DLA, Marine Corps strengthen partnership for improved readiness

By Cathy Hopkins

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Increases in Marine Corps personnel at Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in the past four years have improved the service’s readiness and knowledge of DLA procurement processes at tactical and strategic levels.

Marine Corps Maj. Lamont Wilson, who was an operations officer for the Customer Operations Directorate’s Marine Corps Customer Facing Division from 2016 to June 2019, said manpower increases made possible by the Marine Corps have strengthened DLA’s partnerships with the service and enabled the division to focus on long-term sustainment issues and urgent needs. 

DLA Aviation’s Marine customer facing group was previously nested within the Naval Aviation Customer Facing Division, but a separate Marine Corps Customer Facing Division was created in 2016 as manpower increased from just two Marines to seven enlisted members, eight officers and one warrant officer.

“Before the personnel buildup, customer engagement was at a low. Marines didn’t feel a DLA connection,” said Marine Corps Master Sgt. Olga McCray, retired, who served as DLA Aviation’s Marine Corps senior noncommissioned officer from 2016 to August-2019. 

The buildup resulted from the advocacy of Marine Corps Col. A. J. Manual, aviation logistics lead for the Marine Corps Customer Facing Division, and other senior leaders who were familiar with the Naval Supply System Command’s teaming structure for weapons system support and thought embedding Marines into each platform would improve support. 

“DLA Aviation Marines are the voice of the customer. They serve as military service representatives strategically placed to respond to requests for information across six different weapon system platforms,” Wilson said. 

Tactical and strategic focus expands 

Today, each platform is supported by two Marines, one civilian weapons system program manager and two to nine contract support specialists who work tactical and strategic issues by engaging daily with operational field units and program support offices.

“Staff noncommissioned officers work directly with the weapons system program managers and customer logistics site specialists in strategic roles supporting required parts in the day-to-day tactical work requests submitted by the service’s weapons system leads, said Robert Kish, supervisor of the division’s Marine Aviation Customer Relationship Management Cell. 

Adding staff NCOs to his team allowed for the creation of a Back-Order Analysis Team that concentrates on unfilled orders.  

“This team not only focused on the number of UFOs, but also on the overall health and provisioning efforts behind the scenes,” he said. “Over the past year, the Marine Corps team has reduced total UFOs by 20% while reducing aged UFOs by 32.5%.” Aged UFOs are unfilled orders over 365 days due. 

The division’s latest challenge involves moving more DLA inventory from wholesale to retail sites to decrease overall logistics response time.

“Starting in 2018 and continuing through May of this year, our Marine Corps customers implemented an initiative they call Customer Oriented Leveling Technique/Proactive Demand Leveling to increase retail allowances that placed 75,000 unplanned demands into DLA systems,” he said. “The short-lived 7% UFO increase will be cleared in about 12 to 18 months and is offset by increased fleet readiness as materiel will be available sooner with decreased LRTs.”

Having active-duty Marines on the team also helps civilians understand the service’s unique perspective while improving communication flow and situational awareness between DLA and the Marine Corps. 

“The Marine Corps team typically responds with a complete answer in the same day and will give a full and accurate sight picture of the issue... which, even if bad news, helps [us] to better plan and assess other options. Aviation logisticians logically have a much better understanding of what we are going through and how to better address our concerns. Having Marines with inherently more skin in the fight provides considerably better results,” said Marine Corps Capt. Barry Loseke, an aviation supply officer for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 41, Marine Aircraft Group 41, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas. 

Last year, DLA Aviation decreased the unit’s backorders from 615 to 256 and increased material availability from 83% to 96% for F/A-18 and KC-130 aircraft.

Educational initiatives improve tactical operations

Other new initiatives made possible by increased personnel include squadron site visits, joint reviews of critical items effecting readiness and the creation of a wholesale certification course to train Marines. 

