News | Nov. 12, 2021

Celebrating 60 years: DLA balances reform, provision after 9/11

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.

Navy Vice Admiral pictured in front of flags.
Navy Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert poses for an official photograph taken in 2001 at the start of his tenure as DLA’s 14th director. DLA photo
Navy Vice Admiral pictured in front of flags.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA balances reform, provision after 9/11
Navy Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert poses for an official photograph taken in 2001 at the start of his tenure as DLA’s 14th director. DLA photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210809-D-D0441-002

When airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11, Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, the Defense Logistics Agency’s 14th director, had to decide whether to continue Business Systems Modernization, a redesign of the agency’s structure and automation, or concentrate on the supply requests he knew would be coming. Lippert decided to do both, thereby setting two of DLA’s storylines for the first decade of the 21st century. A third – increasing support to whole-of-government partners – emerged as the decade progressed.

Two women and one man stand in front of a slide show presentation and behind a podium that reads, "SAMMS 'stop' button"
Susan L. Van Meter, lead for Business Systems Modernization sustainment; Mae E. DeVincentis, chief information officer; and Larry J. Wilson, executive director of enterprise solutions, celebrate the end of the Standard Automated Materiel Management System in 2005 by recreating the event that initiated the program at the Defense Construction Supply Center in 1971. DLA photo.
Two women and one man stand in front of a slide show presentation and behind a podium that reads, "SAMMS 'stop' button"
Celebrating 60 years: DLA balances reform, provision after 9/11
Susan L. Van Meter, lead for Business Systems Modernization sustainment; Mae E. DeVincentis, chief information officer; and Larry J. Wilson, executive director of enterprise solutions, celebrate the end of the Standard Automated Materiel Management System in 2005 by recreating the event that initiated the program at the Defense Construction Supply Center in 1971. DLA photo.
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 200817-D-D0441-004

Lippert’s estimate that services’ logistics needs would increase proved correct. One year into Operation Enduring Freedom, obligations, previously $16 billion, were $32 billion. A year later, they stood at $40 billion. During Lippert’s almost six years as director – the longest on record – America invaded Iraq while continuing operations in Afghanistan, giving the agency a second war in the Middle East to support. When he left in 2006, Operation Iraqi Freedom was the biggest draw on DLA resources.

Lippert’s successors faced their own war on terror challenges. Army Lt. Gen. Robert T. Dail, DLA’s 15th director, drove the agency to buy repair parts for mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles quickly and in mass. Because MRAP parts were components of an off-the-shelf system, customers couldn’t order them through established means until DLA catalogers registered them in DLA systems. Vice Adm. Alan S. Thompson, Dail’s successor, helped develop an alternate delivery route into Afghanistan. The Northern Distribution Network started with DLA Energy writing contracts with companies in former Soviet republics and grew into an interconnected system of roads and rail lines run by U.S. Transportation Command. Most commodities transiting the route were provided by DLA and processed through agency staffs and facilities in Europe.

Navy Vice Admiral (male) poses in front of a photo of an MRAP.
Navy Vice Adm. Alan S. Thompson, DLA’s 16th director, speaks before a picture of a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle in 2009. The cataloging of parts for the MRAP, an off-the-shelf technology, demonstrated the agency’s responsiveness and flexibility. DLA photo
Navy Vice Admiral (male) poses in front of a photo of an MRAP.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA balances reform, provision after 9/11
Navy Vice Adm. Alan S. Thompson, DLA’s 16th director, speaks before a picture of a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle in 2009. The cataloging of parts for the MRAP, an off-the-shelf technology, demonstrated the agency’s responsiveness and flexibility. DLA photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210115-D-D0441-005

As Vice Adm. Lippert had foreseen, DLA was able to undergo significant reform while supporting the war on terror. Called Business Systems Modernization, this reform included new material management technology, dividing supply centers into industry-facing and customer-facing segments, and establishing national account managers. The Standard Automated Materiel Management System, designed in the 1960s, had become obsolete by the 1990s. Its replacement, Enterprise Business Systems, allowed the agency to plan as well as track. Reorganizing supply centers capitalized on the previous decade’s consolidations, improved customer engagement and reduced organizational silos. National account managers oversaw interactions with military services. They placed senior DLA leaders in the decision loops of senior service leaders.

Photo of a map that shows the route of the Northern Distribution Network.
The Northern Distribution Network was a multimodal route into Afghanistan established in 2009 and used to exfiltrate items in 2013. DLA helped establish it. TRANSCOM photo
Photo of a map that shows the route of the Northern Distribution Network.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA balances reform, provision after 9/11
The Northern Distribution Network was a multimodal route into Afghanistan established in 2009 and used to exfiltrate items in 2013. DLA helped establish it. TRANSCOM photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210809-D-D0441-003

The third defining characteristic of the decade surprised the agency in its severity. DLA had responded to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Mississippi River flooding in 1993 but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a catastrophe of different proportions. In addition to resulting in flooding that drowned almost 1,800 people, the collapse of levees in New Orleans left thousands homeless and foodless. The agency mitigated suffering by offering food, blankets and tarps, even coordinating with the services to pull packaged meals from their war reserves.

After Katrina, DLA established contingency contracts for future Federal Emergency Management Agency requests. It would use these contracts many times in the decade to come. To learn how whole-of-government support became an increasingly important part of agency business, read the final article in this series.