On July 13, Vice Admiral Alan Thompson, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, spoke to logistics enthusiast and members of Hill's Logistics Officers Association alike. His speech detailed the enormous efforts of DLA to assist the military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and also touched on the importance of DLA's Air Force initiative.
According to the history of DLA, its origins can be traced back to World War II when vast amounts of weapons and munitions had to be procured rapidly. Today, DLA not only provides acquisition services to the four branches of the military, federal agencies and joint and allied forces, it also assists in logistics and technical services.
"The Agency sources and provides nearly 100 percent of the consumable items America's military forces need to operate ... from food, fuel and energy, to uniforms, medical supplies, and construction and barrier equipment," the DLA Web site says.
"We manage eight supply chains, everything from hardware support to land combat systems," Thompson said. "We also run the distribution network for the DoD ... We're also bringing online our most recent addition in Kandahar, Afghanistan."
The DLA's focus in the Middle East has prioritized the responsible drawdown in Iraq and supporting forces in Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network.
After his visit to Iraq about two months ago, Thompson is pleased with the progress being made there. "The drawdown in Iraq is going well," he said. "It is getting to be an extremely busy place right now."
The drawdown required DLA to analyze the situation and begin a shift in the support it provides in Iraq, Thompson described. Now its focus is more on the proper disposal of materials in the country.
"From a DLA perspective it's been all about repositioning the full spectrum of our support," Thompson said. "(The disposal team has) done tremendous work to make sure that essentially ... sensitive items don't get in the wrong hands and that we don't leave behind environmental hazards."
He also described the logistical difference between Iraq and Afghanistan, citing the support centers in Kuwait that aid in supporting the efforts in Iraq as one of the major discrepancies.
"DLA has substantial support capabilities down in Kuwait that we're leveraging - we have a distribution center there, we have a large DRMO there, we have another DLA support team that's in place there."
As for Afghanistan, DLA successfully analyzed and met several challenges in providing logistics support to the forces stationed there.
"Over the last 18 months or so, it's been a story of kind of building up the initial base infrastructure that was needed to support the 30,000 plus troop presence in Afghanistan," Thompson said. "Those troops are flowing in and the FOBs. . .are basically ready - they have the full spectrum of support they need, whether it's assistance, troop support, construction materials, fuel - you name it."
"(Afghanistan) has huge logistics challenges," Thompson continued. "We also don't have the good fortune of a Kuwait right next door that can provide a support base that we can leverage. Everything has to go in over hundreds of miles of roads that are not in that great of shape and high mountain passes and all kinds of weather, and oh by the way, fairly frequent insurgent attacks."
The solution to the supply chain problem was to create the Northern Distribution Network, which involved the cooperation of not only DLA but other U.S. agencies as well. The solution proved to be successful, and Thompson is proud of its success.
"I think it's been a huge success and it's saved a lot of lives from the standpoint of reducing the fairly vulnerable flow of materials through the two points on the Pakistan border."
As for the future, Thompson knows that DLA will continue to provide strong support for the Air Force and other military branches.
"The support to the AF continues to be very, very important as it is with each of the military services," he said. "Whether it's support to AF units forward deployed or the non-deployed operation forces or the industrial customers, it's very important that we keep our eye on the ball there."
In fiscal year 2009, DLA provided $9.6 billion to the Air Force alone, with petroleum and aviation being the top areas of support.
Perhaps the most important method of support the DLA provides to all is the ability to analyze situations and provide timely and efficient support. Through their efforts, DLA is an integral part of the success of the Air Force, both abroad and at home.
"As logisticians, being analytical is typically an important skill to be most successful," Thompson advised.