Various summits have also been established to increase DLA’s collaboration with Naval aviation stakeholders, other military services and private industry. Designing the Aviation Logistics Summit that started in 2017, for example, educates operational forces and Marine Corps’ program office personnel on how DLA operates and outlines resources customers can use to help themselves. The American Fuels Summit was another event hosted to address support for UH-1Y Venom helicopters. 

“We were seeing overdue contracts; when we listened to our customer, we identified issues with the number of fuel cells available and cell reliability,” said Marine Corps Capt. Paul St. Marie, DLA Aviation’s weapons system deputy program manager for the UH-1 and summit action officer. 

Participants included representatives from industry and DLA’s Warstopper Program as well as Air Force, Marine Corps and foreign military sales customers. After the summit, a continuous process improvement team conducted a business case analysis to assess industrial equipment process controls. 

“It is definitely something we are staying on top of,” St. Marie said, adding that fuel cells remain one of the Marine Corps’ top 10 readiness drivers.

Supply chain reviews have also revealed demand issues for each weapons system. 

“We are trying to quiet the ‘white noise,’ the unnecessary demand,” Wilson said. And because Marines at DLA are experienced in Marine Corps supply systems, they’re also guiding their operational counterparts through DLA’s ordering methods. They recently provided on-site training for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24 at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.

Marine Corps Master Sgt. Andrew Jennings, NCO in charge of the squadron’s Supply Response Division, called the training beneficial. 

“By explaining the proper way to search for stock on hand and request for a breach, we have been able to eliminate over 20 high-priority documents and eliminate wait time for the customer,” he said. “Secondly, we were provided refined training on submitting system assistance requests, which we submit regularly, and how to better support you [DLA] so you can support us.” 

More than 1,000 Marines have been trained on DLA tools and processes through site visits at all four Marine Corps aircraft wings. DLA representatives discovered during training that they were competing for Marines’ attention due to the high operational tempo.

“So we developed a resident aviation wholesale course in conjunction with DLA Aviation’s Career Development Branch and decided to bring the fleet here,” McCray said, adding that feedback was overwhelmingly positive. 

New strategic initiatives improve demand projections

Two new initiatives were started this year to improve demand projections and reduce demand planning errors, thereby increasing readiness and buying power for the Defense Department. 

The National Inventory Item Number Integrity Risk Assessment Scorecard initiative is at the flag-officer level and identifies problems like shortages of specific NIINs. The Retail Demand Planning and Forecasting Project initiative is expected to improve collaboration on planeside readiness and parts support as fleet Marines submit two-year requirements forecasts and reduce preventable non-mission capable occurrences and wholesale back orders.

Having more Marines at DLA has done more than increase the service’s readiness. The three-year assignment also provides professional benefits as Marines are able to earn Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certifications up to Level 3 and can receive additional supply chain management certifications through college and private industry programs.

“For enlisted Marines, I feel serving a billet at DLA puts them miles ahead of their peers knowledge-wise,” McCray said. “When they leave, they will understand how ‘big’ DLA works. They will go back to their operating units and be able to train and advise others. They will have networked with suppliers, briefed senior leaders and will be able to advise Marine Corps leadership.”

Marine Corps Capt. Sean Crilley was one of the first Marines assigned to DLA Aviation in 2015. He is now the aviation readiness officer in charge of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s Aviation Logistics Department in Okinawa, Japan.

“Working at DLA Aviation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and at its headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, gave me a conceptual understanding of end-to-end supply chain management, industrial support, global stock positioning and strategic acquisition,” Crilley said. He said the experience allowed him to enhance 1st MAW’s ability to fight and provide operational flexibility and risk management in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; Marine Corps Forces, Pacific; and III Marine Expeditionary Force. 

“My time at DLA was a master-degree type of event with so many different initiatives and learning points. I would say the most impactful [aspect of the assignment] other than just the day-to-day operations as weapons system program manager would be what I learned at DLA Aviation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, from the great DLA professionals there on how to support aircraft production... Both have made me a better aviation logistics professional,” he said.