Fort Belvoir, VA –
Defense Logistics Agency Distribution’s commander discusses the focus on modernization, metrics and deployable capability.
You’ve been with DLA Distribution about 18 months. Have you accomplished all you set out to since taking command in June 2016?
The short answer is no. I don’t think you can ever be done supporting the warfighter — especially with a mission as broad as we have at DLA Distribution. We’re a global organization, with more than 50 locations across the world. To meet the needs of the warfighter, we have to be innovative and adaptive, and I don’t think that’s something you achieve as much as it’s a continual journey.
That said, I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished together over the course of my time here. Our performance metrics, which measure our commitment to deliver materiel to the warfighter, have improved tremendously over the last 18 months, and I could not be more proud of what the entire team across the network has done — our commanders and directors, the staff and our great workforce in the field.
You’ve mentioned creating another DLA Distribution Expeditionary team. What’s the vision behind that idea?
I’d start first with the new DLA Strategic Plan. It outlines five lines of effort and, of course, “Warfighter First” will always be a primary focus for DLA. The agency’s leadership recognized the demand to move capabilities closer to the warfighter, so we included “Global Posture” as a new line of effort.
So what does that mean? That we need to be prepared for immediate action globally.
At DLA Distribution, we do that a number of ways. First, we have our distribution centers located throughout the continental United States. And of course, we’re overseas where we have U.S. military forces. So that strategic positioning — or where we are today — is very important. Our DLA Distribution Expeditionary, or DDXX teams, provide us the capability to be where we are not today. We’re prepared to support the warfighter, whenever and wherever they require.
There’s a number of ways we’re doing that. In addition to the DDXX teams, we have our Department of Defense civilian volunteers who deploy when needed. We also have robust contracting capabilities, in what we call the Global Distribution Expeditionary Contract. And this past year, we’ve worked hard to operationalize our reserve component into our new Expeditionary Distribution Support Battalions, which can mobilize and deploy into semi- or nonpermissive environments.
We’ve seen the demand signal for the DDXX teams grow, particularly in response to last year’s hurricanes. Harvey, Irma and Maria were the first time we have had all three teams deployed simultaneously, and I don’t think when we established these teams anyone envisioned that. So the demand is there, and we’ll expand the capability to meet the requirement.
Right now, we’re working through the processes to man and equip another team, and we’re working to see exactly where the team will be placed. It’s an expeditionary capability, so more than likely the team will be located in the United States at one of our larger sites. As we work through equipping solutions, we could envision even stationing the people here in CONUS and the equipment overseas.
In your opinion, could DLA Distribution ever be a purely expeditionary organization?
Absolutely not. I think the expeditionary capabilities we bring, as well as our current posture outside of the continental United States, are crucial to our ability to perform our mission. But the bottom line is that support starts here in the United States.
At DLA Distribution, we do that through our two Strategic Distribution Centers: one at San Joaquin [California,] and the other at Susquehanna [Pennsylvania]. Additionally, we provide support the services require to generate readiness throughout the continental United States at the organic industrial bases. DLA provides the military services and the combatant commands the agility and flexibility of support across the spectrum of logistics requirements.
Can you tell me a little about the focus of your forthcoming DLA Distribution Annual Operating Plan?
We’re excited to be getting the Distribution Operating Plan out in short order, because it really should have been issued in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017 so we could prepare for fiscal 2018. But we wanted to make sure we were well nested with the DLA Strategic Plan.
I don’t think there will be any surprises in it for most folks. We’re going to focus on our core Distribution mission: Receive, Store, Issue and Distribute materiel for the Department of Defense. And we’re going to get after some ways that we can improve that over the course of the next year.
We’re always looking at improving our metrics, looking through the lens of the warfighter to measure the way we perform. We’re going to look at things like reducing the time to hire and the onboarding process to make people more capable earlier as they join our team.
We’re going to sustain our safety program. I’m very proud of the safety program we’ve got in DLA Distribution.
We’re going to look at how we integrate DDXX into more joint exercises and into the operations plans for the combatant commands.
We’re going to work with the other major subordinate commands at DLA to update our memorandums of agreement we have at the industrial sites. Many of our [MOUs] haven’t been updated, and we’d like to start looking at a standard suite of metrics so we can take better advantage of our standard processes.
