Success for Army Sgt. 1st Class Terrell Brown is serving beef Burgundy to 600 tired and hungry troops in the middle of nowhere using a makeshift field kitchen and no refrigeration.
The 12th Combat Aviation Brigade food adviser knows the effect a good meal has on soldiers’ morale, so with the Defense Logistics Agency’s support, he and his food service crew served two hot meals a day during Saber Strike 2018 despite a unit downsizing that eliminated their cold-storage assets.
“DLA is providing cold, refrigerated foods directly from the vendor. Supplying us with ‘real food’ as we call it is an awesome move for them, and we appreciate it,” Brown said during the exercise.
Almost 60 civilian and military employees representing DLA major subordinate commands like DLA Distribution
, DLA Energy
and DLA Disposition Services
deployed to Powidz, Poland, to give U.S. forces easier access to critical supplies. The U.S. Army Europe-led exercise was held June 3-15 in the Baltics and Poland. Now in its eighth year, Saber Strike involves about 18,000 personnel from 19 countries working to strengthen interoperability and trust in the region.
The exercise marked the first time DLA has dedicated a DLA Support Team to integrate DLA commodity and services support during an exercise, said Air Force Lt. Col. John Dingeman, DST deputy commander. The DST was made up of 11 members of the DLA Joint Reserve Force
who oversaw the support of items including food
, construction supplies
, repair parts
The DST worked alongside Army logistics units such as the Mississippi Army National Guard’s 184th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the Army’s lead in logistics support during the exercise. Air Force Maj. Raymond Lewis served as DLA’s liaison officer to the unit. Sitting alongside customers empowers the agency to quickly meet emerging and last-minute requirements, he said the first week of the exercise.
“There’s no formality of picking up the phone and not knowing who you’re talking to. I find that they route the most complex questions through me but also the simplest ones that you probably wouldn’t get over the phone,” Lewis added.
Though most DST members had previous deployment experience, none had ever served on a DLA support team. They had months to coordinate via phone and email but limited resources and a short learning curve upon hitting the ground.
“On Day One, it was a matter of getting out there and sniffing other folks out and showcasing DLA’s capabilities. Instantly, we were fielding requests for information and helping customers find out the status of their supplies,” Dingeman said.
Visibility of rations and other food items was a key concern for customers early in the exercise. Although DLA Troop Support officials carefully forecast the demand for meals based on customer input and previous exercises, units like the 184th didn’t know how to track shipments to see if they were at a ration-breakdown site or on the road for delivery until DST members familiarized them with the agency’s tracking methods. The group also worked with customers to project the number of days of supply that were on hand and determine how to adjust the flow as the exercise concluded.
Army Col. Steve Lai, DST commander, said the team made a positive impression on customers, especially Army Maj. Gen. Steven Shapiro, commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.
“He told me he was impressed with our presence out there,” Lai said. “He wants to be able to harness DLA on the battlefield and come up with new ways to streamline the supplies coming from [the continental United States] to the operational and tactical levels.”
DLA also used Saber Strike to test its expeditionary capabilities in Europe by sending DLA Distribution’s deployable depot to serve as a forward distribution point and theater consolidation shipping point. Called DLA Distribution Powidz for the duration of Saber Strike, the capability allowed DLA to place supplies closer to exercise participants located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland than if the agency sourced them from DLA Distribution Germersheim in Germany and DLA Distribution Susquehanna in Pennsylvania.
“This capability is important for the combatant command because it puts wholesale logistics in a position to affect from the strategic level down to the tactical level,” said DDPP Commander Army Maj. Grant Thimsen. “It puts materials and equipment closer to the warfighter to reduce customer wait time and increase readiness for the soldiers on the ground executing the training exercise.”
DDPP orchestrated air and surface shipments of sustainment material like building supplies and spare parts by working closely with U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. European Command planners. To route supplies in and out of theater quicker, DDPP used existing in-theater capabilities such as Army ground transportation and rotary-wing assets. That meant more frequent deliveries and predictability for customers, said Army Brig. Gen. Clint Walker, 184th ESC commander.
“What that has done is allowed the bypassing of a warehouse in Germany, allowing the items that we need to get here faster. And anytime you can get material on the battlefield faster, it enables our commanders to complete their mission,” he said.
Even before the exercise started, DLA forward positioned more than 60 high-demand items like meals, water, repair parts and building supplies. And DDPP proved its ability to “hit a tactical moving target” when it received Navy supplies from Distribution Depot Sigonella, Italy, and delivered them to the USS Mount Whitney during a port call in Klaipeda, Lithuania.
Although DLA Distribution has provided limited support to exercises such as Pacific Reach in the Republic of Korea and Talisman Saber in Australia, some customers were unfamiliar with DDPP’s operational role. Others asked questions about additional DLA capabilities like hazardous waste removal. Having a DST within 3 miles of the distribution point let the DDPP focus on its distribution mission while the DST fielded questions on other types of support, Thimsen added.
Maps and driving instructions were among other supplies DLA provided during Saber Strike. Since many exercise participants were deployed to the region from stateside locations and weren’t aware of driving laws in the region, DLA’s Document Services
printed enough safety guides to be placed in every vehicle. The 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion also relied on DLA Disposition Services for morale- and welfare-related items such as gym equipment and lockers.
“When we arrived here, there were some shortages of basic things like wall lockers, gym equipment and furniture for [Defense Morale, Welfare and Recreation],” said Army Capt. Justin Copeland from the 143rd CSSB. “It’s been a great morale booster receiving that DLA support.”
DLA Disposition Services personnel rotated among units giving instructions on local procedures for disposal of hazardous waste and remained on the ground after the exercise to facilitate property turn-ins.
For fuel, U.S. and NATO forces relied on DLA Energy’s acquisition cross-service agreement, which allowed reciprocal fuel support between partner nations. And before the exercise, the USNS Sgt. William R. Button sailed across the Baltic Sea from Jacksonville, Florida, to Klaipeda to deliver fuel for exercise participants. Mark Knapp, DLA Energy Europe’s liaison to U.S. Army Europe, called the event “significant.”
“The pier-side fuel operation was truly a joint operation — one that had reportedly not occurred in Europe in many years,” he said.
Having DLA representatives present during exercises like Saber Strike lets warfighters accomplish their mission without worrying about logistics, Walker added.
“They’re able to help us find solutions to material problems that we have, again, to speed things to the battlefield to help our maneuver commanders on the battlefield,” he said during the exercise. “We are very happy DLA is here with us.”
DLA supports over 100 exercises each year including the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Key Resolve, U.S. Central Command’s Global Thunder and U.S. Northern Command’s Ardent Sentry.