Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that life isn’t always easy. Yearlong combat deployments, unaccompanied overseas tours and months at sea have been a staple of military since American colonists declared war on Great Britain. Fortunately, transportation has advanced quite a bit since then. Now modern-day service members far from friends and families during special occasions can often find comfort in the form of a turkey meal for Thanksgiving or giftwrapped presents arriving just in time for Christmas.
To similarly accommodate deployed military members and Defense Department civilian employees this upcoming Passover and Easter, Defense Logistics Agency Distribution is working with DLA Troop Support to ship ceremonial items in support of those religious holidays.
“Every year we will coordinate and work with Troop Support on the deliveries to the Susquehanna distribution center,” says Ygraine Bennage, customer support team lead and site integrator for DLA Distribution. “From there we consolidate and track the items so that it reaches our customer on time for the holiday.”
For more than 20 years DLA has been involved with the yearly distribution of ashes, wine and palm leaves to as many as 50 foreign locations. Whether attending Easter mass in a tent in Afghanistan or Passover service on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Bennage says chances are DLA was in some way involved in the process.
“For the Passover supplies,” Bennage explains, “because there is the kosher requirement, there are special handling and packaging of material that Susquehanna needs to ensure occurs for it to ship correctly and to be received overseas, wherever the destination is, and not be damaged. As one of our teammates used to say it’s ‘hand-massaged through the system’ with colored placards to make sure things are marked correctly so it’s not missed.”
According to Michael Foltz, a general supply specialist with DLA Current Operations Customer Support, even in a world of large-scale commercial distributors, certain items require a specific set of logistical skills that only DLA Distribution can offer on such a large scale.
“The customer is more than likely a chaplain at either a forward operating base or on a vessel,” Foltz says. “If the delivery is in CONUS (within the Continental United States) the vendor will ship the items directly to the customer. If it’s OCONUS (outside CONUS) it will be shipped into our consolidation and containerization point at Susquehanna. They usually send about 200 orders of fresh-cut palm leaves in single day. They have a short time before they start to turn brown, so we’ll assist the folks on the floor with breaking these down, repackaging them and then putting the addresses on them while they process them.”
When the items are shipped from the vendor, Foltz says, DLA Distribution tracks the items until they arrive at each destination, giving continuous updates to Troop Support throughout the process. While delivering to installations on land are fairly routine, he says, ships at sea can be a little trickier.
“For the material shipping to vessels we have to go through a special type of address that’s provided by the Navy,” Foltz says. “That changes because the ship continually moves, so we have to calculate when we’re actually going to be delivered so it marries up with the ship.”
According to Bennage, such specialized accommodations is nothing new for the customer support team, who stand at the ready should any issues occur.
“We have to look at the needs and demands of the customer–of the warfighter,” Bennage says, “and determine when we initiate contact with the distribution center what level of urgency and need are we placing on it knowing that it’s going to create an impact to their normal day-to-day business.”
That’s no small feat, particularly on a global scale. From Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2019, Bennage and her team resolved 25,307 service tickets requiring 41,999 specific actions to be taken to fix DLA Distribution customer issues.