Less than a week after the President declared the start of Operation Allies Welcome in July 2021, in support of relocating eligible Afghan nationals, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support began providing more than $42 million worth of food and nearly 448,000 doses of 15 different vaccines in support of the mission.
Operation Allies Welcome is the coordinated effort across the federal government to support and resettle vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked on behalf of the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Initial support was provided to locations outside of the continental U.S., and quickly evolved into a large stateside support mission for Department of Defense sites receiving Afghan allies, ensuring fast delivery of culturally appropriate, high-quality products.
The most significant and persistent requests so far are for items from the Subsistence and Medical supply chains, DLA Troop Support Operations and Plans representative Army Lt. Col. Mike Martinez said. And they have met the challenge.
A taste of home, away from home
“Sometimes, with contingencies, our ‘big ask’ is for bottled water or fruits and vegetables,” Subsistence CONUS Garrison Feeding Division Chief Patricia Scott said. “But the scope of what we’re doing here – it’s like opening up little restaurants from soup to nuts with new menus to support a population that’s so culturally different.”
Collaboration with partners such as the Army’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence
, among others, was key to accelerating logistics processes by using existing large acquisition programs, including prime vendor contracts, to source and add new items to standard support requests at stateside bases, Joe Hauser, CONUS Prime Vendor Division chief, said.
“Items such as Halal proteins, dried fruits and spices that were needed were very different from what was normally provided to the troops,” Hauser said.
Halal foods are from specific sources, prepared in accordance with Islamic law.
Though the process of adding new items to the Subsistence offerings, generally speaking, is normal for the Subsistence team, partnerships with industry and their expertise in sourcing items was crucial to the success, Hauser said.
“In some cases, we were aware of certain suppliers [of new items], but [the prime vendors] are the experts in knowing the suppliers and having the relationships needed to get the items added to the menu,” Hauser said.
The daily communications with vendors and the flexibility of the program allowed solutions within one or two days of new item requests, and the Subsistence team matched that effort through internal collaboration.
“Everything had to move … people were coming on the bases,” Scott said. “We needed to support this population, and we needed to support them with the full range of items [they needed].”
Scott and Hauser both credited the engaged Subsistence team and their understanding of the urgency and compassion needed to provide support to incoming Afghans, despite ongoing supply chain disruptions and high-volume orders of specialty products, including baby food items.
Ensuring health and wellness
Collaboration with customers, vendors and teammates has also been a key for Medical’s support, Director of Customer Operations Nora Steigerwalt said.
“Vaccines became hot very quick, early on,” Steigerwalt said. “It truly was a collaboration between our Customer Pharmacy Operations Center, our Pharmaceutical Prime Vendor team, the customer and the vendors.”
Working with the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center - Europe and Theater Lead Agency for Medical Materiel North, Port San Antonio to support overseas and stateside requirements, as well as vendors for item availability and deliveries, was an added challenge in the COVID-19 environment, but Medical’s coordination and partnerships are making it happen.
“It’s an amazing collaboration effort,” Steigerwalt said.
DLA Troop Support Commander, Army Brig. Gen. Eric Shirley, even sent a letter of gratitude to industry partners who stepped up to support the mission, she said.
Medical was also asked to source 30-day supplies of baby care items such as diapers, formula, wipes and diaper cream.
While some of Medical’s prime vendor contracts have been able to source some items, other items and smaller orders are being worked by the Medical team for expedited vendor-direct delivery, Supply Support Division Chief Maryann Bickel said. She noted Medical employees Abin Mathai and LeighAnn Bauer’s efforts in getting these contracts awarded expeditiously with immediate deliveries for some sites.
“Everyone is trying to find materials,” Bickel said. “A lot of folks have been making phone calls and sitting around working materials – buying, cataloging, [writing] pricing agreements, taking orders and making emergency on-the-spot buys as needed.”
For more information on the coordinated efforts of federal partners, see the Department of Homeland Security’s OAW webpage, or the U.S. Northern Command site for information specific to Department of Defense contributions.