News | Oct. 22, 2021

Celebrating 60 years: DLA receives worldwide responsibilities, reacts to domestic events in the 1970s

By Colin Jay Williams, DLA Historian DLA Public Affairs

Editor’s note: “Celebrating 60 years” is a series of seven articles highlighting DLA’s support to America’s military since the agency was created Oct. 1, 1961.

The Defense Supply Agency, as the Defense Logistics Agency was first known, spent the 1970s pushing beyond the continental boundaries of its charter and responding to events.

A refrigerated container is pulled by a tractor from the 572nd Transportation Company in 1970.
A refrigerated container is pulled by a tractor from the 572nd Transportation Company, 6th Transportation Battalion in 1970. Army Transportation Museum photo
A refrigerated container is pulled by a tractor from the 572nd Transportation Company in 1970.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA receives worldwide responsibilities, reacts to domestic events in the 1970s
A refrigerated container is pulled by a tractor from the 572nd Transportation Company, 6th Transportation Battalion in 1970. Army Transportation Museum photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 090512-D-D0441-001

The decade started with America engaged in two wars: Vietnam and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. At the start of Vietnam, DSA transported food to the west coast where it was flown or shipped across the Pacific. The use of refrigerated containers to ship fresh fruits and vegetables meant requirements had to be managed down to individual dining facilities. To put DSA personnel closer to the action, the Defense Department authorized it to establish offices in Japan and Korea. Because Europe was still the Cold War’s primary theater, it permitted the agency to establish offices in Spain and Germany as well.

Needing to reduce a massive buildup in the Pacific, DOD also made the agency responsible for worldwide disposal operations. DSA responded by converting its surplus sales office into the Defense Property Disposal Service and dispatching teams to Saigon, where they determined what should be returned to the states, what could be given to South Vietnam and what had to be destroyed. The teams stayed until a few days before Saigon fell to the Communists.

As transformative as disposal responsibilities were, DSA’s largest overseas expansion involved petroleum. The price of fuel doubled in the 1970s. Because DSA could buy mass quantities at low prices, it was ideal for integrating the worldwide management of bulk petroleum. Unfortunately, service leaders opposed the agency’s role as sole manager because it meant contracts for fuel in hot spots such as Europe, Asia and the Middle East would be let by civilians over whom they had no control. Unlike other commodities, which DSA provided but the services allocated, fuel from agency contracts would be brought first to the gates of individual bases and to fuel points on the bases.

Male soldiers deliver Defense Supply Agency-provided heating oil to Americans during winter 1977.
Soldiers deliver Defense Supply Agency-provided heating oil to Americans during winter 1977. Energy crises involved the agency in domestic policy during the 1970s. DLA photo
Male soldiers deliver Defense Supply Agency-provided heating oil to Americans during winter 1977.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA receives worldwide responsibilities, reacts to domestic events in the 1970s
Soldiers deliver Defense Supply Agency-provided heating oil to Americans during winter 1977. Energy crises involved the agency in domestic policy during the 1970s. DLA photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210122-D-D0441-003
Control might have been a problem overseas but not at home.
Portrait of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr. poses for an official photograph taken in 1971 at the beginning of his tenure as DSA’s fourth director. DLA photo
Portrait of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA receives worldwide responsibilities, reacts to domestic events in the 1970s
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr. poses for an official photograph taken in 1971 at the beginning of his tenure as DSA’s fourth director. DLA photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 110830-D-D0441-004
With Middle Eastern wars and policies set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries limiting supply, the Defense Petroleum Supply Center became an emergency source of supply for American communities. When the federal government converted empty salt mines along the Gulf Coast into a strategic petroleum reserve, it was agency-contracted fuel that filled them.

DSA’s role in domestic incidents extended beyond supplies in the 1970s. Early in the decade, a RAND analyst named Daniel Ellsberg published a top-secret account of America’s participation in Vietnam in the nation’s leading newspapers. RAND, the think tank from which Ellsberg stole the Pentagon Papers, was supervised by the Office of Industrial Security, a DSA field activity. Both the DOD and White House officials questioned Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr., DSA’s fourth director, about the agency’s role in the release. Robinson convinced his military and political superiors the agency had done nothing wrong. 

DSA was affected by other events of the decade. Truckers’ strikes, which prevented the delivery of goods, and foreign military sales, which contributed to the nation’s difficult position during the Yom Kippur War, illustrated just how integral the agency was to missions at home and abroad. In recognition of all DSA did, DOD renamed it the Defense Logistics Agency Jan. 1, 1977. The newly retitled agency would be challenged in different ways by different events in the 1980s.