News | Jan. 15, 2021

DLA Troop Support’s construction, equipment team ‘heroes’ of agency’s PPE support

By Beth Reece

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of 11 stories highlighting individual and team contributions to DLA’s pandemic support.

News coverage of the nation’s pandemic response sent a strong, clear message to Tom Page about the Defense Logistics Agency although its name rarely made headlines.

“We’re basically the heroes in the background. A lot of people don’t realize just how much DLA is involved outside of the Defense Department, but it’s times like these when DLA steps up to provide whole-of-government and whole-of-nation support. And it’s certainly not for publicity or recognition,” said the director of supplier operations for DLA Troop Support’s construction and equipment supply chain.

Page’s team has handled about 55% of DLA’s $2.31 billion in obligations for COVID-19 support to federal agencies and Defense Department customers. The items include gloves, goggles, face masks, face shields, gowns, 60 decontamination systems capable of sterilizing up to 80,000 N95 respirator masks a day, plus a service contract that provides daily operations and maintenance of those systems.

When the Department of Health and Human Services needed contracts for personal protective equipment executed in two weeks, Page and his team awarded them in just days despite limited supplies.

“We’ve had people, including myself, work almost 24/7 since March,” he said in November. “Although we’re all certainly tired and a little burnt out, the fact that my team is still pulling off miracles is truly inspirational.” 

Delivering personal protective equipment as a “care package” or kit to over 15,000 nursing homes throughout the nation twice in June and July was one of the group’s toughest challenges, he added. The packages contained five items with varying production lead times from worldwide suppliers and required engagement with numerous distributors and manufacturers.

“There were times when gloves or other PPE became scarce, so [the vendor] had to stop kitting items and wait for more to arrive from various sources that required significant quality control reviews before delivery to ensure safe usage,” Page said. “At the same time, we were providing factual, real-time information to our higher headquarters and federal partners to make sure they knew we were definitely still delivering and so they wouldn’t lose confidence in us based on delays outside our vendor’s control.”

Employees like John Cuorato, Kelly Callahan, Meghan Michalski, Mary Ryan, Adam Tutolo, Shervon James, Troy Vokes and John Finchen helped make DLA’s nationwide support possible by processing contracting actions, ensuring vendor compliance, managing sales orders and tracking delivery status daily, he added. The group also worked with vendors to replenish protective equipment like nitrile gloves, goggles, face shields and face masks for the HHS-managed Strategic National Stockpile.

COVID-19 efforts and expanded DoD support have made construction and equipment DLA’s third largest supply chain in terms of sales behind fuel and medical supplies, and that hasn’t impaired warfighter support, Page continued.

“Amazingly, we’ve been answering needs of all our customers without any kind of lapse in support and even managed to achieve record breaking sales at $6.27 billion this fiscal year,” despite delays in budgetary appropriations, he said.

The team also provided supplies for the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Protection Program in what became one of the busiest fire seasons in U.S. history in 2017, which included back-to-back, high-profile missions that started when hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Page said. 

“These types of efforts have tremendously hindered the ability of our people to actually have a life outside of work due to insufficient staffing for whole-of-government missions in a 24/7 operational environment while simultaneously supporting DoD requirements,” he continued, adding that his team continues answering the call to support the needs of warfighter and fellow citizens.

“I find personal motivation just by watching my own people. It’s only by fortune that we have such dedicated individuals who are still finding new ways every day to face tremendous challenges,” he said. “They’re the definition of resilience and what makes DLA successful.”