ASOC enhances agency capabilities during COVID-19

By Colin Williams DLA Historian

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Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan E. Day, the Defense Logistics Agency’s logistics operations director, likes to say DLA was “forged in reform.” It was also forged in crisis. Between DLA’s establishment Oct. 1, 1961, and the agency receiving supply centers from the services Jan. 1, 1962, a crisis in Berlin severed lines of communication in Europe. The supply centers therefore spent their transition to DLA adjusting to a new political reality in Europe.

Expecting crisis to be the norm, Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara, DLA’s first director, formed the Emergency Supply Operations Center. In a statement to Congress in May 1962, McNamara described the center as “a single point to which emergency requirements can be submitted and which follows up to make sure that requirements are filled on time.” It could operate on a 24-hour schedule “when energized,” and had “already proven its effectiveness ... during the activation of the new Army divisions and the Peruvian earthquake,” he continued. McNamara would rely on the center again in October 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis generated emergency requests for fuel, photographic film and fallout shelter material.

The ESOC helped the agency respond to crises from 1962 to 2000. When President Lyndon B. Johnson deployed combat troops to Vietnam in 1965, DLA had to resolve shortages in jungle boots and warm weather clothing. In the 1970s, when unstable oil prices threatened military readiness, the agency asked to use the Defense Production Act now being invoked by the federal government in response to COVID-19. And after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, DLA revived a demobilizing industrial base to ensure infrequently used medical supplies were available and – for the first time in its history – track items in theater. The ESOC helped the agency address these problems by creating a massive outreach campaign, devising a Warstopper Program and adopting radio-frequency identification technology.

DLA directors changed the agency’s emergency response capability in the 21st century. When Army Lt. Gen. Henry T. Glisson operationalized DLA in 2000, he placed the ESOC under the newly formed Contingency Plans and Operations Division, part of the DLA Logistics Operations Directorate. In June 2003, three months after U.S. forces invaded Iraq, Navy Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert converted the Contingency Plans and Operations Division into the DLA Logistics Operations Center. He tasked the DLOC with writing plans, “managing DLA command and control for contingency operations” and deploying DLA Contingency Support Teams. Army Lt. Gen. Robert T. Dail restructured the DLA Logistics Operations Directorate in June 2008 and renamed the DLOC the Joint Logistics Operations Center while doubling the size of its plans division.

Crises in recent years have been more complex than boot shortages and the availability of infrequently used supplies. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s 2007 decision to equip deployed troops with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles meant DLA had to accept, catalog, store and distribute their parts on a rushed timeline. Pakistan’s subsequent decision to close the ground lines of communication that supported allies in Afghanistan in 2011 was an even bigger problem. The workaround involved DLA Energy opening a series of routes through former Soviet republics called the Northern Distribution Network. While not driving these responses, the JLOC remained the agency’s coordinating authority for fires, hurricanes, floods, and other disasters around the world whose frequency and magnitude increased in recent years.

After becoming director in summer 2017, Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams proposed a new vision for the JLOC. The center and its predecessors managed crises well, he said, but played only a small role in coordinating agencywide responses. Wanting an organization capable of controlling information and synchronizing efforts, Williams converted the JLOC into the Agency Synchronization and Operations Center. He then upgraded the ASOC’s home in the basement of the McNamara Headquarters Complex and gave it representatives from headquarters staffs and major subordinate commands.

For the past three months, the ASOC has enabled DLA’s worldwide workforce to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a coordinated manner. DLA Logistics Operations, DLA Information Operations and DLA Troop Support used ASOC-collected data to provide an automated, unified picture of stock levels and requirements for medical personal protective equipment that was shared with Defense Department and federal officials. An ASOC meeting on requests for information on medical supplies also promoted commanders to transfer industrial hardware support to DLA Aviation and DLA Land and Maritime sooner than planned so contracting officers at DLA Troop Support could focus on increased demands. While the latest iteration of the agency’s emergency response capability has broken silos and increased collaboration, it nonetheless acts as the same “single point” of coordination that McNamara felt important 58 years ago.