Acquisition specialist embraces industry connection with Caterpillar Defense

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series highlighting DLA participants in the Training with Industry Program, which provides Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act-certified employees an opportunity to gain career-broadening experience while working in an industry environment.

Defense Logistics Agency acquisition professionals are engaging with and learning from industry partners through the Defense Department’s Training with Industry Program. The program is a component of the professional development activities for military and civilian personnel to improve their management abilities and professional competencies.

By partnering with industry, participants like Lynn Thompson, an acquisition operations specialist in DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office, accomplish career and organization-specific learning objectives that in turn bring new knowledge, better acquisition outcomes and deeper industry understanding back to DLA. 

Thompson began a six-month detail focusing on life-cycle logistics with Caterpillar Defense in June. When her supervisor, Craig Price, approached her about the program, she was hesitant. But knowing she had Price’s support and that of her husband, she put in her application.

“I needed to get out of my comfort zone. My job at JCASO supports DLA’s combat support mission, and I wanted to learn more about DLA’s supply chain management mission,” she said.

Thompson chose her assignment at Caterpillar despite the 800 miles between Peoria, Illinois, and her home in Virginia. Caterpillar is also the program manager for the DoD TWI Program and has a long legacy of partnering with the U.S. military. As a retired Army lieutenant colonel with 24 years of service and 12 years civilian service as an acquisition specialist, Thompson felt the company would be a good fit for her. 

Caterpillar’s mission to supply federal and military customers with earthmoving equipment, engines, mining equipment, dump trucks and power generators also seemed similar to some of DLA’s services, Thompson said.

“I knew it had a historical relationship with the Department of the Army and it has more application to what DLA does than other organizations the TWI Program offered internships with,” she said.

Thompson was assigned to Caterpillar’s Logistics Center of Excellence for Distribution in Morton, Illinois. The center supports Caterpillar dealers through a network of 21 distribution centers worldwide. In comparison, DLA has 24 distribution centers.

Thompson is working with Caterpillar’s Aftermarket Parts and Distribution Division, which is responsible for finding efficiencies and costs savings. Supply chain engineers and data analysts work on projects to ensure suppliers ship on time, carriers deliver on time, retail product packaging is optimized, and supply chain processes provide value while creating savings through lower costs.

Thompson said she initially considered her teammates’ job intimidating.

“The team uses analytical systems, spreadsheets and automated reports to summarize the effects of suppliers, repair parts, inventory and demand on the supply chain,” she said. “For two months, I read a lot and became more familiar with their processes and asked a lot of questions. As a DLA professional, I had problem-solving skills and I was determined to contribute to the team.” 

Thompson found her stride and adds value using her organizational and management skills as the project lead to recover transportation costs from suppliers who don’t follow expected delivery practices. Working with the supply chain engineers, she developed a project plan to bridge gaps in transportation policies, supplier shipping instructions and purchase order language. Guided by DLA’s strategic goal of building strong partnerships, Thompson is helping Caterpillar learn best practices and lessons learned from DLA Distribution.

Thompson said she’s discovered more similarities than differences between industry and government.

“We both have to produce and we are accountable to somebody,” she said. “Industry is motivated by shareholders and profit, and DoD is motivated by Congress and budget.”

Thompson hopes to share industry insight on cost savings, building efficiencies and staying competitive in logistics and combat support when she returns to JCASO. She said she now understands the heightened reporting and accountability of DLA’s programs.

Learning about Caterpillar’s distribution management operations has also increased Thompson’s understanding of DLA’s distribution management operations and will help her develop a work plan she can share with DLA when she returns in December.

She recommends the program, adding that technology and communication tools like FaceTime help make time away from home less daunting.

“I’m learning a lot,” she said. “Every day, I get to support DLA’s lines of effort, building ‘strong partnerships’ with industry and ‘warfighter first’ because Caterpillar Defense has provided support to DoD since World War I.”

Thompson is grateful to her JCASO supervisor and team for their support while she “expands her aperture” with Caterpillar.

“I’ve learned that you’re never too old to learn,” she said.