And I’ve already talked about operationalizing the reserve component into our new EDSBs.
This year, we’re very excited to be implementing our new DLA Distribution Transportation Contract, which will support what’s called the Trans Arabian Network, in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. This will be a paradigm shift for DLA Distribution, because we’ve always focused on our core of “Receive, Store, Issue and Distribute,” and we’ve done that distribution by leveraging contract vehicles of either U.S. Transportation Command, the CCMDs or service components. Now, for the first time, the DDTC will provide DLA our own transportation contract, and we’re carefully thinking through exactly what that means for the command.
Lastly, we’re going to consolidate and sustain the gains we’ve made on our audit-readiness journey. This has forced us to take a hard look at ourselves and tighten up our processes. I couldn’t be more proud of the progress we’ve made, and we’ll continue to improve on that strong foundation.
You’ve spoken about the importance of modernizing DLA Distribution’s warehousing. You’ve also said it’s likely the network will geographically expand. Which do you see as more integral to future success?
Both are extremely important. As far as the expansion, our customers are the military services and CCMDs. Both are asking us to be closer to the warfighter in the way we support them.
Over my tenure, I’ve been privileged to cut the ribbon on three new distribution capabilities: a new Materiel Processing Center in Oman, a DLA Distribution center we opened in Djibouti, as well as one in Iwakuni, Japan.
So the CCMDs are asking us to be closer to the warfighter. At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, we’re piloting putting DLA materiel into a Marine Corps Supply Management Unit. And at the Army’s Logistics Readiness Center supply support activities, we’re getting ready to execute a pilot at Fort Carson, Colorado, to place DLA materiel directly onto an Army installation, closer to the warfighter. So that’s the expansion piece.
At the same time, we’re looking closely at all our modernization efforts and working with DLA Headquarters, as we have multiple initiatives we’re executing and piloting in fiscal 2018. One of the most exciting is a potential commercial off-the-shelf replacement for our Distribution Standard System. The team is working hard to pilot a new system at Corpus Christi, Texas, over the next several months.
Implementing a new system will require us to think outside the box and change some processes we’re accustomed to. But we’ve fostered a culture of innovative leaders and a resourceful workforce who understands we must adapt to be successful.
What is the most common request you get from DLA Distribution’s customers?
One of our mottos at DLA Distribution is that we deliver “the right things, at the right place…at the right time.” As I talk with customers, we see they also want things the way they want them. So it’s also the right way. One capability we provide to meet this need is our tailored kitting operations to configure the materiel for the customer. So instead of ordering each item in a first-aid kit, they can just order the kit and have exactly what they need.
But they also want the best value. Today, as we look to the support we provide the military services and the CCMDs, it’s easy for us to point to our value proposition. With our metrics, which reflect how well we’re delivering capability, we can easily highlight how we support their readiness.
However, we realize cost is a component of value, and we have several lines of effort to reduce our costs. The team is looking at our expenses hard — very hard, every day, to ensure we’re being as efficient with our dollars as possible. We are looking hard at our overhead. And we we’re looking at innovative ways to save our customers money, such as maximizing the use of our scheduled truck network, which saved the services over $26 million last year.
However, I think an area where we could do better is the way we communicate our prices and avoid the perception that we’re too expensive. The way we advertise our pricing structure isn’t indicative of the value we believe we provide. That’s an area we’re looking to improve.
Finally, what do you hope to leave as your legacy?
There’s so much this team has achieved during my time that it’s hard to pin down a few things. Hopefully, in the end people would point to how we’ve improved the culture — the way we do the business we do. And that we’ve taken care of our people.
I also hope we’ve changed the planning horizon that we look at — looking farther into the future so we can make real change. Using our new global DLA Distribution Headquarters building as an example: We cut the ribbon on it in 2016, but it took about 15 years from the concept to actually occupying the building that we’re in today.
While we must be focused on delivering materiel to the warfighter every day, we must also think more broadly. We must think beyond today and tomorrow and think outside the box on how we’ll be delivering capability to the warfighter in the next decade and beyond. It’s our responsibility to ensure this Distribution capability is available for the Department of Defense whenever needed to support the warfighter well into the future.