News | Sept. 16, 2021

New book chronicles DLA’s 60-year history

By Beth Reece

A new 82-page book by Defense Logistics Agency Historian Colin Williams is the first comprehensive account of the agency’s six-decade history.

The publication, titled “Effectiveness and Efficiency: DLA’s 60-Year Quest to Perfect Supply Chain Management,” traces the agency from its roots in 1961 as a logistics integrator for the services to a combat support agency with worldwide reach and a strong role in supplying other federal agencies.

“There have been a number of histories written in the past but they topped out at just a few hundred words. This history is almost 12,000 words – probably more than most people will read in one sitting,” Williams said. 

The book includes over 50 photos, charts and a two-page graphic depicting organizational changes through time. It was published on DLA’s website Sept. 1 as part of the soft launch of the agency’s 60th anniversary, and 600 copies will be printed for distribution throughout the agency. 

Williams wrote the book using reports from previous historians, stories published by DLA Public Affairs, firsthand accounts from past directors and employees, and archived records. He decided to write the book last December, just two years after becoming DLA’s historian.

“By then, I could talk for an hour-plus about the agency’s history,” he said. “I just started jotting down ideas with pencil on line paper during the winter break, and it’s something I worked steadily on through July.” 

Williams composed dozens of drafts and shared his final manuscript with three review panels, the first including employees at DLA Headquarters and major subordinate commands who help capture the agency’s history as an additional duty. The other panels were made up of past DLA directors like retired Army Lt. Gen. Henry Glisson and retired Navy Vice Adm. Keith Lippert, as well as a mix of historians and public affairs professionals from such organizations as the U.S. Transportation Command. 

“It was important to me to involve someone from TRANSCOM, for example, because I wanted to make sure my interpretation of some of the touchy parts of our relationship was accurate,” he said. “I did the same thing with outside entities like Army Materiel Command.”

Knowing more about DLA’s past helps employees develop pride and recognize the agency as a single enterprise that includes experts in a variety of supply chains as well as distribution and disposal services, he added. 

“And because it’s history, our customers can understand why things happen the way they do,” Williams said. 

The 70s and 90s were the most interesting periods of DLA history for him to write about – the 70s because he had access to extensive documents at the National Archives and Records Administration and the 90s because they were what he called challenging and messy years.

“We had lots of changes after the end of the Cold War followed by the Gulf War, and also Defense Department reorganization. DLA actually grew during that time.”

Williams noted that 80% of DLA’s initial focus was on wholesale, with the other 20% being on retail to service departments rather than individual units.

“Now we say we’re an end-to-end logistics provider, which is a big change from our initial charter. We also exercise and deploy with units, and what we’ve done supporting other government agencies during the pandemic has been amazing,” he added.

A link to the book is available on the 60th anniversary page at DLA's website and more information on DLA’s history, including copies of old charters and strategic plans, is available on the history page.