Supply Problems – DLA Solutions

By Beth Reece

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Image of a fuel pit with sandbags for walking, silhouette of Marine standing with fuel bladder being filled to the right, deep blue sky above.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Antonio Hogue, a bulk fuel specialist with 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, monitors liquid bladders as they’re filled during an amphibious bulk liquid transfer exercise at Coronado Island, California. Fuel provided by DLA Energy is one of warfighters’ most sought-after commodities.
Image of a fuel pit with sandbags for walking, silhouette of Marine standing with fuel bladder being filled to the right, deep blue sky above.
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Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Antonio Hogue, a bulk fuel specialist with 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, monitors liquid bladders as they’re filled during an amphibious bulk liquid transfer exercise at Coronado Island, California. Fuel provided by DLA Energy is one of warfighters’ most sought-after commodities.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Quentari
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-019

Marines at Cherry Point, North Carolina, were worried about back-ordered fuel bladders early this year until Daren Campbell worked his magic. Two weeks later, 11 brand-new bladders were delivered to their doorstep. For free.

“The Marines I support have so many irons in the fire and so many distractions that it’s difficult for them to do the deep research to figure out how to get supplies faster or from somewhere else,” said Campbell, a Defense Logistics Agency customer support representative for Marines in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Like DLA’s other 11 corporate-level CSRs, Campbell knows enough about the agency’s nine supply chains that he can answer almost any question about the cost and whereabouts of material. In the Marines’ case, he scoured DLA’s online ordering system, FedMall, and discovered a warning in Item Notes that fuel bladder production was delayed due to a dimensions error. A contract modification was underway to solve the problem, but the former Marine master sergeant intuitively knew the negative impact waiting months for the fuel bladders would have on readiness. So at DLA Disposition Services’ Reutilization, Transfer or Donation Program website, he did a worldwide search. Results: Item available. Location: Jacksonville, Florida.

“They’d never been used and were still in their original wooden crate. And since DLA takes care of shipping through the RTD Program and the items were free issue, we saved the service about $80,000,” he said.

DLA’s corporate-level CSRs are spread across the United States at key headquarters such as Army Forces Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Fleet Forces Command. They’re similar to customer and warfighter support representatives who serve as subject matter experts for specific commodities at the agency’s major subordinate and regional commands.

Corporate-level CSRs assist customers from an enterprisewide perspective, however. Rather than represent a specific MSC or supply chain, they serve as DLA’s experts during unit readiness briefs, help customers find “lost” parts, participate in impromptu planning sessions for late-breaking contingencies, accelerate urgent orders and even teach troops how to navigate DLA’s online systems.

No matter where they are or which service they support, CSRs are the face of DLA, said Army Col. Marc Staats, the agency’s military deputy to the executive director of operations.

Image of two mechanics in Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement compartment using a computer with multiple tubes and hoses and electronic meter system.
Motor transport mechanics Marine Corps Sgt. Tyler Heim, left, and Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Allen from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit troubleshoot the central tire inflation system of a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement aboard the USS Fort McHenry. Troops can depend on help from DLA warfighter and customer support reps whether they’re in a stateside motor pool or at sea.
Image of two mechanics in Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement compartment using a computer with multiple tubes and hoses and electronic meter system.
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Motor transport mechanics Marine Corps Sgt. Tyler Heim, left, and Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Allen from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit troubleshoot the central tire inflation system of a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement aboard the USS Fort McHenry. Troops can depend on help from DLA warfighter and customer support reps whether they’re in a stateside motor pool or at sea.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Antonio
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-020
“The warfighters, all they see is a DLA badge sewn or embroidered on someone’s shirt. Frankly, they don’t care whether they’re talking to an aviation person or someone with a disposition services background. They just know someone with a DLA emblem is in front of them and they need answers to their logistics problems,” he said.

Building relationships and trust is critical for CSRs, said Bill Holdorf, another retired Marine and CSR for the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.

