FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Mary Martinez gained a keen sense of troops’ need for supplies while talking on the phone to an officer during the Vietnam War.
“I could hear bombs in the background and he wanted to know where his shipment was at,” the former Defense Logistics Agency Distribution employee says in a new documentary that recounts the agency’s 60-year history.
Over 30 former and current employees share personal stories about milestones in DLA’s quest to become the premiere supply agency for the military services and other federal agencies.
The 30-minute documentary proves wrong the early skeptics who thought a largely civilian organization could never handle the challenge of consolidating supplies and logistics services for the entire Defense Department.
The agency was created as the Defense Supply Agency in 1961 through a handwritten memo. Its first employees worked in rat-infested buildings no one else wanted, processing orders with pens and pencils.
While the services clung to stovepiped methods of supply, Army Maj. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara, a combat quartermaster during World War II and DLA’s first director, championed the agency’s mission of providing joint support at the best cost to taxpayers. By the end of its second year, the agency managed over 1 million items and had an inventory worth $2.5 billion. By 1969, it had delivered over 22 million tons of dry cargo and 14 million tons of bulk fuel to Vietnam. Its depot network flourished and its mission grew from supply operations to full-scale logistics support seemingly overnight.
The documentary traces the steps DLA took to bring stability during the 1970s energy crisis and the ways it continued bringing efficiency to its support and business practices. DLA Land and Maritime’s Debbie Miller remembers the introduction of computers, when employees in an entire bay shared a single computer.
“Your team had an assigned time. If nobody from your team went and used the computer, then you lost your time,” she says in the documentary.
To prove its cost-effectiveness, DLA Disposition Services began using the internet in the 1980s to create a searchable database for customers to view and order material. Rodney Moskun demoed the product for DLA Headquarters leaders. They liked what they saw but didn’t think it would catch on.
“It speaks for itself now,” Moskun says of the business systems DLA has since created with web technology.
The documentary tells how the past three decades brought yet more growth in DLA’s responsibility. From deploying alongside troops and supporting humanitarian missions like the Ebola crisis and current pandemic, the agency has benefited the nation as well as its warfighters.
The documentary, which is dedicated to past and present DLA employees, took 10 months to create and includes over 100 historical photographs, said Nutan Chada, who’s been interviewing employees and telling DLA’s story since 1995.
“I believe in DLA people and the DLA mission. Everyone pours their heart and soul into supporting our customers, with so much passion and dedication,” she said.