Galbraith, force behind critical distribution system, joins DLA Hall of Fame

By John Bell

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One of the 2016 inductees into the DLA Hall of Fame, Kent “Rocky” Galbraith, spent 38 years with DLA, beginning as a warehouse worker at Defense Depot Ogden Utah in 1966.

Three years later, he became a GS-5 computer programmer in DDOU Data Systems, the same year the Department of Defense sent its first message using the precursor to the internet. 

“When I first started, we would do our programming on the IBM punch cards. I don’t remember what year we got desktops, but that technology allowed much more productivity.”

Galbraith steadily moved up through the ranks of what became DLA’s Information Operations, working on a wide variety of DLA systems involving everything from finance to human resources to acquisition and distribution, before retiring in 2004 as a GS-15.

The Hall of Fame nomination heralds Galbraith’s service as director of the DLA Systems Design Center, during which he led the agency’s design, development and deployment of the Distribution Standard System the warehousing and distribution system now used throughout DLA and the military services. Its creation was mandated by the Defense Management Review Decision 902, which recommended a standard system to replace the different ones at the DLA depots and the military services.

Galbraith named the billion-dollar DSS project as one of the greatest challenges in his career — yet also the achievement he’s proudest of. 

“The requirement was to build a standard computer system that would run at 26 worldwide supply depots, for all the military services and DLA,” he said. “Our goal was a DoD standard distribution system that would accommodate their individual requirements.” His team took each service one at a time, making sure all its requirements were part of the new standard system.

They began the project in 1992 and in 1995 deployed DSS to the five original DLA-operated depots. The following year saw the Army’s systems retrofitted, followed by those of the Air Force in 1997 and the Navy’s systems a year later. 

Along the way, both Galbraith and his team received numerous awards from DoD as well as the Hammer Award from the vice president of the United States. Ultimately, the DSS system saved hundreds of millions of dollars and is still one of the most critical DLA/DoD systems.

“Thousands of people were involved” in this achievement, Galbraith noted. “We had a team of exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable technical and functional associates. We finally built the system that could be deployed to these 26 depots — a real feat and a huge team effort,” he said.

He praised the people who worked with and for him over the years, along with his mentors. “I had some great mentors who taught me a lot through the years — including many people at DLA Headquarters and the Defense Distribution Center.”

Asked to share a key lesson from his nearly four decades with DLA, Galbraith didn’t hesitate. “Early on, I became very insistent on having a plan,” he recalled. “We would create and track Plan of Action & Milestones for everything from $1,000 to million-dollar projects. So we had a lot of granular detail to ensure on-time projects.”

“On bigger projects, we would use Independent Verification and Validation,” he noted, in which an outside party determines if the project team was on time and within budget.

“I learned countless lessons early on that without a plan, you plan to fail. …  If you have a slip of a week in a major IT program, there’s no way to get it back.”
 
When he found out he’d been nominated, Galbraith was incredulous. “I figured it was one of my buddies playing a prank on me,” he recalled. “After a few more seconds, I realized it wasn’t. I was totally amazed. It’s almost the greatest honor that ever happened to me — like winning the gold medal.”
 
Jeffrey Charlesworth, the current DSS portfolio manager, reflected on what made Galbraith such an effective leader of such a vast and complex undertaking. “He cared deeply about the mission, and he had great attention to detail,” Charlesworth said. The creation and deployment of DSS “was one of the biggest tasks we’ll ever undertake, because it involved taking over the workload and systems of all four military services to replace them with ours,” he explained.

The necessity of that task was not always universally recognized, Charlesworth noted. “It took a lot of negotiation and give-and-take with customers who were not always the most willing.” Fortunately, he said, “Rocky was good at working with people. He was able to relate to people and work things through.”

Working at DLA “was the best experience I ever had,” Galbraith said. “I’ve had great jobs and great opportunities. And I can’t thank the DLA family enough.”