“I build trust by being here every day, by staying involved in the ASC battle rhythm and programs, by listening to their cares and concerns and initiat-ing action before they think to ask me for help,” he said.

Holdorf shows customers he cares by giving them reliable answers quickly. In 2018, ASC alerted him of a warning order it had received to repair 3,000 pieces of equipment in just 85 days. The equipment was worn down from use in the Pacific and the task would require thousands of parts, none of them forecasted by military and DLA planners.

Since DLA Land and Maritime was responsible for the bulk of support needed, Holdorf connected ASC with Tommy Botts, a branch chief at the Columbus, Ohio, activity. An Integrated Product Team was immediately established to orchestrate support for the maintenance effort, and Botts and his team screened the list of high-priority requisitions to find 150 back-ordered items, many due to contract delinquencies that acquisition specialists hurried to resolve.

Employees at DLA Troop Support and DLA Aviation also rushed delivery of items that enabled ASC to complete the maintenance in record time. And although transparent armor wasn’t scheduled for delivery until after the equipment was scheduled to go on a vessel for shipment back to the Pacific, Botts initiated an emergency ticket for it to ship out on the next available truck once it arrived at DLA Distribution.

While he defers credit to others, Holdorf’s acute understanding of which DLA elements would be needed to complete the job helped bridge ASC to key players from throughout the agency.

“It becomes a collaborative effort between our customer, me and the part of the enterprise that can best respond to our customers’ needs,” he said, adding that CSRs also build relationships with other DLA customer and warfighter support reps to lengthen the range of DLA’s support, especially in areas where customers could deploy.

“I try to stay connected with our people at DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM and the Deployment Support Team in Kuwait, as well as the team at DLA Europe & Africa. For instance, Ron Johns is a warfighter support rep at DLA Europe & Africa, and he is a great teammate for collaborating on issues of mutual interest between ASC, DLA and the European theater,” Holdorf said.

DLA representatives willing to work through kinks that slow logistics support may seem plentiful, but troops like having their own dedicated CSR, a local DLA representative they can go to for sudden needs and talk with face-to-face, said Tom Meyer, a CSR and retired Navy Supply Corps officer who supports U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in Virginia.

Image of two sailors in a lift bucket painting the underside of an extended part of a ship's hull.
Navy Seaman Dillon Emersen, left, and Navy Seaman Bailey Smetana, paint the hull of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush as part of routine preservation of the ship. A DLA customer support representative recently helped the Navy solve a supply shortage of gray paint for such ships.
Image of two sailors in a lift bucket painting the underside of an extended part of a ship's hull.
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Navy Seaman Dillon Emersen, left, and Navy Seaman Bailey Smetana, paint the hull of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush as part of routine preservation of the ship. A DLA customer support representative recently helped the Navy solve a supply shortage of gray paint for such ships.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Joe
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-021
“The reason customers like having their own CSR is the response time. I normally respond in less than 30 minutes to the majority of my customers,” he said.

Location also aided Meyer’s ability to end a recent shortage of gray paint for Navy ships. When a customer complained DLA took too long to supply the paint, Meyer visited the vendor’s facility a half-hour away from his office at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.

“I drove up and talked to the owner of the company. We also got his entire team together to talk about the importance of gray paint for the Navy,” he said. “The owner of the company appreciated the visit and explained some of his frustrations with DLA. We worked through all of that, and I believe we have plenty of paint in stock now.”

Without CSRs “inside the wire” with troops, the services’ awareness and understanding of DLA would drastically drop, Campbell added.

“And likewise, DLA’s inside intel of our warfighters’ perspective of DLA would diminish. DLA and Defense Department logistics processes are very complex, and understanding where and how to work through problems really allows the Marines to optimize the support they get from DLA,” he said.

