News | June 30, 2016

Factory to Foxhole

By Beth Reece

Together, the Defense Logistics Agency and U.S. Transportation Command connect the logistics pipeline from factory to foxhole. Broadly speaking, one acquires the supplies warfighters need; the other transports them.

“We have distinctly different functions, but they’re complementary. The more we take our supply background and mesh it with USTRANSCOM’s expertise in transportation, the better chance we have of improving our support to customers and saving money along the way,” said Andy Monday, deputy division chief of DLA Logistics Operations’ DLA-USTRANSCOM Division.

In 2003, the Defense Department appointed USTRANSCOM as the distribution process owner for the military’s global distribution network. As the DPO, USTRANSCOM synchronizes worldwide distribution operations with combatant commands, the military services, DLA, and agencies such as the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and General Services Administration, all of which rely on the same transportation modes to get supplies to warfighters.

The new designation sparked a stronger understanding among DLA officials of how the transportation pipeline works and led the agency to reconsider the placement of stock and adjust internal distribution strategies to better fit USTRANSCOM’s capabilities, said Tom Shively, DLA’s liaison officer to USTRANSCOM since 2005 and a member of the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division.

The two groups collaborated even more with the creation of the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division under DLA Logistics Operations in 2012. It is a little-known asset, but the team’s mission is similar to that of DLA Central, DLA Pacific and DLA Europe & Africa, which focus solely on the supply needs of regional combatant commands. USTRANSCOM is also a combatant command, although its focus is functional rather than regional.

Among the newest benefits of the DLA-USTRANSCOM partnership is the Sustainment Dashboard, an electronic system that monitors the movement of cargo to customers’ locations. USTRANSCOM and DLA Logistics Operations officials began collaborating on the tool last year after recognizing the vast difference between tracking methods for sustainment cargo and deployment cargo.

“Deployment cargo is stuff that’s identified for shipment ahead of time. You line up the best way to move it ahead of time, you build the cargo ahead of time and arrange for the lift ahead of time,” Shively said, adding that the movement of deployment cargo is tracked to the nth degree.

Visibility for sustainment cargo was limited, however. Sustainment cargo includes items like food, fuel and repair parts that are sourced, booked and transported according to need. With the Sustainment Dashboard, logisticians can now place such commodities on a close-watch list. Material that doesn’t arrive at a certain port on time or is otherwise delayed is highlighted, signaling to users that something is off track.

 “In the past, there was no single way for us or the customer to know something was going wrong. Now, we get an alert and can start developing alternative strategies to get the material where it’s supposed to be before mission failure occurs,” Shively said.

The DLA-USTRANSCOM Division also made it easier for DLA to be among the first to respond during emergencies. In 2006, USTRANSCOM created the Joint Task Force-Port Opening to provide a joint expeditionary capability that could rapidly establish and initially operate a port of debarkation, as well as conduct cargo-handling and movement operations, in support of combatant command-led contingencies. Because the JTF-PO is led by a combatant command, it can seek verbal permission from the secretary of defense to take action during the initial stages of a contingency operation or humanitarian assistance.

“Normally when you go into a theater like this, you have to have authority from the secretary of defense to be there. In some cases, you have to contend with whether the U.S. presence is welcome, whether it’s allowed. And, if it is, sometimes countries put limitations on what we can do,” said Glenn Werlau, a logistics management specialist on the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division team.

Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Operation United Assistance in 2014 made it clear DLA should be among the first elements on the ground, Werlau added. While then-DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek coordinated with his superiors at the Pentagon to get approval from the secretary of defense for DLA to quickly respond to those efforts, he and other agency leaders viewed the process as problematic.

USTRANSCOM and DLA officials worked together last year to have DLA designated by the secretary of defense as a deployable capability in the Global Response Force Execute Order, making it a part of the JTF-PO construct. Two 13-member DLA support teams that can deploy on short notice have been created and begun participating in training exercises. [Editor’s note: See “Logistics, Live and On Location,” page 2.]

“The beauty about having these DSTs is the members will be on the ground assessing things early on and can influence what other DLA assets are pushed forward to support,” Monday added.

The Campaign Plan for Global Distribution is another USTRANSCOM-led effort that gets frequent input from DLA. Its goal is to create a global distribution network that can adapt to changing environments. DLA-USTRANSCOM Division’s Eileen Granfield, a logistics management specialist, works with leaders at DLA field activities such as DLA Distribution and DLA Troop Support to influence the plan. Topics range from vendor vetting and acquisition processes to the location of fuel.

“It benefits us and everyone else is in the distribution community of interest to be a partner in this plan because it gives us the chance to improve the global distribution network for warfighters in any theater in the world,” Granfield said.

Engaging with organizations like the ‌National Defense Transportation Association and National Defense Industrial Association helps the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division stay abreast of potential problems.

“Something that may seem irrelevant to DLA just by topic may actually be strategically important. If NDTA projects that there’ll be a shortage of commercial airline pilots in the future, for example, that’s a big deal to us when it comes to delivering supplies,” Granfield said. “Such organizations are also more likely to get word of the potential for a shutdown or protest in an industry that the agency’s military customers rely on for critical material,” she continued.

Cyber security is another issue that could affect multiple parts of the supply chain, and lessons already learned by commercial industry could help shape how DLA and USTRANSCOM mitigate risk. The two organizations are already conducting exercises to determine how to react in the case of a cyberattack. In February, DLA and USTRANSCOM tested their ability to move a select sample of items, offline.

“Our focus is to figure out what it would take for both organizations to work offline for a sustained amount of time,” Granfield said.

Members of the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division are committed to the growing partnership, Shively said from his office at USTRANSCOM’s headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

“We take this very personally, whether we’re located here with USTRANSCOM, with DLA Headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, or any of DLA’s field activities,” he said. “If you ask what keeps me up at night, sometimes it’s whether we let the warfighter down. That can be bothersome to me and to all the staff out here. We recognize how important the mission is.”

The next step in the DLA-USTRANSCOM relationship will take place in August, when the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division chief will be embedded with the USTRANSCOM staff at Scott Air Force Base.