BAGRAM, Afghanistan –
Dozens of reservists and civilian employees supporting Defense Logistics Agency operations in Afghanistan are maintaining critical defense missions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Army Lt. Col. Ryan Mendenhall, officer in charge of DLA Disposition Services in Afghanistan, said his staff is sustaining daily operations while also working with senior military leaders there on preparations for next year’s expected drawdown.
Despite travel restrictions impacting the movement of DLA employees in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Mendenhall said his team is continuing operations with a full staff. All employees are practicing social distancing or wearing masks where the mission makes distancing difficult, he added.
“We are taking this seriously and doing all we can to abide by the policy and rules established in regards to COVID-19,” he continued.
Equipment turn-ins and demilitarization of controlled items are still being conducted with inventory records being updated remotely. And already established relationships with customers in the operating area make communication easier, especially with electronic mediums like phone and email, Mendenhall said.
“The only issue or challenge [that] movement restrictions present is the ability to move contractors at different sites or sending an information technology rep to a site when it is needed. However, we can work through those challenges,” he added.
Brian Echtinaw, area manager for all DLA Disposition Services sites in Afghanistan, said the staff is working with a vendor to shift its employees among numerous DLA sites so there’s enough to conduct demilitarization. And employees at Hamid Karzai International Airport continue demilitarizing Ford Rangers and preparing to receive helicopters through the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. HKIA Site Manager Tim Smith said his team is also training an influx of new customers and sharing DLA “Smart Books” that outline steps for property turn-ins.
“We’re having to redo classes, but that’s what we’re here for,” Smith said.
To maintain safe distances, employees at Bagram Airfield are using a large, open bay to receive and sort excess property. At the Fenty site, employees are minimizing contact by staging scrap containers outside the compound.
Serving overseas in a forward area under austere conditions can be challenging enough without the hurdles imposed by COVID-19, Mendenhall said, but he feels the team there is handling things well.
“I try to do my best in communicating with my team often and being transparent to create an environment that is positive and stress-free,” he said. “I have a fantastic team and they are doing a great job.”
Mendenhall said his employees are working hard and going above and beyond despite increasing workloads.
“Obviously, there is the challenge of being away from friends and family during this trying time, but by staying engaged in the mission and understanding why we are here it helps them cope with the stress going on around the world,” Mendenhall said.
Training employees to develop resilience is part of DLA’s People and Culture Plan, and Mendenhall said he believes their ability to keep pace with the COVID-19 response shows employees’ strength.
“By developing trust it has helped create a team of resilience and determination,” he added. “I keep preaching that since we are here for the long run we might as well make the best of it. This is our family, here; one team one fight. This helps us enjoy our experience.”