Improved Supply, Transportation Processes to Better Serve Troops
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 5, 2006 It’s a typical scenario: A sergeant working on a tank in Baghdad needs a part. He goes to his handy-dandy computer and orders it.
The computer locates the part he needs back in the States, and the process to ship it to Iraq begins.
Two days later, his platoon sergeant comes in and asks, “What’s up with the Abrams? Why isn’t it working?” The young sergeant says he needs the part from the states.
“Do you know where it is?” the platoon sergeant asks. “No,” the young sergeant says.
“Order another one,” the platoon sergeant tells him.
This scenario is duplicated hundreds of times across the world.
“If people had confidence that they would receive a part, then they wouldn’t keep re-ordering,” said Craig Koontz, a spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command here. “Do it thousands of times, and it clogs the system.”
TRANSCOM is charged with ensuring the uninterrupted and predictable flow of supplies around the world.
In the past, different organizations owned different pieces of the supply process. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Defense Logistics Agency had their own methods and means of operating supply chains. “Everybody developed their own systems and processes, and the processes were all separate,” said Navy Capt. Carol Hoffman, the chief of the logistics branch at Transportation Command. She is responsible for distribution process policy.
In addition, these various supply chains did not necessarily talk to each other. That tank part, for example, may have been in the states in the Army supply chain, but the Marines may have had a piece in theater. And the system could be fraught with delays.
“To the warfighter, our end customer, it’s not acceptable if it takes 60 to 90 days to get you something,” Hoffman said. “We need to build visibility up and down the chain so we can have better handoffs among the various systems. If you know what’s coming and what you are going to have to ‘through-process,’ you can prepare to do that.”
Transportation Command is working with the services and Defense Logistics Agency on one end of the spectrum and with the combatant commanders on the other to smooth the flow of goods and supplies to warfighters. Deployed units want to know “when are they going to get their stuff, where is it right now, and are they going to get it when we tell them we are going to get it to them,” Hoffman said. “Right now, we cannot reliably tell them when they are going to get something.”
A number of initiatives are in the works to give warfighters visibility on their orders. TRANSCOM is working with automatic identification technologies so servicemembers in the field can see where their orders are. A veritable plethora of products using bar codes, passive and active radio frequency identification, smart cards, memory buttons and so on will allow troops to find where the parts or supplies are, order them, and then track them in transit. Some of these processes and technologies are already in place; others are going through testing.
Problems in the process are at the seams, officials said. Handoffs among agencies are crucial. “There is the temptation to say, ‘We’ve transported it into theater; our job is done,’” Hoffman said. “That cannot be the way we do business.
“What’s happening is everybody is trying to figure out where their stuff is,” she continued. “They make phone calls and send e-mails, and they have someone who expedites it for them; it’s a brute-force type of system. We need to get one process owner that would have the various elements working together to achieve unity of effort.”
The distribution process is more than just transporting goods. “We partner with DLA and the services,” Hoffman said. “They are the front-end of the whole chain. But the fact that we can work with them to work on the acquisition and supply and storage is still more powerful than not having a distribution process owner.”
The expanded scope of responsibility takes Transportation Command into the theater. “In the past, TRANSCOM was focused on the strategic level,” she said. “We’re not the executors in theater, but our role is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency and the alignment of the processes between the strategic and theater legs. We’re not controlling it, but we are influencing it through tools and processes and policy. And there are lot’s of opportunities here.”
The command instituted a distribution steering group that brings together all the stakeholders in the process. In addition to the agencies under Transportation Command, the services, DLA, the combatant commanders and representatives of private transportation companies are part of the group.
The command understands what is needed, and its main focus is on warfighters. “If they don’t know when they are going to get something, they don’t know what they might have to do: cannibalize another vehicle or whatever,” Hoffman said. “They need to do what they need to do their missions. These are a series of integrated processes that will cause all people to work together. We owe it to those on the sharp end.”