News | June 30, 2016

A Conversation with ... Air Force Col. Michelle Hall

By John Bell

 

Air Force Col. Michelle Hall, who wraps up a year as DLA-USTRANSCOM Division chief in August, spoke with Loglines about what the division has accomplished in the past year and what changes are in store.

 

For readers who are unfamiliar, how is DLA-U.S. Transportation Command different from U.S. Transportation Command?

Great question! A surprising number of people around DLA think the folks in DLA-USTRANSCOM are, in fact, from USTRANSCOM. There are several personnel assigned to our division — some at DLA headquarters and four at USTRANSCOM headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. We are all DLA employees and not assigned to USTRANSCOM.

Our division is similar to DLA’s regional commands in that we are a combatant command–facing organization. We are different in that they are not our customer in the traditional sense of the word: DLA does not provide USTRANSCOM with supplies the way we might U.S. Central Command or U.S. Africa Command. Instead, USTRANSCOM is one of DLA’s most important partners and our division works every day to improve the partnership.

Our division has only been here since 2012, and our partnership with USTRANSCOM has evolved over the years since then. We’ve partnered with USTRANSCOM in a lot of different areas. Facilitating the participation of our DLA Support Teams as part of a Joint Task Force Port Opening group in multiple Turbo Distribution exercises is just one aspect.

When I first came on board last summer, the first thing I was told by [Air Force Lt.] Gen. [Andy] Busch and [Air Force] Gen. [Darren] McDew, who had just taken over as USTRANSCOM commander, was to help the partnership and we have tried to ramp up our efforts.

Since January, we have been executing a strategic engagement plan where we’ve met with DLA  joint staff directorates at the GS-15/military division chiefs level, the director’s staff and many of our primary-level field activities to provide a briefing on what we can do to help and about things USTRANSCOM and DLA are doing. We’ve also increased the number of times division leadership visit USTRANSCOM and conduct key leader engagements. Our goal has been to find out what the agency might be doing with USTRANSCOM that we may not be aware of and find ways to help them with their efforts.

We’ve also tried to engage in operational issues to have a positive impact. For example, we’ve participated in a Class I [subsistence] working group with DLA Troop Support, DLA Distribution, USTRANSCOM and others to improve support to the warfighter. Another example of something our team has helped with:  We worked with the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, a component of USTRANSCOM, to obtain a waiver on a one-time-offer for the movement of 18 Class 1 [subsistence] containers. This waiver was granted, and the customer shipping these items saved $1.2 million in shipping costs.

We have very smart and experienced folks who work every day to look at all options, integrate information and solve problems. I think we are sometimes like gold miners looking for nuggets. We’re out there looking at ways to improve this partnership and ultimately, support to the customer.

You’ve been the DLA-USTRANSCOM Division Chief since August 2015. What’s been the most challenging thing your division has tackled in that time?

There have been a number of challenges over the past year but I think definitely — and it wasn’t only our division involved in this but a huge team effort across the DLA enterprise — the opportunity to provide humanitarian assistance to [refugees fleeing] Syria and Iraq was one of the most difficult challenges we’ve faced. The story about this humanitarian relief has been told a number of times, so I don’t want to revisit it. But it was an extremely complicated undertaking, and we had a very short timeline. Coordinating requirements, information and processes among very high-performing, super-capable organizations, some of whom may have thought very differently than we did. Integrating all those pieces was wicked-challenging, but we were proud to play a very small part of the plan.

If that was the most challenging task of the last year, would you say it was also DLA-USTRANSCOM’s biggest achievement in that period?

We’re definitely super-proud of the support we were able to provide. But in addition — and again, we’re just enablers to a larger team effort — we are proud of the work we’ve done helping to stand up the Rapid Deployment Initiative and to help our DLA support teams become more robust. Increasing partnership with multiple exercises and helping to build the program is also something we’re proud of and excited about. Glenn Werlau from our office helped draft the Memorandum of Agreement between USTRANSCOM and DLA about this program. It was signed in January, and it’s been very exciting to see the program mature. We’re happy to be part of that, because it has the potential to provide really great capability to the warfighter and the combatant commands. There are many other things we’ve worked on this year we are proud of, but this is one big example.

What changes are in store for DLA-USTRANSCOM as you prepare to hand over the reins?

One of the most obvious changes will happen in August when the military division chiefs position, my current position, moves to USTRANSCOM. Other combatant command facing organizations (DLA-Europe/Africa, DLA-Central, etc.) have a military division chief at the combatant command. The DLA director decided to move this position to Scott Air Force Base and USTRANSCOM headquarters later this summer. This will provide a more robust forward presence with USTRANSCOM, who the director has said is our most important strategic partner, due to the interrelatedness of our processes. 

Going forward, this will change the dynamics in the way we communicate and work through issues with DLA. While we already have a team of four at USTRANSCOM Headquarters, this change will put more capabilities forward with the organization we are partnering with. And there’s a lot to be said for that.

August 3, we’ll have our annual USTRANSCOM-DLA Day, where senior leaders from USTRANSCOM and DLA will converge on the [McNamara Headquarters Complex]. We have an interesting agenda planned for this event and we hope it prompts important discussion and further partnership. And that will essentially be the transition date for both me and [Air Force] Col. Michael Erhardt, who will take over as the DLA-USTRANSCOM division chief in August. There is a lot more work to be done between USTRANSCOM and DLA — we probably haven’t even scratched the surface this year — and it will be exciting to see what Col. Erhardt and the team do in the future.

What’s the one thing you’d like someone who doesn’t work directly in logistics to know about DLA-USTRANSCOM?

I would like them to know DLA-USTRANSCOM is here to help. We are strategically minded in that we work to improve partnership with USTRANSCOM on far-reaching and strategic issues, but we are also operationally focused in that we want to help enable the efforts of others in the DLA enterprise with the main goal of improving support to the warfighter. I would ask people to give us a call or include us on an email on something they are working with USTRANSCOM. And more times than not, we can help.