News | June 30, 2016

DLA Warfighter Support Initiative Engaging Customers

By Chris Erbe

At the Vista Point Center at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, in June, hurried participants unloaded vehicles and wheeled boxes into a large meeting room. By evening, they had set up booths and displays for what looked like a small convention with multiple vendors. This event was different, though, because every vendor represented a division or component of the same organization — the Defense Logistics Agency.

This was a DLA Warfighter Support Initiative event, part of DLA’s effort to engage directly with logistics professionals and offer them training. DWSI events are held at large military installations like Naval Station Norfolk to inform customers about how to better use DLA’s services and capabilities.

For two days, a group of about 35 DLA employees educated customers about the agency’s ordering systems, supply chains, products and services, and asked for customer feedback. The group represented DLA’s six primary-level field activities as well as Document Services, Logistics Information Services, the Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office and more. The event was led by the Navy National Account Management Team and facilitated by the Corporate Events Team, both part of DLA Logistics Operations’ Military Service Support Division.

DLA held a similar event for the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in October 2015, and for the Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in March.

“This is DLA’s own forum where we focus on providing young service members with a professional military education about DLA that they wouldn’t normally receive anywhere else,” said Guy Beougher, executive director of DLA Logistics Operations. “Our goal is to reach the actual users, the ones operating the systems for each of the services, and to give them a better understanding of what DLA can do for them. Also, we want to hear firsthand how we are doing and how we can improve to best support their needs.”

“We’re here to educate the military services about DLA programs and build more demanding customers,” said Navy Rear Adm. Vincent Griffith, director of DLA Logistics Operations. “It’s about giving warfighters the tools that will allow DLA to help them with their logistics requirements. Additionally, we view our success through the eyes of our customer — so this is also about feedback. We want to understand their needs and values so we can support them better.”

To that end, Griffith and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Tobin, DLA’s senior enlisted leader, hosted separate sessions for senior officers and senior enlisted leaders to get their take on DLA’s support to their organizations.

In addition to the booths and feedback sessions, DWSI breakout sessions covered DLA self-help tools; storage and distribution support; vendor logistics programs; combat gear and uniforms; worldwide fuel support; land combat systems; mapping and geospatial products; disposition services; medical support; subsistence products; and more.

Planners developed the DWSI as a bridge to their customers. As deputy division chief of the Military Service Support Division, Michael Brletich noticed a gap in awareness and understanding of DLA’s capabilities and programs when he would brief various service schools and joint courses. He and other senior leaders felt that gap needed to be addressed.

“The gap was simply that if you had not previously served with or worked at DLA, there was an obvious unawareness of DLA capabilities, processes and systems,” Brletich said. “Our thought was to put on a training exposition for a couple of days so we could target DLA’s main users — young NCOs, young officers, folks in the trenches who work with DLA on a daily basis — to teach them how they can leverage DLA capabilities in support of their mission.”

The DWSI concept is not a new one. DLA implemented a similar program in the ’90s in the Northeast region called “Spend a Day with DLA.” That version evolved into an initiative similar to DWSI in the early 2000s called DLA Expo. The goal of all the programs:  educate customers about what DLA has to offer.

“We have 11 separate seminars that inform our customer how to use DLA, whether it is the Customer Interaction Center, how to access the DoD Electronic Mall, [or] how to use Disposition Services,” Beougher said. “It’s those things that service members aren’t normally taught as they come up through their professional careers.”

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Burt, from USCG Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina, found out about the DWSI event at Naval Station Norfolk through his supervisor.

“I’ve only done one year at my unit, with three more to go before shipping out. I was a good candidate to attend because I’ll be around for a while to pass knowledge to the newer people coming in,” Burt said. “I received a lot of good contact information, phone numbers, resources and handbooks — plus it was nice to meet people and put names to faces.”

Troop readiness was on the mind of Army Col. Steven Bundy, from the U.S. Army Reserve Command, who attended the Fort Bragg DWSI event in March looking specific information.

“My most critical interest is DLA’s disposition services and getting rid of excess equipment in the Army Reserve,” Bundy said. “We don’t want to waste maintenance dollars or man-hours repairing or maintaining items that we’re not going to use. We need those resources directed toward producing readiness in our warfighters.”

Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Felix Carrasco, property book officer for the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group, knew some of the divisions within DLA but didn’t realize how much more the agency had to offer.

“It was good information; they answered all the questions I had and provided some good ‘intel’ that I’m going to take back and provide to our folks back at the group,” Carrasco said.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder of Army Forces Command noted there are a lot of resources DLA offers that soldiers and leaders are unaware of.

“This event brings us in and makes us aware of some of those resources,” he said. “It also introduces us to the faces of the people that are supporting us. In turn, it provides an opportunity for the teams that are supporting the warfighters to understand the challenges that we’re facing.”

“I definitely think there is value in the DWSI,” Brletich said. “Even if you educate 25 people, that’s 25 people who now know how to do business with DLA and who understand our processes and procedures.”

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DLA Corporate Events Program

They are constantly on the go.

A team of three from the Defense Logistics Agency Corporate Events Program brings outreach to more than 40 conventions, forums and expos each year. Most of those events focus on the military services. Others are in support of the Department of Homeland Security, while still others result from a partnership with the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Domestic Preparedness Support Initiative, which supports federal, state and local first responders.

Like the DLA Warfighter Support Initiative, the CEP falls under DLA’s Military Service Support Division, which also includes the national account managers for all of the military services.

“The whole point is customer outreach and customer education,” said Michael Brletich, deputy division chief of the Military Service Support Division. “That’s why the CEP exists. Their mission is to educate and inform the customer on DLA’s capabilities, programs, systems and services.”

Anywhere there is a DLA booth at a convention, the corporate events team is there. Program manager Heidi Byers leads the team that staffs the booths.

The Corporate Events Program team in front of the DLA pop-up display (left to right) Chantae Johnson, Olivia Kortuem and Heidi Byers.

“Prior to the fiscal year, we sit down as a team and we say, ‘Ok, let’s look at some of the events we’ve done in the past, let’s look at potential new opportunities,’ and we come up with a proposed schedule and cost estimate,” Byers said. “We take our recommendations to our leadership. They review it and approve our package with additions or cuts. That’s how we come up with and formalize our plan for the year.”

The team staffs booths at forums and expos of many different types with wide-ranging emphases. As such, they have to plan well in advance to coordinate the current messages with various divisions within the agency before each event.

“We work with different touchpoints across the agency, to include the National Account Manager teams and field activities, to make them aware of opportunities,” Byers said. “We ask them if they want to send a subject matter expert to a particular event. We ask if their handout information is current. We’re an avenue or conduit they can use to share messages when they can’t be there.”

Byers gave an example of interoffice coordination leading up to the team’s participation in the National Hurricane Conference this year.

“We were able to work with our Federal Emergency Management Agency liaison officer, a DLA employee, to give us new information about DLA’s partnership with FEMA,” she said. “He was able to provide us with updated slides that helped us get up to speed on the latest information.”

Because industry is important to DLA, the team also talks with lots of buyers. They coordinate with DLA Acquisition and with the Office of Small Business Programs to provide information to target audiences.

If you happen to find yourself at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition, Modern Day Marine, the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference or one of many other such events, look for the DLA booth. The team that is constantly on the go would be happy to answer your questions and give you information about the agency that supports the warfighter.

— Chris Erbe