News | June 30, 2016

Synchronizing the Effort

By Dianne Ryder

At the lowest level of the McNamara Headquarters Complex is an organization that operates clandestinely; its mission is not widely known to most Defense Logistics Agency employees. But the Joint Logistics Operations Center is at the very heart of DLA’s operations.

In some form, the JLOC has been in existence as long as DLA itself, said Don Bruce, deputy chief of the JLOC.

“The basic requirements that we’ve had to fill have always been there,” he said. “The focus of the JLOC is on synchronizing the effort of the staff and our field activities to support operational requirements.”

Though Bruce admits his team of 55 personnel are working “in a vault with no windows,” the restricted environment is necessary, since a lot of JLOC’s duties and responsibilities are classified.

The JLOC falls under the purview of DLA Logistics Operations and operates 24/7. It comprises all four military services, as well as civilians and has three branches or “pillars”: Plans, Exercises and Readiness; Mission Support; and Current Operations, said Navy Cmdr. Juan Uribe, Current Operations chief.

“In a constantly changing environment, JLOC provides continuity of knowledge,” he said.

In a tiered nerve center of activity with several television screens at the front of the room, members of Uribe’s team keep abreast of world news and events by tracking business and operational highlights and significant weather systems that might threaten operations at combatant commands. The room is also the setting for daily briefings to DLA senior leaders.

All of these tracked highlights, including leadership travel are compiled into an executive summary report disseminated to key DoD leadership and across the enterprise, Uribe said.

The operational requirements take the form of current operations — events taking place presently or in the near term, Bruce said.

“As an example, with our support to daily operations and the contingencies taking place in Iraq or Afghanistan, we’re ensuring the information about what is happening over there, what the situation is and what the requirements are is clear and understood,” he said. “We are facilitating that sharing of information so that everybody in the agency has what we call a common operating picture.”

However, not all JLOC’s operations are classified, Bruce said — particularly humanitarian assistance missions, such as Operation United Assistance, in which DLA supported the Ebola response in western Africa. This operation was almost entirely unclassified in nature.

“There were some portions that were conducted in a classified environment up front and then later on, it moved to the unclassified environment,” Bruce said. “So we adjust to the situation, realizing the majority of the agency and our industrial base partners work in an unclassified environment. We try to keep the information at the lowest level of classification that we’re allowed.”

Regardless of the scenario, DLA’s processes in providing, acquiring and distributing materiel to its customers are similar, Bruce said.

“Whether we’re engaged in a fight with an enemy in a foreign country, supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency somewhere in the United States, or supporting U.S. Agency for International Development doing relief efforts for a natural disaster somewhere, the steps are the same,” he said.

The key to success is sharing information and coordinating activities of the staff and the primary level field activities, Bruce said.

“Going through the same planning process of examining facts, assumptions, developing courses of action and providing information to senior leaders so they can make a decision — those are the fundamental building blocks, regardless of the scenario,” he said. “We’re very good at performing those steps, and we can adjust the processes to the situation and have the agility to adapt to whatever nuances come up.”

The JLOC’s mission support branch is responsible for recruiting, training, equipping and deploying DLA’s support teams for the agency’s forward presence in a particular mission, Bruce said.

“That can take the place of a full DLA support team for something that pops up and happens immediately, or an enduring operation like Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, where we’ve been doing this for years,” he said. “It’s about individual augmentation or rotating out personnel so that we’re not turning over a whole team at once.”

While it’s important to maintain a continuous presence in certain areas with an experienced cadre of personnel, the JLOC also recruits and trains members of the agency’s rapid deployment initiative, Bruce said.

Uribe compared the seamlessness and cohesion of the trained mission support teams to the Navy’s team of demonstration pilots who perform at air shows across the nation.

“When these teams coordinate with each other enough times and get familiar enough with each other, understanding what everybody is supposed to be doing, it’s a lot like watching the Blue Angels,” he said. “The different primary-level field activity commanders and DLA joint staff directorates are able to slip into the formation at the exact time and know exactly what they’re doing, and it becomes very well-synchronized.”

Uribe referenced the team’s efforts in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission performed in Iraq for individually displaced persons.

“We had to have the team from contracts be able to draft up some pretty complicated contracts in a very short time. And the people from DLA Troop Support helped staff those contracts and make sure they were ready to go. The people from DLA Distribution had to know exactly what that distribution network was going to look like,” he said. The JLOC was also “coordinating with people from U. S. Transportation Command, USAID and with Department of State … so it was a function of understanding what everybody was capable of doing.” 

