BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
On September 12, 1972, then Assistant Secretary for Defense (Installations and Logistics) Barry J. Shillito announced in Battle Creek, Michigan, that the Defense Property Disposal Service (as the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services first named) would be established as a new command under DLA.
The first commander of DPDS was Army Brigadier General Richard H. Thompson. Thompson had led the Defense Department’s study group that developed the plan for implementing changes in the disposal program. He was also the commander of the Defense Logistics Services Center which was also located in Battle Creek.
At the time of its establishment, DPDS had 222 locations with more than 5,700 personnel operating in 23 foreign countries and the United States.
The first change of command was in February 1973 when Army Brigadier General George W. Connell, assumed command.
DPDS became fully operational in July 1973. During the fourth quarter of fiscal FY1973, 5000 employees from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps who worked in disposal were transferred over to DPDS.
During the early years the Directorate of Reutilization underwent a transformation from a completely manual operation to what was considered at the time as highly mechanized.
In the beginning reports of excess personal property were received and processed manually. Once received the items were published in “The Excess Personal Property Listing,” a weekly catalog advertising selected items that were available. By the end of the first decade, the process to get this catalog out was streamlined.
As the first decade closed, a major information system was in use, the Interrogation Requirements Information System, better known as IRIS. This system provided customers visibility of excess and surplus property identified by a National Stock Number.
The system afforded better control through increased visibility of assets and asset status: a complete audit trail from receipt to final disposition; timely and meaningful management data as well as the ability to develop statistical data.
As the agency was finding its place in the government during its first decade, new sites were opened and sites that had come over from the services were closed down and in some cases, politics played a hand in the closure of locations.
The first came with the end of the Ethiopian Empire in 1975 and the closure of the U.S. Communication Station Kagnew at Asmara, Ethiopia. DPDS employees Ewald Ohligs, Kurt Weber and Lewis Becker loaded the last of the site’s property on a contractor’s donkey carts and closed the station.
DPDS employee Joe Sollecito braved fire fights, winning a Presidential Award for valor for in the process as he closed his site and turned the keys over to the new government. This ended 35 years of presence in south Sahara.
Similarly in 1978 operations came to a sudden halt in Teheran, Iran, during another revolutionary war.
Robert Hirschman who retired from DLA Disposition Services in 2011 said that just before Iran fell and the hostages were taken he was at the command’s site in Teheran and conducted a spot sale.
Hirschman explained that the command had a small presence in Teheran and as things went from bad to worse American civilians were evacuated.
In Teheran there was no time for an orderly closeout. “They lost everything,” Hirschman said. “What they couldn’t carry they had to leave behind.” The site, with Army Master Sergeant S. Smith in charge, was closed, ending 30 years of disposal operations in the Middle East.
The first ten years also saw a growth in programs that fell under the scope of DPDS.
Prior to the organization of DPDS, both the Navy and Air Force were developing precious metal recovery programs. However, after the birth of DPDS there was only sporadic interest in creating such a project.
Two external forces combined to give DPDS the nudge it needed to begin serious effort toward amplifying the existing concept. First, prices for gold and sliver began climbing to record highs, causing the cost of many items purchased by the government to increase tremendously; and secondly the General Accounting Office made a report to Congress concerning the loss of monies and natural resources through inappropriate disposal of photographic waste, that contained silver by DOD and other Federal agencies photo labs.
Midway through 1976, DPDS embarked on the development of a significant plan of action for precious metal recovery.
Two of the major steps were to construct a master list of NSNs of items that contained precious metals and then establish a formula for determine the economics of recovery vs sales.
As the first decade came to a close the Precious Metal Recovery Program was showing a net return and the program would continue to grow.
In May of 1980, DLA was designated as the responsible agency within DOD for worldwide disposal of hazardous property.
To facilitate this new responsibility the Directorate of Environmental Protection was established in March of 1981. The first director was Army Col. Joseph T. Cuccaro. The mission was to ensure that disposal actions for hazardous property were accomplished in accordance with environmental laws and regulations .
On the day the command was activated, September 12, 1972 those working in property disposal were classified as “DPDS Pioneers.” One of them was Shirley McKinney.
McKinney started her federal career as a WG-4 Stockhandler in 1967. In May of 1981 she was selected as the Scrap Section Chief at the McClellan site.
As the command celebrated its 10- year anniversary McKinney was quoted as saying, “Hang in there something good is bound to happen.”
It’s been 40 years since she offered that advice. It was good advice then and now as the command looks forward to the next 50 years.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles by the Public Affairs staff to look back at the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services history by decades.