News | July 24, 2019

DLA Distribution Expeditionary—Whole of Government Logistics Enabler

By Cory Angell, DLA Distribution Public Affairs

Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane with a storm surge well above normal high tide levels, swept across the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts in August 2005, with maximum sustained winds at landfall estimated at 140 miles per hour. There were many lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. One major lesson was that support supplies need to reach victims sooner rather than later following a disaster.

In late January 2006, in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, Defense Logistics Agency Distribution was directed to develop an expeditionary capability that would provide tailored distribution support for humanitarian assistance and natural disaster recovery. The federal government realized it needed to move resources to a disaster zone before a storm rather than wait for formal requests from governors after the event. As a result, supplies are now positioned at incident staging bases outside of disaster zones, waiting for rains to subside so that they can be sent into the recovery zone.

“These tasks were laid out in a memorandum from 2006 by the Defense Logistics Agency J3 Director of Logistic Operations, Maj. Gen. Bennie E. Williams,” said John Heikkinen, an operations and planning specialist with DLA Distribution. The immediate focus was to develop a support package capable of providing wholesale distribution support following a natural disaster.”

With that, DLA Distribution Expeditionary was born with teams located at DLA Distribution Red River, Texas, DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California and DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.

“DDXX started with the concept outlined, quickly establishing the capabilities to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency and over time the DDXX has evolved into a robust logistics enabler,” said Heikkinen. “DDXX can provide a wide variety of capability such as establishing an incident support base during disaster response, as well as providing overseas forward distribution points. However, the core of their mission began with humanitarian assistance.”

“Close integration between FEMA and DLA has resulted in pre-scripted mission assignments for DDXX,” said Heikkinen. Upon receipt of a Department of Defense and U.S. Northern Command task to support the FEMA mission assignment, the DDXX is ready to provide immediate support.”

Heikkinen said a typical mission assignment for DDXX is to establish an incident support base to receive, manage, and ship trailers of disaster relief commodities.

“For example, FEMA will designate federal staging areas where ISB’s are to be established,” said Heikkinen. “Generally these areas are capable of handling between 500 to 3,000 trailers worth of disaster supplies. It is essentially a large trailer transfer point that can process 500 trailers in 24 hours. The team manages not only the trailers but the accounts for the commodities in them as well.”

Heikkinen said that holding yards and trailer transfer points were just one capability and that they provide support with incident support bases, which is where trailers of commodities are held until points of distribution are established.

“DLA Distribution also has many of the first to go items such as blankets, tarps and meals ready to eat warehoused for response efforts,” said Heikkinen. “The DDXX mission though remains focused on projecting logistics support and providing command and control of the logistics effort.”

Heikkinen said that the teams have been deployed three years in a row due to hurricane response but they also have provided humanitarian assistance overseas.

“They have provided humanitarian assistance overseas by establishing forward distribution points in Jordan and Kuwait to support the humanitarian aid efforts in Syria and Iraq in 2015,” said Heikkinen. “They also assisted in supporting response to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa during Operation Unified Assistance in 2014 with three forward distribution points in West Africa.” Several DLA distribution sites have been supporting the packaging and movement of critical supplies to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility as part of the Department of Defense mission, supporting the U.S. government’s overall response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

In close coordination with the Humanitarian Assistance Staff from U.S. Africa Command, Sustainment Operations staff from U.S. Army Africa, and commercial transportation partners, DLA Distribution Europe, located in Germersheim, Germany, processed 1,400 cots for air movement to the Liberian capital, where AFRICOM is supporting a comprehensive U.S. government effort led by the U.S Agency for International Development, to support the World Health Organization and other international partners to help the Governments of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone respond to and contain the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. 

DLA Distribution Europe also prepared over 100 pallets of Meals, Ready to Eat, as well as approximately 150 pallets of bottled water, for movement to Liberia and Senegal. Additionally, the organization’s mapping division fulfilled a requisition for maps of these locations in varying quantities, as requested by the DLA Europe and Africa regional commands. DLA Distribution Sigonella, Italy, shipped 800 cots to Monrovia and 60 cans of insect repellent to U.S. Army Africa troops. Support from continental U.S. distribution sites included over 200 tents to Monrovia from DLA Distribution Barstow, California, while DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, prepared 20 tents and approximately 550 cots for shipping, alongside mosquito netting. 

Heikkinen said that overseas humanitarian assistance is less common and that stateside duty remains the more probable mission.

“Having been called on the past three years during hurricane season we take the disaster response mission pretty seriously and remain prepared to support,” said Heikkinen. “With all the missions the team supports, helping in the wake of a natural disaster is meaningful to the team members and remains at the heart of what they do.”