BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services Simulation Laboratory opened on May 19, 2011, and Don Zimmerman was there in spirit.
In reality, he was part of the way through a tour as the Kandahar property disposal site chief in Afghanistan. But leadership had already asked if the seasoned veteran of 21 years with the agency would become program manager and plank owner of a brand-new facility at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, just a few miles from command headquarters. He agreed.
“My role is to keep it refreshed and relevant,” he said, which includes monitoring organizational changes via situation reports, all hands meetings, Standardization Working Group membership and student feedback. “I plan for information technology and equipment upgrades to facilitate instruction.”
Dean Newsome was there, as well, serving at the time as the Transformation Initiatives division chief. He spearheaded the pitch for a unique facility to be created as a DLA Research and Development project. Some of the justifications for a hands-on study space included the specialized nature of military property disposal, the disturbing potential for national security breaches due to inadvertent release of controlled property, and the fact that most initial training was taking place on the job.
“The facility was built to simulate a typical disposal site, only on a smaller scale,” Newsome said. “Previously, training was done on site at the employee's duty station. That lack of standardization in training put the organization at risk for property being improperly processed. My concept in proposing and managing the development of the R&D project was to create a centralized training facility, which then would be supplemented by site-level training.”
Zimmerman said the resulting Simulation Laboratory, or SIMLAB, for short, had its name changed to Training and Operations Simulation Center, or TOSC, about five years ago, to better describe how the site was evolving even more toward workforce training than process testing.
As many as 3,500 students have taken courses at the TOSC since it opened, Zimmerman estimates. It was on track to host 500 students in fiscal 2020, before the pandemic struck. In recent years, he said the facility was close to “maxing out” its availability, scheduling an average of 30 classes each fiscal year.
“If there is no class, we’ve been filling the time with filming videos, conducting tours and hosting retreats,” Zimmerman said. “Sometimes, supervisors just want to have an offsite with their employees without having to go TDY; we help them out.”
The TOSC has acquired more than 500 line items of property worth more than $11 million to aid in training. Zimmerman said all the equipment that allows students the look and feel of a real property disposal site was reused from military units.
“Anything that one of our sites in the field may process, we have acquired through reutilization,” Zimmerman said, including items of every demilitarization code the agency can accept, examples of property in condition codes A through H, fake Personally Identifiable Information items, fake classified items, items requiring various certificates for turn-in and even simulated Nuclear Weapons Related Material.
“Sometimes the students say we are trying to trick them,” Zimmerman said. “However, Demil Codes G and P, the PII, the ‘SECRET’, the locked and closed safe – those are all incidents that happen at our sites that our folks need to be trained on.”
Zimmerman said a secondary benefit of the TOSC and its proximity to headquarters and subject matter experts has been the impact it has made as a sort of showcase for visitors and VIPs who may not get a chance to visit a real property disposal site.
“Most of the DLA directors have been through here on a visit and we get many others who may be visiting the federal center,” Zimmerman said. “No PowerPoint can replace a live walkthrough. Better understanding of our disposal mission leads to better performance.”
The most recent TOSC tour was for the lead programmer charged with helping replace the command’s current property accounting system.
“He loved this place, thought it was extremely valuable and wished DLA Distribution had its own TOSC,” Zimmerman said. The programmer previously had not heard of the facility, but after visiting said he wanted to prioritize enabling it with the new accounting system to ensure training remains relevant.
“While the operation of today's TOSC has broadened over the years, it still serves as a central training location for standardized training on our most vital disposal operations,” Newsome said.
At 10 years in, the TOSC mainly remains a unique place to learn a very unique job.