DLA experts deploy to support USNORTHCOM border mission

By John R. Bell

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Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California. U.S. Northern Command provided support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southwest border of the United States.
Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California. U.S. Northern Command provided support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southwest border of the United States.
Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California. U.S. Northern Command provided support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southwest border of the United States.
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Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California. U.S. Northern Command provided support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southwest border of the United States.
Photo By: Army Spc. Ethan Valetski
VIRIN: 190301-D-YE683-019
A team of experts from the Defense Logistics Agency deployed last fall to South Texas, where they provided support to U.S. Northern Command in its mission to physically strengthen the United States’ southern border.

DLA’s Rapid Deployment Team Blue was there to help USNORTHCOM and U.S. Customs and Border Protection obtain construction materials along with fuel and oil for equipment and vehicles. They also helped the Army provide food rations and holiday meals to soldiers working to reinforce the barrier between the United States and Mexico.

DLA’s contribution began in October, when USNORTHCOM asked DLA to send a team to assess what the agency could provide. DLA quickly deployed RDT Blue, whose members have been providing logistical support from their base in San Antonio, led by Air Force Col. Eduardo Quero.

RDT Blue is one of three RDTs that DLA Logistics Operations keeps trained and ready to send anywhere in the world to provide logistical support to other federal departments and agencies. RDTs deploy to support wildland firefighting, aid Americans affected by hurricanes and flooding, provide humanitarian assistance and perform other missions that require the specialized logistics expertise only DLA can provide. 

For this mission, RDT Blue included experts from several DLA major subordinate commands — seasoned pros in obtaining construction materials, fuel and food through contracting or interagency agreements. They were joined by a universal customer account specialist, an expert in acquiring and ensuring the proper delivery of multiple categories of supplies. Specialists in legal issues and disposal of excess materials have been supporting the effort remotely.

Just as crucial as the team members on the ground are their partners working from DLA’s MSCs around the country, Quero emphasized. “Our RDT … has access to the entire supply-chain enterprise to facilitate the logistics needs in the [border mission].”

The team’s deputy commander agreed. “Being embedded with the customer, knowing that the whole of the agency is behind us makes our support much more capable,” Eric Gray said. 

Working in sync with the team from the Agency Synchronization Operations Center, the DLA Distribution Logistics Operations Center and the Command and Control Centers from DLA Troop Support, as well as DLA Energy and DLA Disposition Services, has been key to the mission’s overall success, he added. 

In addition to supplying the usual materials and fuel, the RDT fulfilled a special request from the commander of the Army’s 4th Sustainment Brigade. After the team arrived, he asked DLA to provide a full Thanksgiving meal for the troops deployed on the border. 

Army Pvt. William Crowder of the 887th Engineer Support Company applies concertina wire near Brownsville, Texas.
Army Pvt. William Crowder of the 887th Engineer Support Company applies concertina wire near Brownsville, Texas.
Army Pvt. William Crowder of the 887th Engineer Support Company applies concertina wire near Brownsville, Texas.
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Army Pvt. William Crowder of the 887th Engineer Support Company applies concertina wire near Brownsville, Texas.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Untalan
VIRIN: 190301-D-YE683-020
“It’s an honor to be able to help provide the troops with a holiday meal while they’re away from home,” said Joe Cauvin, a DLA Troop Support Subsistence employee. “If they can’t be with their families, having a traditional Thanksgiving meal can give a sense of comfort and remind the troops that they are not forgotten while they’re away.” 

Joining Quero, Gray and Cauvin for the RDT Blue deployment were Jamal Brooks and Rick Bulson of DLA Land and Maritime; Bryant “Jack” Jackson of DLA Distribution; Greg Stephens of DLA Troop Support; and Katherine Meadows of DLA Energy. Pete Gentry and Ron Williams from DLA Disposition Services supported remotely, along with Army Lt. Col. Patrick Vergona from the DLA Office of General Counsel.

“Logistically, it was pretty smooth,” Jackson said. “We were essentially a central hub that interfaced with DLOC plus ASOC and DLA Troop Support’s Command and Control Center. We were kind of the main pivot entity between those organizations and the guys on the ground,  primarily the Army’s 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 4th Sustainment Brigade and Army engineers assigned to a vast array of geographically dispersed units.” 

The team worked long days, seven days a week. “The mission really didn’t stop,” he said.

As Army units completed their work reinforcing physical structures, DLA’s role in the border mission shifted to helping soldiers and Marines prepare to dispose of excess barrier materials and scrap metal. DLA Disposition Services sent specialists from several locations to aid in that effort.

Gray reflected on the keys to DLA’s success in supporting CBP in this mission. 