“Understanding what warfighters’ No. 1 concern is allows you to leverage the power of DLA’s enterprise to solve their problems.”Army COL. Marc Staats

Marines’ appreciation for DLA’s close involvement in daily operations grew recently after a routine readiness brief that focused on the unavailability of wiring harnesses for an up-armored wrecker. Campbell researched DLA systems to find out why it was taking so long for the harnesses to be stocked only to discover the delay wasn’t a manufacturing issue. Instead, it was a result of cataloging errors the service made when the item was assigned a National Stock Number.

“When the service cataloged that NSN, they didn’t identify it as being an essential repair part, which means DLA doesn’t stock the item. They also didn’t associate the NSN for that wiring harness with their up-armored wrecker, so DLA’s weapons system support manager, who monitors support for that system, had no way of knowing there was an issue,” Campbell said.

He assured unit leaders DLA would work with the manufacturer to beat the 200-day production lead time and also worked with service officials to get the item coded correctly so it would be stocked at DLA Distribution centers. Campbell said this kind of support would have made his job as an active-duty supply chief much easier, and the things he teaches Marines like those at the II Marine Expeditionary Force will make them smarter about logistics processes no matter where they serve.

Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Willie Huff Jr., II MEF maintenance chief, said that makes Campbell an incredible asset.

“On the countless occasions I’ve asked Daren to conduct training for my Marines during my quarterly motor transport symposiums, he has never failed to generate great interest in the capability he provides as II MEF’s DLA representative."

Staats looks for three attributes in CSRs: good communication skills, curiosity and empathy. Communication and curiosity are critical because of the vast array of supplies and services DLA provides, he said, and a CSR is likely to represent the agency to three different customers, all with unique needs, in a single day.

Image of four Marines sitting on top of a light armored vehicle, with other vehicles extending to the back of the ship's hold compartment.
Marines with Light Armored Reconnaissance Company, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, perform routine maintenance on a light armored vehicle aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. DLA customer and warfighter support reps embedded with units at the tactical level ensure service members have repair parts on hand.
Image of four Marines sitting on top of a light armored vehicle, with other vehicles extending to the back of the ship's hold compartment.
190529-M-EC058-0413
Marines with Light Armored Reconnaissance Company, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, perform routine maintenance on a light armored vehicle aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. DLA customer and warfighter support reps embedded with units at the tactical level ensure service members have repair parts on hand.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dalton S
VIRIN: 190901-D-YE683-022
“Our CSRs need to be able to work in a very tactical environment, trying to figure out what’s going on with a part, while at the same time be able to explain to a flag-level officer DLA’s strategic goals and give insight into why the price of something is at a certain rate,” he said.

Empathy isn’t on the CSR job description, but Staats said it’s important because understanding customers’ perspectives and daily demands builds a stronger connection.

“Understanding what warfighters’ No. 1 concern is allows you to leverage the power of DLA’s enterprise to solve their problems,” he added. A supply sergeant might have a pile of excess equipment taking up valuable space, for example, but didn’t have time apart from the unit’s rigid operations tempo and training to complete turn-in paperwork. Or maybe he just didn’t know how to turn it in.

“A CSR can say, ‘Stop worrying about how to fix this because we can take care of you and arrange the right kind of service to get this material out of your hands,’” Staats continued. “That way the warfighter can focus on warfighting while DLA deals with the excess.”

CSRs don’t need to have worn the boots of a soldier or Marine to be good at their job, although many of them do have prior military service. Employees who’ve deployed with a DLA Support Team or worked in multiple supply chains or at numerous levels of the agency also have a familiarity with the enterprise that helps them match troops’ needs with the right people and resources, he said.

And even Campbell, who’s only been a CSR for five years, said he’s still discovering new things about DLA. That makes him all the more valuable to troops like Huff, who are ever eager for new and better ways to improve readiness.

“God knows I’ve engaged Daren for clarity of weapon system coding, hard to get parts and other issues impacting our ability to conduct timely repairs on our assets,” Huff said. “Although he does his job because he loves assisting others, he’s really appreciated and thought very highly of, from the lone mechanic out here on the shop floor grinding it out all the way up to the II MEF commanding general.”