DLA director stresses relationships during wide-ranging day of engagement

By Chris Erbe

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“Strategic Engagement,” as one of the five goals of the Defense Logistics Agency’s strategic plan, encompasses relationships with partners in the Department of Defense and industry. Strong internal relationships are important, too. Both are vital to achieving DLA’s mission.

DLA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch took advantage of extensive opportunities for engagement with service and industry partners, as well as with the DLA workforce, during a one-day trip to Richmond, Virginia, July 29. If one central theme emerged from all of the events, it was the importance of relationships.

Busch began his day with an address to the future of military logistics — students in the Joint Logistics Course at Fort Lee’s Army Logistics University. The class of about 40 students comprised members of each military service, the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense civilians.

Most of the students were junior officers and mid-level non-commissioned officers with many years ahead in their military careers. Busch told them of his own pivot to the logistics world when he was first assigned to DLA as a lieutenant colonel.

“I got to DLA, and it was a fantastic opportunity,” Busch said. “I can tell you without a doubt that what I learned there — the network I started, the relationships I established – have moved me along the path to the DLA director’s seat.”

Busch took the students through the DLA basics — where its authorities come from, the customers it serves and how he prioritizes its activities around the DLA Strategic Plan for 2015-2022. He ended his formal presentation with his thoughts on being a joint services logistics officer. His first point to the students was to remain non-judgmental when working with partners in other services.

“We all bring different things to the fight,” he said. “We all come from services that do things in a way that they believe is right. So don’t judge whether another service is right or wrong – it’s just different. If you don’t work well with the other services, you’re going to find yourself with a shortage of relationships that would have helped you over time.”

Busch then talked about his process of regularly reaching out to senior leaders of the military services, combatant commands and industry, even when there was not much to talk about, just to keep the line of communication open.

“Relationships really matter,” he said. “And relationships that you establish before they are needed are even more important. When ‘the stuff’ hits the fan, those relationships are already established and, I guarantee you, laying that ground work will serve you well.”

After a Q&A session with students, Busch departed for his next engagement, a town hall event with the DLA Aviation workforce. The last time he addressed the primary level field activity was in February 2015.

More than 1,000 employees greeted Busch at the Frank B. Lotts Conference Center at Defense Supply Center Richmond. The event was the second in a series of five town halls designed to bring face-to-face engagement to the DLA workforce. Busch had already conducted a town hall for DLA Headquarters employees two days earlier.

Busch used the town hall to update employees about ongoing initiatives, such as DLA’s support to its customers, progress toward the agency’s strategic plan goals, the employee resiliency program and more. He spent a good portion of the discussion on the results of the DLA 2016 Culture Survey. At one point he returned to a favorite topic.

“I have about 15-20 key leaders in the services that I don’t want to lose touch with,” Busch said. “Every six to eight weeks, I either call them or visit in person, so those engagements are going on constantly. I can’t tell you the extent to which that has paid dividends for me.”

Following his formal presentation, the director took questions from the audience before departing for his next two appointments, visits with industry partners who do business with DLA.

Busch visited the headquarters of Owens & Minor, a healthcare supply distributor with a strong track record of support for military, disaster relief and humanitarian missions for the DoD.

“When I travel, I also try to incorporate visits to our industry partners,” Busch said to the company’s senior leaders. “The folks at Troop Support tell me that you have been and continue to be a reliable partner, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that.”

The Owens & Minor team gave Busch an overview of the company before conducting a tour of their 175,000-square-foot distribution center.

Busch made one more stop before ending his day — a visit to Produce Source Partners, Virginia’s largest independent produce distributor. The company specializes in the procurement, warehousing and distribution of fresh produce and food items for a range of outlets, including military bases throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

One day, four engagements and hundreds of positively affected people adds up to a good day for DLA. Building and maintaining relationships is more than just a concept with the DLA director, it’s a long-ingrained habit. Even on a day trip to Richmond, he doesn’t stop until he’s covered a lot of ground in terms of engagement.