He also spoke about DLA’s significant role in the Syrian crisis, when thousands of refugees fled to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. [See story here: http://go.usa.gov/cJzAB]

“DLA contracted out non-food items to help support that effort,” Uribe said. “The Department of State came to the Department of Defense with a list of requirements.  U.S. Central Command was given the lead, but DLA was given the responsibility for funds allocation and execution,” he added.

“It tells us a couple of things: No. 1, it shows how much faith they had in how good we were in executing the mission, and No. 2, it just reiterated how good we are at picking it up and going.” 

“It was like orchestrating a symphony and making sure that all the notes were harmonious,” Bruce said.

“The range of items DLA procured and provided to the sites went from medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, clothing items, health and comfort items — the things refugees would need.” he said. “And there was a lot of communication with the State Department and the non-governmental organizations to make sure what we got actually fit the requirement — that it was the right type of item that the refugees would be familiar and comfortable with.”

Bruce said JLOC’s key role is not only to provide daily supplies and services to military and civilians at their home installations.

“The field activities do that very well every day,” he said. “The challenge is providing those supplies and services in some new location in the middle of a crisis. Determining the requirements and orchestrating that effort to make sure the material and the services are provided … is where the JLOC mission becomes very important.”

Performance assessment is important to learn what does and doesn’t work well, Bruce said.

“There’s also the future piece: What do we think is going to happen in the future, and are we prepared to provide support so that when the situation changes, there isn’t a delay in DLA support for that evolving situation?” Bruce said. “That’s what the Plans, Exercises and Readiness branch does.”

Personnel in the Plans, Exercises and Readiness branch attempt to predict how future operations and requirements might evolve by working up deliberate plans for operations that may occur, Bruce said. Many simulations focus on scenarios involving U.S. adversaries.

“Within that branch, there’s a responsibility to help develop DLA’s participation in exercises conducted by combatant commands or other external organizations within DoD, or to develop our own exercises focused on DLA objectives to help train, prepare and measure our readiness,” he said.

“There’s a lot of effort going into understanding the plan, designing some sort of an environment where it’s realistic, and we’re actually going through the steps of what we do in that situation if it were actually happening,” Bruce said.

To measure and record efforts and lessons learned in any given exercise, DoD uses the Defense Readiness Reporting System.

“As an agency, we have derived what we believe our mission-essential tasks are,” Bruce said. “We measure how well we think we as an agency are at performing those mission-essential tasks, and if we don’t think we’re measuring up to the level we should be, then we look at how to correct that.”

Other categories of semi-predictable events are seasons when storms and other environmental conditions are prevalent, Bruce said.

“In the past, we’ve run internal DLA exercises that have prepared us for the hurricane season or the wildfire season,” he said. “We realize before that season starts in May or June, we need to make sure the staff is prepared because there’s been turnover of personnel or because we haven’t had a hurricane in a year or so, and we don’t have any practical experience.”

These exercises can be specifically designed for participants to practice and become familiar with the type of requirements involved.

“We’re actually driving the exercise. And in some of those cases, we either ask the external organizations to participate, or if they’re busy, we have role players that play the role of FEMA or U.S. Northern Command or one of the other agencies we would interact with,” Bruce said.

In mid-May, the JLOC participated in a disaster-support exercise to prepare for a “defense support of civil authorities” scenario of an earthquake in an area known as the Cascadia subduction zone in the northwestern United States.

“It’s a real possibility there are some major fault lines in that area. And USNORTHCOM conducted an exercise in June called Exercise Ardent Sentry that several of the western states, FEMA and many other organizations are going to be participating in,” Bruce said. “We’re holding a very small internal exercise using the exact same scenario, and that helps us prepare for that bigger exercise coming up in a few months.”

JLOC personnel view themselves with a critical eye and strive for perfection, Uribe said. Again, he likened JLOC’s level of excellence to the Blue Angels.

“After an airshow, the pilots and the support team … sit down and talk through every single  aspect of the event,” he explained. “They identify flaws that people from the ground would have never noticed. 

Uribe concluded: “The enterprise always benefits from the insights gained during these sessions, proving the point that the world of logistics is in a constant state of change.”