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TRANSCOM Commander Addresses Supply Chain Problems

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2003 – When boxes of bubble wrap, filing cabinets and DVDs show up among "Triple Nine" cargo -- a number that designates the Air Force's highest priority shipment that usually is assigned to military units in places like Iraq -- it tells Air Force Gen. John W. Handy there is a problem with the military's supply chain process.

Though people need bubble wrap and filing cabinets, the general said, those should not be classified as high priority items, and rules and processes that cause problems like that need to change.

Handy, commander of U.S. Transportation Command , told an audience of military and commercial leaders attending a defense logistics conference here Dec. 10 that the military lacks an efficient supply chain and distribution system to support the warfighter. It is a problem that needs to be fixed, he said, adding that he wants "to get it right."

The general, who also commands Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., was one of several Defense Department leaders at the Defense Logistics 2003 conference.

Now in its third year, the annual conference brings together military and commercial leaders to talk about ways of improving military readiness through integrated global logistics, and to discuss specific supply chain management issues within DoD, officials said.

Today is the final day of the three-day event being held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here.

Handy jokingly told conferees that U.S. Transportation Command has been referred to as the "U.S. Transformation Command" because of all the changes that are taking place in the way the command does business. And he told them he is "passionate" about transforming the way DoD supplies its troops on the battlefield.

A big part of the command's transformation began three months ago, Handy said, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appointed TRANSCOM as the distribution process owner for the department, making Handy accountable for the process and responsible for making the system work for the warfighter.

The general likened the components of the distribution system to a relay team of exceptionally qualified runners. "But when we got to pass the baton between our 'stovepipes,' we often either bobbled or even dropped that baton," he said.

To illustrate the types of problems affecting the military's supply chain and distribution process, Handy said that in April and June of this year, 4,500 direct shipments from Defense Department vendors arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., a major hub for the Air Force's heavy-transport C-5 cargo planes. However, he said, there was a problem: "None of the cargo in the shipment had proper documentation, or was known about when (it) arrived at the aerial port by truck," he explained.

The general said such undocumented packages become what Air Force jargon refers to as 'frustrated cargo,' which means "you take it out to the 'south 40' until you have time to work the documentation, to find out who shipped it, where it's going to, (and) who the customer is."

Handy surmised the cargo might belong to a supply sergeant sitting in a foxhole in Iraq or Afghanistan, who might have ordered what he needed three times because he could not track his order anywhere in the military supply chain process.

"They had no in-transit visibility whatsoever," Handy said. "And the folks at Dover are working themselves tirelessly to move not only the sustainment and deployment cargo, but also to deal with the 'frustrated cargo' that's out on the south 40."

U.S. TRANSCOM is responsible for providing air, land, and sea transportation for the Defense Department. The command reached a milestone recently, after having deployed and redeployed more than a million troops in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Handy said he hopes to develop a system within TRANSCOM that allows military logisticians to "see what's in the supply system" and have "complete visibility" to track their orders. And he wants to use improvements in information technology to do so.

"We're excited about that, perhaps more than anything else," he said. "It's through information technology that we will have the visibility of the processes that we will further validate. And it's time to do the same thing with the supply chain -- start to finish, factory to foxhole."

He said that idea is one included in a plan delivered to the secretary of defense as a solution to the military's supply chain problem.

Another idea in that plan will come next month, when TRANSCOM fields a Deployment and Distribution Operation Center within the U.S. Central Command theater in Iraq. The center will synchronize the global distribution process there by providing the same functions TRANSCOM currently provides in the continental United States, the general said.

Handy said the DDOC will be formed from experts in the logistics field, who will deploy out of TRANSCOM, the Defense Logistics Agency and other defense agencies, as well as the military services to form an information technology supported organization "that will arm the J-4 (joint logistics chief) in the theater with the things he needs to get the job done."

"This is not going to be the 100 percent solution but we'll get there," Handy said, "and we will provide the support in theater that we have from TRANSCOM here in the continental United States. All of us will staff that organization and make it happen."

Other actions that Handy said he's looking at to ease the supply and demand issues within DoD include optimizing TRANSCOM's distribution structure; standardizing decision making and IT tools across the supply chain; improving acquisition and distribution links throughout the supply chain; and synchronizing DoD storage and transportation processes to eliminate warehousing.

He said he also wants to standardize billing, funding and the budget processes throughout the supply chain, which he called a "dramatic, huge task." Mostly importantly, he said, TRANSCOM will establish metrics to measure the command's progress.

Meanwhile, Handy said, collaboration with private industry can help solve DoD's supply chain and distribution woes. He asked industry representatives at the conference to bring him any suggestions to help the military find a solution.

"It's not just U.S. TRANSCOM that's in this particular solution set," Handy told his audience. "It's all of us in this room, and it's all of us that you in the room represent that have to team together -- whose best ideas, whose best business practices will help change how we think. I'm looking for anyone with brainpower and a shoulder to put against the problem."

And he is not looking for "PowerPoint promises," he said. Instead, he told the conferees, "We need to look at what you are doing, what you've already done, what business practices you've executed. The things that you have seen that you're doing that we're not doing, and you need to wear us out with those ideas. You need to drive the point home.

"And I'll tell you, we're listening," the general continued. "We've got a staff of people that are dedicated to fix this problem, and to do it quickly."

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