated by DLA’s primary customer – the warfighter.

“The microscope is on us, and that’s a good thing because we’re the right organization to lead this,” he said.