“We were as an RDT able to deploy on short notice with an already-formed team,” he explained. “We knew each other and our business. We could get on ground quickly and figure out how to support our customer’s requirements. 

“Just as important was that we were co-located with leadership, as they were trying to take care of nearly 6,000 troops across a nearly 2500-mile border,” Gray added. 

Rapid Deployment Team Blue helped provide construction material like those shown here at a staging facility in Donna, Texas, about six miles from the southern border.
Rapid Deployment Team Blue helped provide construction material like those shown here at a staging facility in Donna, Texas, about six miles from the southern border.
Rapid Deployment Team Blue helped provide construction material like those shown here at a staging facility in Donna, Texas, about six miles from the southern border.
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Rapid Deployment Team Blue helped provide construction material like those shown here at a staging facility in Donna, Texas, about six miles from the southern border.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 190301-D-YE683-021
This meant the RDT had to work together to supply about 25 border crossings, he noted. Because U.S. Army North and the Marines were the ones interacting with CBP, the RDT personnel received their requirements from those service members. 

One challenge was to supply enough coiled barrier wire, known as concertina wire. 

“We basically cleared out DLA’s [continental U.S.]-based stocks,” Gray said. “But DLA Troop Support has done a really good job setting up surge contracts.” 

Delivering the wire also required all hands on deck. 

DLA Distribution ensured that many of the truck drivers had two-driver teams so they could drive 24 hours a day to deliver more quickly,” Gray said. 

Concertina wire requires supporting pickets in heights of 8 feet, 6 feet and 32 inches, which the team also made sure was provided, along with concrete jersey barriers and 20-foot shipping containers. And they provided some military units with ramps for loading and unloading.

The result was a success in providing service members everything they needed to complete the mission. In fact, Col. Richard Pierce of U.S. Army North told the RDT that at no point did any combat engineers run out of fortification material, Gray recalled. 

That belief was shared by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. S.D. Sklenka, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, who was temporarily assigned to the operation as deputy commanding general for sustainment. The general told Gray and Quero that nobody was yelling about logistics. 

“As a logistician, you know that when the customer is quiet, they’re pretty satisfied,” Gray said.

RDTs: DLA’s Ready Asset

The work illustrates the real capa-bility of the RDTs, which many at DLA may forget exist. 

“We don’t get a lot of attention until something pops up,” Gray said. “And I think the RDTs are a great asset that facilitates DLA’s global posture, supports the warfighter and promotes our strong partnerships around the world.”

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. S.D. Slenka, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, takes notes on the status of the border operation in Nogales, Arizona. DLA and Rapid Deployment Team Blue supported the effort by providing supplies to U.S. Northern Command.
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. S.D. Slenka, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, takes notes on the status of the border operation in Nogales, Arizona. DLA and Rapid Deployment Team Blue supported the effort by providing supplies to U.S. Northern Command.
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. S.D. Slenka, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, takes notes on the status of the border operation in Nogales, Arizona. DLA and Rapid Deployment Team Blue supported the effort by providing supplies to U.S. Northern Command.
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Marine Corps Brig. Gen. S.D. Slenka, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, takes notes on the status of the border operation in Nogales, Arizona. DLA and Rapid Deployment Team Blue supported the effort by providing supplies to U.S. Northern Command.
Photo By: Army Spc. Brandon Best
VIRIN: 190301-D-YE683-022
In his everyday life, Gray is a customer account manager for the Marine Corps at DLA Headquarters. 

“The thing I’ve really enjoyed most is the teamwork. Each of the RDT members has a tremendous amount of experience and can do more than their individual skillsets. Seeing the team in action is really a work of art,” he said.

His colleague Jackson worked on-site for one month for DLA Distribution. He grew accustomed to frequent deployments during his career as an Air Force logistician.

“I think our DLA RDT performed exceptionally well,” he added. “We got a lot of positive feedback from the leadership and from numerous people from the Army command and subordinate units we were dealing with.”

Working on a mission for an RDT, “you find out really quickly how connected the MSCs are,” Jackson said. “It was really kind of impressive to see how we all interconnected and interfaced with the Army units.”

To dispose of excess building materials, the RDT relied on working with DLA Disposition Services out of locations near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, and near San Diego, where DLA Distribution also had a hub. DLA Distribution, Corpus Christi, Texas, provided key support as well, Jackson said. 

DLA Distribution also managed the trucking contracts and oversaw the scheduling and routing of numerous carriers. 

“They had a special project code assigned to this mission that prioritized it in importance,” Jackson said. 

Even with so many MSCs working together for different military branches supporting a different federal agency, the operation “was smooth as glass,” Jackson said. 

“As an RDT, we all get along well. And when it’s go-time, everybody on the team knows it. You didn’t hear anybody complaining,” he said.