Defense Distribution Center: Continually transforming to meet customer needs

By Brianne M. Bender DLA Distribution Public Affairs

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There is no doubt that audit readiness and process excellence are top priorities for DLA Distribution. Continuous process improvement is the hub of process excellence. As a result, the Defense Distribution Susquehanna, Pa., installation has transformed over the years as the needs of the warfighters have changed.

The New Cumberland, Pa., installation site was selected in 1917 by the federal government for the site of a defense distribution center due to the close proximity of the Pennsylvania Railroad and one of the largest rail yards located eight miles east in Enola. On February 22, 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson approved the purchase of land for two reserve distribution centers, one of them to be located near Harrisburg, Pa., and the other near Schenectady, N.Y.

At the end of World War I, the New Cumberland site served as a receiving point for supplies returning from overseas. Little activity occurred at the installation between World War I and World War II.

During World War II, the site served as a packing distribution center for overseas shipments. In 1941, storage facilities more than doubled, providing over 3 million square feet of covered storage. Additionally, the site became a reception center for newly-inducted soldiers with greater than 90 percent of central Pennsylvania inductees processed through the New Cumberland site. Soon after, a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian prisoners was established.

Immediately after World War II, receiving and disposing of excess supplies and equipment became the major focus of the installation. In addition, in 1946, a War Reserves Branch was established to store supplies and equipment. Following deactivation of the POW camp and induction center in 1949, a US Disciplinary Barracks Branch was activated and operated until 1959.

During the Korean Conflict, activity increased and so did construction. Four additional warehouses brought the total amount of covered storage space to more than 4 million square feet. Those four buildings were known as the “Golden Mile” as each building was approximately a quarter of a mile long.

In 1960, an aircraft hangar along with maintenance shops, were constructed and served mainly as maintenance and repair facilities for US Army helicopters and other aircraft. The depot employed approximately 1,600 employees, received nearly 85,000 tons of supplies and shipped more than 103,000 tons.

To ensure optimization and standardization, many process improvements were made to the facilities, the major project being the conversion of nearly one million square feet of warehouse space to controlled-humidity storage. Furthermore, a million-dollar air maintenance hangar and shops were constructed and connected to the Harrisburg-York State airport to support aircraft maintenance.

In an effort to encourage simplification and improve performance, modernization began in the 1970’s. In order to better achieve the outcomes the warfighter’s expect, these modern improvements included computers and automated systems. The Control Data Corporation CDC 3300, a third generation computer, was installed allowing the New Cumberland Army Depot to become the third depot to implement the System-wide Project for Electronic Equipment at Depots, or SPEED. This dual processor computer became operational in 1975, providing the same capability as three previous computers.

Additionally, a storage modernization system was installed in the “Golden Mile” that included an automated material handling system and a prototype automated bin retrieval system with storage banks and computer control equipment.

During the 1980’s, most of the maintenance operations related to helicopters and other aircraft were eliminated, and the installation’s mission was modified to function solely as a supply center. Several structures were demolished to make room for the construction of a major state-of-the-art storage and distribution center. Ground was broken in May, 1985 for the Eastern Distribution Center, with construction completed on July 21, 1989. The EDC was built to process 10,000 lines per day, on a single shift.

“Up until this time, inventory accountability was not given the level of attention it is today, mostly due to the lack of computer advancements,” explained Distribution supply management specialist, Lisa Stiely. “Everything at that time was done by hand, from job applications to the original 1348 order forms that were typed on carbon copy and transferred to microfilm for record keeping.”

New Cumberland Army Depot was deactivated in April, 1991 and assigned to the Defense Logistics Agency as Defense Distribution Region East, a regional headquarters responsible for the management of eight depot operations in eastern United States. At the same time, the consolidation of Defense Depot Mechanicsburg and New Cumberland Army Depot created the Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna, Pa., one of the eight depot operations. At the time of deactivation, the New Cumberland installation had the distinction of being the oldest, continuously operated depot in the US Army.

DLA began taking steps to consolidate distribution management even further by eliminating one of the two remaining regions and establishing a consolidated Defense Distribution Center. In Sept. 1997, after extensive exploration of potential locations, DLA selected New Cumberland, Pa., as the new DLA Distribution Headquarters location.

The mission of the new Distribution headquarters was to manage material distribution functions for Department of Defense customers, except fuels and munitions. Essentially, DLA Distribution headquarters and its Distribution centers were responsible for the receipt, storage, and issue of supplies for the military services, combatant commands and other customers.

At that time, DLA Distribution brought in the Distribution Standard System to its warehouses. DSS is an automated information system that manages all functional business processes of DoD's warehouse operations. These processes include receiving, storage, consolidation, packing, shipping, inventory, inspection and workload management.

“Automation was in full swing when the EDC came online and production increased,” said Distribution acquisition project officer, Michael Torner. “Production and accountability improved as DSS came into use, and the paper work was reduced.”

Until Sept. 1997, two regional offices, Defense Distribution Region East in New Cumberland, Pa., and Defense Distribution Region West in Stockton, Calif., managed a network of 30 distribution centers at 32 sites with 62 storage locations within their respective geographic boundaries. In late 1997 these two sites were merged into the Defense Distribution Center, New Cumberland. Today, DLA Distribution headquarters manages 24 distribution centers worldwide.

DLA continues to make a conscious effort to continually evaluate and improve processes. Additionally, employees are encouraged to think of ways to improve processes and to share the ideas with supervisors. The premise is that successful audits and implementation of end-to-end process management will depend on continuous process improvement. By allowing and encouraging the input from the employees, it will expand the workers’ understanding that their work contributes to the overall goals, which will encourage them to continue improving the process, transforming to meet the changing needs of the warfighter.