Fort Belvoir, Virginia, March 1, 2018 —
Having a predominantly civilian workforce hasn’t stopped the Defense Logistics Agency from being on the battlefield or operating in austere locations. Hundreds of DLA civilians volunteer each year for deployments to dangerous spots like Afghanistan and hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico. Some do it for the adventure; others want to advance their careers. But what they all seem to have in common is the desire to be a part of something bigger and help others.
Joe Roshinko had worked at DLA Troop Support for 10 years when he deployed to Kuwait for six months with a DLA Support Team in November 2016.
“It’s so easy for people to lose sight of the fact that all of our work is done to help warfighters, but we’re not just pushing parts. We’re supporting men and women who’ve put their lives on the line for our benefit,” he said.
Phil Messner is a project manager for DLA Logistics Operations who first deployed to Baghdad in November 2010 for a six-month tour. In 2016 he served as the DLA Support Team Afghanistan deputy commander. For him, working alongside customers is the best way to understand their needs.
When the fuel supply was cut off to a remote Afghan base during his last deployment, troops set up an impromptu meeting with DLA fuel experts on the ground and operations officials. Watching the group’s quick response and seeing how each player processed information to make decisions helped convince Messner that having DLA employees on the front lines is the best way to support the mission and help ensure readiness.
“For sudden emergencies, you really have to be sitting at the customer’s side to make the biggest difference,” he said.
Business on the Battlefield
DSTs like those in Afghanistan and Kuwait were created at the start of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. For the first time, DLA began sending civilians to the battlefield in teams of subject matter experts from each major subordinate command. New technology and business practices allowed specialists in food, fuel, building material and repair parts to work alongside uniformed customers, getting parts and supplies where they were needed faster.
Marian Hunter, a DLA Aviation employee currently deployed to Bagram on what she calls her ninth and final deployment, was among the first to deploy there in 2007. The chance to attend unit maintenance meetings and talk directly with service members helped the agency better solve problems, she said. “The end result is what we all want: well-equipped, well-protected warfighters.”
DLA still sends about 80 employees, mostly volunteers, on six-month DST deployments to Afghanistan and Kuwait each year. The teams are projected to continue through 2021 and are managed by the DLA Joint Logistics Operations Center’s Mission Support Branch.
Mission Support also oversees DLA’s other headquarters-level deployment capability, the Rapid Deployment Teams. RDTs mirror the DSTs in their makeup and can deploy anywhere in the world. They were created in 2015 with volunteers from DLA Headquarters and MSCs to help the agency respond faster to national emergencies and global contingencies. Since then, the teams have become DLA’s go-to answer for support to overseas training exercises, said Jeff Crosson, RDT program manager. A third team was created in September.
“As we develop more capability, leadership sees more ways to deploy these teams. Our original design was very structured: support a Joint Task Force Port Opening. That’s a pretty tailored mission, but now that the teams are doing contingency-type stuff, it really broadens the range of skill sets we need,” he said.
Unlike DSTs, RDTs are an annual commitment. Participants may be called to deploy anywhere in the world with little or no notice, but deployments typically last for only a few weeks.
MSCs like DLA Distribution and DLA Disposition Services also have their own mobile teams of volunteers who fulfill duties such as supply movement and property disposal. Carl Houdeshell was part of the deployable depot at DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, when it was created in 2008.
His first deployment was to Okinawa, Japan, where he helped create a small distribution hub that reduced delivery time for customers who previously had to wait for items to arrive from elsewhere in Japan or the United States. That same year, the team deployed for the first time in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in recovery following Hurricane Ike.
After a short break from the deployable depot, Houdeshell rejoined in 2016 as a supervisor. He was part of the team that rushed to San Antonio, Texas, to assist after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. He said he enjoys the work even though it often means 12-hour workdays.
“Every day is something new. It’s very helpful to have an understanding wife and family, but it does come with its difficulties with two little boys at home,” he said. “After 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I know what it’s like to be on the other end, waiting for the correct supplies to be delivered.”
DLA almost always has volunteers downrange since that’s where much of the agency’s warfighter support takes place. This puts the agency’s civilian volunteers who deploy to war zones at great risk. Stephen Byus and Krissie Davis were both killed while serving in Afghanistan, supporting the agency’s mission.
Byus worked for DLA Land and Maritime in his regular job while serving as a Navy Reservist with DLA Disposition Services. By 2014 he’d already completed his required Reserve duty with two tours in Iraq, but he still volunteered for a deployment in Afghanistan. In September 2014, he headed downtown in a two-vehicle convoy to brief dignitaries at the Afghan Ministry of Defense when a red Toyota Corolla started following them. At a crowded intersection, the driver pulled between them and detonated 250 pounds of explosives. He died instantly at age 39.
Davis died in June 2015. She and Rob DeLong, her “battle buddy” and fellow DLA Disposition Services employee, were driving to the dining facility on Bagram Airfield when a 105-mm rocket slammed into their Ford pickup. DeLong recovered within seconds, but Davis died as surgeons fought to save her. She was 54.
Volunteers from all of the MSCs have willingly accepted the risks and dangers inherent to deployment. They also go on rotational assignments to places like Jordan, Romania and Djibouti. DLA Aviation’s Phil LaBranche was a 10-time deployer who’d been everywhere from the Middle East to Haiti when he did his final deployment at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, before retiring in January.
