News | Nov. 19, 2021

DLA unifies, polishes its reputation in the 2010s

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.

Two trends characterize the most recent decade in the Defense Logistics Agency’s 60-year history. First, the agency unified to an unprecedented degree: more than ever, components operated as one entity. Second, DLA enhanced its reputation by mitigating disasters, managing data and fighting disease.

Navy Vice Adm. Alan S. Thompson jumpstarted unification. Within a year of becoming DLA’s 16th director, he introduced alignment groups so senior leaders could confront pressing issues as a group. Concerned that employees were identifying mainly with their staffs or major subordinate commands, he also renamed components by adding DLA to their titles to reflect their collective roles rather than their locations. 

This “We are DLA” campaign emphasized that missions often involved multiple DLA components. When U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, for example, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM planned movements, DLA Disposition Services reduced stockpiles, DLA Energy fueled flights and buying commands adjusted prime vendor contracts. The same components executed the same missions when forces withdrew from Afghanistan two years later.

Missions directed at a particular command also widened over time. After the U.S. Forest Service asked DLA to be its purchasing agent in 2014, DLA Troop Support began suppling items like hoses and rakes. DLA Land and Maritime solidified the support as an enterprise-wide mission when it started providing commercial batteries three years later.

Fire hoses and protective equipment for firefighting.
The Defense Logistics Agency supports firefighting efforts by providing equipment ranging from fire hoses and protective clothing to tools and batteries to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Program Oct. 6, 2015. Photo by Nutan Chada
Fire hoses and protective equipment for firefighting.
DLA unifies, polishes its reputation in the 2010s
The Defense Logistics Agency supports firefighting efforts by providing equipment ranging from fire hoses and protective clothing to tools and batteries to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Program Oct. 6, 2015. Photo by Nutan Chada
Photo By: Nutan Chada
VIRIN: 150922-D-D0441-002
 This unified approach helped DLA respond to Ebola in 2014. Under Navy Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek, the agency’s 17th director, DLA Europe & Africa and DLA Distribution helped establish a theater in West Africa by providing material for medical facilities, renting warehouses and transporting goods. DLA Troop Support and DLA Energy continued the mission under Air Force Lt. Gen. Andrew E. Busch, Harnitchek’s replacement, by feeding and fueling representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development and Centers for Disease Control. 

The agency’s ability to coordinate complex missions received notice later in the decade. Under Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, the agency’s 19th director, DLA Headquarters built an electronic readiness dashboard and converted its command-and-control cell into a collaborative decision-making body known as the Agency Synchronization and Operations Center. Comprised of experts from DLA Headquarters and the major subordinate commands, the ASOC used the dashboard to foster understanding of the agency’s assets and capabilities while providing common direction.

Woman with mask and headphones seated at desk and answering a phone call
Karen Crawford is one of several agents at the Defense Logistics Agency’s Customer Interaction Center who help U.S. Forest Service customers place an orders for equipment needed to battle wildfires sprawling across millions of acres in California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and other states. DLA Photo
Woman with mask and headphones seated at desk and answering a phone call
DLA unifies, polishes its reputation in the 2010s
Karen Crawford is one of several agents at the Defense Logistics Agency’s Customer Interaction Center who help U.S. Forest Service customers place an orders for equipment needed to battle wildfires sprawling across millions of acres in California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and other states. DLA Photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 200827-D-D0441-031

The COVID-19 crisis proved difficult to synchronize even with the dashboard, however. It interrupted every supply chain, forcing manufacturers large and small to suspend production. The government’s decision to respond with military and civilian agencies spread the acquisition burden across the enterprise, although DLA Troop Support’s construction and equipment and medical supply chains bore the brunt of provisioning.

Other major subordinate commands helped DLA Troop Support manage pandemic support. Before the outbreak, Williams had initiated a plan to transfer management of industrial hardware from DLA Troop Support to DLA Land and Maritime and DLA Aviation. Instead of delaying realignment, the agency accelerated it so DLA Troop Support could devote excess employees to COVID-19 requisitions. 

DLA’s COVID-19 response validated unification efforts. Acting together, components confirmed the agency’s reputation as a reliable whole-of-government partner. While the future is unknown, the sixty years of logistics support chronicled throughout this series suggests DLA will continue polishing its good reputation in the coming decades.