News | Aug. 24, 2021

Obituary: Lt. Gen. Vincent M. Russo

By Colin Williams, DLA Historian DLA Public Affairs

Army Lt. Gen. Vincent M. Russo died Aug. 10 at 90. Russo became the Defense Logistics Agency’s ninth director in July 1986 as Congress was putting the finishing touches on the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act and America was fighting a Cold War with the Soviet Union and proxy wars with its allies. During his two and a half years as director, Russo addressed these challenges by improving the agency’s relationships with the military services and managing changes to the agency’s automation and depot operations.

Russo grew up in the Army as a transportation officer. In the mid-1970s, he commanded first a transportation brigade and then a Military Traffic Management Command. After positions of increasing responsibility on senior Army staffs, Russo arrived at Cameron Station, Virginia, as a major general. He received his third star the following month.

Just weeks into the job, Russo asked for permission to locate six liaisons with U.S. Army Materiel Command. He sent similar requests to the services’ logistics commands. Russo frequently explained decisions and discussed issues with the leaders of these organizations. One key topic was the services’ disinclination to classify their DLA billets as “joint,” a new but poorly defined requirement in the Goldwater Nichols Act. 

In addition to corresponding with service logisticians, Russo opened lines of communication within the agency. In particular, he wanted his headquarters and subordinate commands to talk to each other. As Russo wrote in October 1986, “there is need for my staff to feel they are also the staff of each Primary Level Field Activity. You commanders have to rely on my staff to augment your data bank for decision making. You members of the headquarters principal staff elements . . . can be of enormous assistance to the PLFA commanders.”

Improved communication helped DLA face mandatory reductions in the mid-1980s. Depots bore the brunt of this cost cutting. Russo’s position – explained to employees and defended before superiors – was that DLA manage the cuts internally to prevent employees from being separated involuntarily. As he wrote the Defense Depot Memphis commander, “it would not be in the best interest of this agency to separate involuntarily any of  . . . [your] employees . . . [since] the savings to be realized . . . would be offset by the resulting disruptions to your workforce, and the potential impact on readiness.” 

Russo expressed similar concerns about implementing new technology. While he embraced developments that increased agency efficiency, he believed new projects would succeed only if well managed. Russo divided projects to upgrade warehouse automation, increase telecommunication and develop barcode technology into easily managed segments. At the same time, he argued to the Secretary of Defense that cost-cutting should not inhibit investment in technology that, despite large up-front costs, would save the department money in the long run. 

Despite the constant pressure to cut costs, DLA’s business increased over 50% during Russo’s directorship and that of his predecessor. His directorship was also marked by rapid growth, structural change and technological advancement.

Russo’s Army career spanned 36 years.