In addition to assisting a Marine Corps unit with spare-parts support, shipment tracking and training on DLA ordering systems like FedMall, he supported units at training areas throughout the country with hazardous-waste removal and subsistence planning. And he knew enough about DLA’s business that he was able to help customers with needs in other areas as well.
“This is job satisfaction at its best,” he said while deployed in August.
Whether employees deploy solo or as part of a team, their goal is usually to assist customers with the vast range of supplies and services DLA provides without passing them off to another person, Roshinko added.
“It’s never, ‘Well, that’s a Troop Support or Land and Maritime issue, let me give this request to somebody else.’ Honestly, I’ve never seen a team come together from different parts of an organization and country and work so well together. But in the group I deployed with, we asked each other questions and helped one another so we could meet customers’ needs regardless of what commodity it involved,” he said.
Before deploying, team commanders and deputy commanders like Messner get the chance to visit each MSC and learn about its operations. Leaders of teams heading to the U.S. Central Command area of operations are also briefed by DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM officials.
“I had a pretty narrow view of what each part of the agency does having been in the Information Operations cataloging branch for so long,” Messner said. “But through the visits, I saw and learned so much about how DLA operates. It’s really hard for an employee to gain all that knowledge unless you experience what I did on that round robin. It was eye opening.”
Like many who deploy for DLA, Roshinko, Houdeshell and Messner have served in the military. Messner is a retired Coast Guard gunner’s mate who spent most of his career in operational environments. He volunteers for the adventure and challenge.
“You feel like you’re contributing, and when you come back to your old job you’re fresh. It’s a nice break,” he said, adding that being away from loved ones for six months is a sacrifice employees must consider before volunteering.
Civilian Expeditionary Workforce
Sandra and Darryl Cousin from DLA Aviation made deploying a family affair. The couple retired from the Army National Guard with 44 years of service combined, but neither of them had ever deployed. It was something Sandra always wanted to do.
That urge still tugged at her after she joined DLA Human Resources and Darryl became an inspector for the Mapping Division of Document Services. Two years ago, a co-worker told Sandra about her experience with the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, a pool of Department of Defense civilians who volunteer to deploy anywhere in the world for six months. DLA Human Resources manages the agency’s contribution, which is about 40 individuals annually.
When Sandra took the information home to Darryl, he was so supportive he offered to apply, too.
“I know she’s close to the end of her career, so I said, ‘OK, let’s go for it,’” he said.
Sandra applied and was selected in July 2016 for a one-year deployment to Afghanistan, a place Darryl jokingly said “wasn’t really on my radar.” She spent the next four months training and completing medical appointments to certify she was in good physical shape, while Darryl also applied and was selected. Their start dates were six months apart, but both husband and wife were assigned to Kabul. Sandra left in November, and Darryl followed in May 2017.
Although they aren’t performing DLA’s mission during their deployment, the Cousins still feel like they’re representing the agency. Sandra took a short break from her job in- and out-processing civilian employees from the area to train DLA employees assigned to the region on the Department of Defense Performance Management and Appraisal Program when the agency adopted it in early 2017. And since they wear uniforms with a “DLA civilian” name tag, they both find themselves sharing information about what DLA offers.
“People are always asking me what I do for DLA and what the hiring process is, so I still feel like I’m representing the agency,” Sandra said. “This opportunity has also given me the chance to work with people from some of our partner agencies, and that’s good experience to take back home with me.”
Deborah Zemolong, another human resources specialist, returned from a CEW deployment to Afghanistan in June. The face-to-face interaction she had with customers inspired her to find deployment opportunities within DLA, and in March she’ll return to Afghanistan as the DST administration officer.
“When you’re there, you can see the living conditions and what our customers are going through on a daily basis. I’ve found that I really enjoy working with the military, and the firsthand experience I gain on the ground helps me do my job better,” she said.
The eagerness to deploy is so great among DLA employees that over 130 quickly volunteered when DLA Human Resources called for volunteers to support hurricane relief efforts with FEMA in September. Volunteers didn’t know where they would be assigned or what their duties would be.
Margaret Beverly, a procurement analyst with DLA Acquisition, was among the first to raise her hand and became one of only 10 selected. She spent five weeks at a call center west of Fort Worth, Texas, recording details of damage and losses by survivors.
“I enjoy helping people, so when they said there was a need, I knew I wanted to be part of the effort,” she said. “I would absolutely do it again if given the chance.”
Beverly and the other volunteers were trained by FEMA at Anniston, Alabama. Those who volunteer for DSTs, RDTs and the CEW also receive formal training. DST members go through the Army’s continental U.S. Replacement Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they learn tasks such as basic lifesaving techniques. RDT and CEW members spend two weeks at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, receiving personal protective equipment, completing medical-readiness screenings, and training in areas such as active-shooter response and vehicle rollovers.
“The training is set up to mirror the conditions you’ll be in on the deployment, so everyone has an idea of what to expect before you get where you’re going. Some of the training I received was actually given by a former Navy SEAL,” Zemolong said.
While most deployers agree being on duty in a foreign place is a balance of personal sacrifices and perks such as recognition for going above and beyond their normal scope of work, Sandra said there is one reason no one should volunteer: money.
“People who do it just for the money are doing it for personal gain, and that’s the wrong reason. I’ve seen people come here for that reason alone only to realize soon after they get here that it was a mistake,” Sandra said two months before the end of her tour. “It’s so important for civilians to realize that when they come here, their sole purpose is to positively impact the mission, even when it means long days and no weekends off.”
Employees interested in volunteering can get details about current deployment opportunities from their local operations office.