FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Army Col. Christopher Archer specifically requested to serve as the Defense Logistics Agency’s chaplain to learn more about DLA and the Defense Department, and he’s not been disappointed. He reported to the agency in December 2020 during the pandemic, nine months after most agency employees were directed to work from home.
As DLA’s chaplain, Archer helps meet service members’ spiritual needs by providing approximately 500 religious items. He oversees the agency’s religious supply support to DOD and works with DLA Troop Support in Philadelphia, to ensure the services get the items they need.
The pandemic has restricted face-to-face interaction, but Archer said it’s allowed him and his Religious Affairs Noncommissioned Officer Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Soto to focus more on the supply system and how to streamline product delivery.
“We’ve been able to see where some improvements were needed and work a lot with [DLA Troop Support] Clothing & Textiles in Philadelphia,” he said.
The chaplain and his NCO have also redesigned the chaplain’s webpage to ensure a user-friendly experience in finding and ordering items. Archer credits most of the improvements to Soto, who reviewed webpage links and discovered broken ones, replacing them with valid URLs.
“Soto has been on point with the ecclesiastical supply line and helping our office get more in line with C&T so that we’re working well together,” Archer said.
Archer and Soto have weekly calls with C&T to ensure orders are properly processed and backorders are reduced.
Most of the backorders occurred when a sole source vendor who provided DLA with chaplain’s kits died suddenly, Archer said.
“His wife continued fulfilling the contract for about a year, and then she retired. We had to solicit for a new vendor and had no luck for about two years,” he said, adding that until a new vendor was found chaplains had to use remaining kits in inventory.
The coronavirus stalled supply chains in an already niche industry, but DLA contracted with a new vendor to build the kits this past summer.
Archer and Soto are already helping chaplains prepare orders for the 2022 holidays and other spiritual observances.
“We have to preorder kosher Passover meals and Seder kits for our Jewish community,” Archer said, adding that contractors work with vendors to provide many specially prepared products that must be delivered in time for holy days like Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.
Many people don’t know there are different kinds of palms based on various religious traditions, the chaplain said.
“C&T does a phenomenal job of working with the vendor,” he said, adding the source is the only vendor supplying palms to customers around the world. “They’ve got to be cut, packaged, sent out to all our distribution centers and put on boats or planes and delivered within a very short timeframe to get them to their destination while they’re still green.”
Archer said customers should allow lead times of 30-60 days when ordering non-emergency ecclesiastical supplies, but a 90-day timeframe is optimal. Once an order is placed in FedMall, a determination is made as to whether it’s a direct vendor delivery item or DOD-stocked item. When the vendor receives the order, they have 15 days to fill it. But material shortages can also cause delays and if products are shipped overseas, the customer must provide a physical address other than Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office.
Archer used Seder kits as an example of an order that contains specific items and timelines for delivery.
“The vendors run the line for only a certain amount of time to produce so many Seder kits and a different line is running the kosher Passover meal,” he said. “These things are time-sensitive and it’s why we try to get the total numbers to the vendors early so they know how many to build.”
Whether it’s kosher or halal meals, ashes or palms, or myriad other religious supplies, sometimes orders don’t make it to the intended destination and special options must be employed like delivery to ships already at sea.
Archer relayed a specific incident when a ship-to-ship transfer of time-sensitive products was needed.
“The ship was moving too slowly so we made connections through U.S. Transportation Command and mid-ship in the ocean, they switched the product to another ship that was going faster and would get it there on time,” he said. “DLA really takes religious support seriously.”
The chaplain and Soto also discern items that aren’t in stock to help chaplains’ offices build new requirements and input them into the National Stock Number system.
Archer said some specialty items like tabernacles and new Torahs may only need replacing every 10 years, but they’re still necessary items to maintain.
The chaplain hopes to resume travel to engage with and train other chaplains as COVID restrictions ease.
“It’ll be good to get out and start making those trips. I was able to go to California with the director to San Joaquin and San Diego,” he said. “I hope to get back there and maybe visit one of the other smaller locations.”
There are annual training meetings and other events sponsored by various religious affiliations where DLA and other organizations exhibit and talk to customers about product availability. Archer said events are scheduled in January, February and March 2022.
“We usually make a presentation at those functions, which allows us to interact with chaplains from all services,” he added.
Archer said teamwork is critical to provide “the right product at the right time legally, morally and ethically,” and he appreciates the feedback he’s received from DLA employees and senior leaders.
“I’m grateful to be here and have people who are willing to share their knowledge with me. I’ve found most people will take time to talk with me if I approach them,” he said. “I look forward to more of that over this next year. My desire is to take what I learn here when I go to other assignments to have a whole-of-government approach in everything we do regarding religious support.”