COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Shielded by barbed-wire fencing, the massive facility's rows of parked military vehicles and dozens of nondescript buildings lend it a slightly menacing allure not unlike the covert military bases of a Hollywood spy film.
A passerby may wonder: What goes on within the grounds of the Defense Supply Center Columbus on the northern borders of Whitehall?
“Looking at the building now you would never know what’s going on behind the gates," said Michael Jones, public affairs officer for the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime, which has operations at the post. “It just looks like another building that’s gated.”
As it turns out, the military installation has not at all kept secret its decades of evolution as an integral force in in the U.S. military's global network.
Opened in 1918, the Defense Supply Center Columbus (DSCC) has undergone 14 name changes on its way to becoming a vital logistics center providing weapons systems and platform support to U.S. military and federal agencies around the world. It also happens to be Whitehall's largest employer, with approximately 8,000 employees and a $400 million annual payroll.
Here are some interesting facts and history about the Defense Supply Center Columbus, located at 3990 E. Broad St.
Defense Logistics Agency among dozens of organizations operating at DSCC
A total of 26 organizations are tenants at the 520-acre base.
Perhaps most prominent among them is the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) which has its Land and Maritime supply chain headquarters located on the grounds. Land and Maritime manages more than 2 million unique inventory parts to support several thousand multiservice weapons systems and the military members who rely on them, making it the largest operation at the Whitehall base, Jones said.
Among the other tenants, the base also houses the Ohio Army National Guard, the U.S. Army Reserve and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, an agency of the Department of Defense that oversees payments to servicemembers, employees, vendors and contractors.
DSCC's legacy extends as far back as World War I
The post has played a major role supporting U.S. military operations around the world, providing services during every major military conflict since the First World War.
The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. made the first purchase of land — a 281-acre parcel in April 1918 — to construct a government military installation, according to the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime public affairs office.
Although located in undeveloped swampland and tracts of farmland, the site was advantageous because it afforded immediate access to three important railroad lines. Just as valuable, the land was situated near Columbus’ downtown area, a city within 500 miles of most of the nation's manufacturing centers where military supplies and equipment were produced.
A hub for military food
The site's mission in World War I was to route material for shipment overseas, but the first delivery to arrive at the post wasn't anything needed for combat. It was canned pork and beans.
That's because, according to the DLA, the base was primarily responsible for handling military food throughout World War I.
As years went by, the facility developed into one of the largest and busiest installations of its type in the world — feeding, clothing and equipping the military and furnishing vehicles. The base also conducted schools for more than 70 trades and procured the Army's horses and mules.
“Back to all these wars and conflicts, Whitehall has been part of pretty much all of them,” Jones said. “But in Whitehall, the DSCC here has evolved from that original supply-chain function.”
Black widow spiders working for the military?
In 1943, silk production specialists worked at the facility to extract silk from black widow spiders. Due to the silk's durability, repair technicians used the material in gun-sight crosshairs and compasses, according to the DLA.
“Suffice to say, they thought of a way to use spider webs to reinforce the resiliency of those (tools,)” Jones said. “It was really to reinforce the glass and all the applications for the military and make it more bulletproof and resistant.”
The shop for harvesting silk from black widow spiders was the only one of its kind in the Quartermaster Corps. until improvements in synthetic fiber made it obsolete.
German POWs were held at the Whitehall base during World War II
The center became the largest military supply installation in the world during World War II. And toward the end of the war, the military installation housed up to 500 German prisoners of war, according to the DLA.
Warehouses at the facility were converted into secure barracks where the prisoners lived and were guarded by a staff of 58 men, most of them former military.
During their stay beginning in January 1945, the POWs did work compatible with the Geneva Conventions and received 84 cents a day. In January 1946, the prisoners departed for Camp Perry in northern Ohio to make their journey home to Germany.
Defense Logistics Agency specialist killed in Afghanistan in 2014
On Sept. 16, 2014, Stephen F. Byus, a resolution specialist supervisor with Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime, became the first U.S. civilian killed in the Afghanistan War when his two-vehicle convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Read More: Family, friends mourn Reynoldsburg man killed in Afghanistan (Dispatch Article, you may need a subscription to read it)
Byus, who was a lieutenant junior grade with the U.S. Navy reserves but was not mobilized at the time of his death, had been deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan in July 2014 to help the Afghan army equip itself and learn how to navigate the countryside. Byus died at the age of 39 and left behind a wife and two young children in Greater Columbus, according to Dispatch coverage.
Also killed in the attack was Army Maj. Michael J. Donahue, 41, of Columbus, according to the Military Times.
Jones said it's common for DLA civilian specialists to deploy to warzones with military members. “We try to keep some forward presence to be right there with the troops to respond quickly,” he said.
In 2016, one of the Defense Supply Center Columbus' buildings that opened in 2013 was renamed and dedicated as the Stephen F. Byus Community Center.
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Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering public safety, breaking news and social justice issues. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta