Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Aug. 28, 2018 —
In July 2017, the Defense Logistics Agency Central regional command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, became the joint headquarters for DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM
. At that time, Army Col. Archie Herndon Jr. took command of the organization and the task of meeting the DLA director’s priorities as well as the combatant commands’ mission requirements in the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command areas of responsibility.
The basic mission has not changed. But has grown in scope and importance.
“DLA is really the strategic sustainer of those two commands,” Herndon said. “While we are more prevalent in CENTCOM than we are in SOCOM, we influence and set the operational conditions for both combatant commands.”
Among the DLA command’s strategic priorities are to provide the warfighter and DLA enterprise with credible, reliable, timely information about DLA’s capabilities and warfighter requirements.
Herndon said unlike DLA’s major subordinate commands, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM’s responsibilities span the entire supply system.
“We touch all nine classes of sustainment lines within DLA,” he said. “Whereas Energy
is focused strictly on energy and Troop Support
on troop support, we operationalize all of them … so the customer only has the one belly button [for] their sustainment needs.”
“While I ultimately work for [Maj.] Gen. Johnson and [Lt.] Gen. Williams, the reality is, I actually have six other general officers that I work for on a daily basis, because I represent the supply chains and what their priorities are in my region,” he said.
Herndon referred to the 2011 rebranding initiative, “We are DLA,” which was implemented to build solidarity and teamwork across the enterprise.
“At the regional command level, that is probably most true,” he said. “When we’re dealing with our customer … we’re not representing [any of the specific MSCs]; we’re representing DLA,” he said.
The “united front” perspective is reality from the customer’s point of view as well.
“Regardless of our background, their expectation is that we can answer for all nine supply chains,” Herndon said. “What they’re saying is, ‘Hey, I have a problem, and I need a global solution to this sustainment problem.’”
Some of the command’s main challenges involve supporting military exercises and training DLA support teams. The team needs to keep things moving to ensure these events can proceed as planned.
“We’ve had some challenges with fuel, for example,” Herndon said. “Obviously, if we can’t get fuel and can’t get it distributed into the right places, then that sets the tone for what the operators can do — how many things they can exercise on a daily basis.”
Herndon joked that it took him “six months to figure out how to spell DLA.”
“I’ve got four years of deployed time in combat, and frankly, [I] never once gave a thought to what DLA does,” he said. In his current position he’s gained a unique appreciation for DLA’s capabilities.
His dynamic team boasts 36 Joint Reserve Force members and civilians, some of whom are former military.
“I’ve got a combination of just about everything in my SOCOM support branch; we have reservists, civilians, different branches of service,” he said. “The same holds true for the CENTCOM support branch.”
In comparison with his peers who command brigades, Herndon says the benefit of this organization is his staff, with its varied and unique expertise.
“I’ve got former Army battalion commanders, a couple of former brigade commanders, a couple of retired of Navy captains — all of them were sustainers in their previous lives. From a sustainment perspective, they really understand what’s going on. They get it, they’ve done it, in some cases for 20, 25 years,” he said. “I’m somewhat biased, and I’ll admit that. But because of my experience, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what talent looks like.
“The people that comprise my organization are incredibly experienced, intelligent, mature and selfless when it comes to serving the warfighter.”
Another challenge Herndon said he faces is his constraints in the number of people he’s able to hire.
“No one ever complained about finding a job in Tampa, Florida, so when I have a vacancy, it’s not hard to fill,” he said. “But because the team is so small compared to an Army brigade, it becomes [about] our ability to work together, react to each other. You have to be able to trust the people around you very much because they’re going to cover down on your workload and you’re going to cover down on theirs at times.”
Herndon said once he’s hired someone, he has a limited capacity to promote people from within.
“I rely heavily on my human resources folks to find me opportunities to invest in those personnel and then develop them for greater growth in the agency,” he said. “We’re still growing this organization, the regional command structure; we’re still trying to refine it to make sense, so we can be the most effective that we can be.”
But there has been progress, and a lot of support has come in, especially from the Joint Reserve Force
, Herndon said.
“The benefit of the reservists is they provide a different combination of skills,” he said. “They have the military skill set that they get, which is very similar to ours, but then they also have their civilian skill sets that they bring in and they can actually lean on whichever one makes the most sense at that time.”
Because the JRF members come in during their drill week, Herndon said he’s been able to use that time for problem-solving opportunities.
“I ask them to [review] problems and then find viable solutions, which gives me my own special initiatives group,” he said. “Two of the four reservists have actually spent time in the region. They’ve been an incredible asset to our team.”
Waiting for personnel security clearances can also be a challenge, since most of his staff must be deployable.
“It’s not because the individuals who come to us don’t have the background or the ability to get ; it’s just the amount of time it takes to get one.” He said it can take more than a year for an employee to be granted Top Secret access.
Herndon’s current position has provided him a greater understanding of options that he said he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been assigned to DLA. He cites DLA Troop Support’s maintenance, repair and operations program as an example.
“It’s a program that’s designed to go out and find commercial off-the-shelf equipment to field to a unit,” he said.
Referring again to his deployments before joining DLA, Herndon said if he wasn’t able to obtain a piece of equipment via his government credit card or a military interdepartmental purchase request, he would never have considered DLA as a source.
“Now I have that in my rucksack, and if something pops up in the future, I’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, here’s an option, let’s look at it,’” he said. “We’ve actually used the MRO program to provide things like Caterpillar tractors in support of operations in Iraq, and then we used military or gray-tail aircraft to deliver them.”
Herndon explained that DLA Troop Support was able to modify the program in order to find the tractors overseas.
“[They went] through Caterpillar to get it right there locally and still met all the statutory requirements, but more importantly, they met the requirements from a timeline perspective for the customer,” he said. “So it was a great evolution. They could’ve just said, ‘This is the way our process is,’ but they found an improvement — and they do that pretty routinely.”
Herndon also addressed the importance of the relocation of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command operations from Al-Mubarak Air Base to Kuwait. The relocation will allow coalition forces to continue aerial port operations in Kuwait City.
“That’s driven by the Kuwaitis wanting to rebuild their airport,” Herndon said. “They’re going to move U.S. forces across the airstrip.”
DLA Troop Support will develop a shelter compound in order for them to continue to provide support, he said.
“This is a big deal, because that’s a major hub for support into Iraq and it also provides a lot of support into Afghanistan,” Herndon said. “We’re very nested into that plan to make sure everybody understands the significance, but more importantly that we’re meeting the timeline of the customers when it comes to providing those shelters.”
As to the future of the DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM mission, Herndon said it will align with the National Defense Strategy.
“That strategy has other priorities right now, but I think our challenge from a CENTCOM & SOCOM perspective is we’re going to have to ensure we’re better tied to the warfighter so we can maximize our capabilities,” he said. “Every piece of equipment that’s deployed right now matters.”
Herndon said DLA needs to make sure supply isn’t a factor in equipment being non-mission capable.
“I think in the next three to five years, we’re going to find that we’re even more integrated with the warfighter [and we’ll need to] provide them a level of understanding of the supply chains that exist within DLA that they don’t currently have,” he said. “We’re going to be able to provide the combatant commander a better understanding of their readiness posture.”