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Defense Logistics Agency Pivots to Support COVID-19 Response

May 1, 2020 | BY Chris Erbe , Defense Logistics Agency

The agency that traditionally contributes to America's military readiness with items such as fuel and food has so far ordered more than $920 million in lifesaving supplies and equipment to support the nation's COVID-19 response. 

Time-tested processes and partnerships developed during past humanitarian assistance operations enable the Defense Logistics Agency to provide supplies and services that few organizations, public or private, can match, said DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams. 

A distribution processing facility has  a line of yellow collection bins in the center of the floor.
Processing Facility
The Defense Department’s largest distribution processing facility continues packing and shipping vital supplies to military services and federal agencies supporting the global COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Ed Shank, DLA Distribution Public Affairs
VIRIN: 200417-D-CK397-0001

"While DLA is a combat logistics support agency whose mission is to support our military services and combatant commands, its support to the whole of government during times of national crisis is indispensable," he said. It manages about $42 billion in annual sales for the military services, 11 combatant commands and 42 federal agencies, as well as partner and allied nations. 

DLA has supported the Defense Department's COVID-19 response by increasing production and acquisition of critical items through existing large-scale contracts across multiple supply chains.  

"Our outreach to industry has been ongoing for years with strategic supplier alliances, prime vendor relationships and other tailored logistics vehicles," said Tim Stark, DLA ombudsman. "These partnership-type connections allow us the flexibility to respond rapidly during times of stress on the industrial base like we're seeing today." 

By late April, the agency had procured more than:

• 4 million N95 respirator masks;

• 14.4 million nonmedical and surgical masks;

• 92.2 million exam gloves;

• 16,300 hand sanitizers;

• 821,000 test components;

• 8,000 ventilators; and

• 2.5 million isolation and surgical gowns for military and federal agencies.

DLA also stocked the Navy hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy with more than $14 million in protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, fuel, food and repair parts. Other military medical support went to Army field hospitals in places such as the alternate care facility at the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Respirators and other medical equipment have been used aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt. Gloves, masks and hand sanitizers were sent to troops in South Korea.

Specialized items such as COVID-19 test kits, patient monitors and nonmedical fabric face masks were also researched and introduced into DLA's inventory. And to address critical supply shortages early, DLA broadened its manufacturing base to acquire medical supplies through global and domestic sources.

Our people remain the secret sauce of this agency – they're the ones who make all of this support possible."
Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, director, DLA

Using additive manufacturing technology, DLA procured 11,000 laser-cut protective face shields for New York City medical workers. The agency also met N95 mask shortages by awarding a contract to provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services with  60 Critical Care Decontamination Systems, each capable of sanitizing 80,000 masks a day for reuse.

Even items previously scheduled for disposal or reuse have been provided, with DLA Disposition Services sending thousands of respirators, surgical masks, gowns, gloves, goggles and other items to military and federal customers.

Luis Guzman, area manager for DLA Disposition Services at Camp Pendleton, California, said his team has provided temporary hospitals throughout the country with everything from tents and cots to mattresses, exam tables and diagnostic lighting. 

"Our personnel here are doing everything within their power to identify property that can support this COVID-19 pandemic response," he said. 

A woman puts on personal protective equipment near a table that holds dozens of paper bags.
Getting Ready
Navy Cmdr. Nelle Linz dons personal protective equipment before entering the intensive care unit to treat patients aboard the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. DLA stocked the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy with more than $14 million in protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, fuel, food and repair parts.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Eshleman, DOD
VIRIN: 200429-D-D0441-002

The agency can also deploy expeditionary logistics capabilities around the globe at a moment's notice.  

"DLA is a consequential partner in supporting the whole-of-nation response," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day, director of DLA Logistics Operations. "And while we recognize that COVID is the enemy here, we're not losing sight of our mission to provide readiness support for all of the services."

Though DLA is a DOD agency, support to other federal agencies is a priority that comes to the fore during crisis response such as COVID-19. The partnership involves federal, state, local and tribal entities, said Stephen Dubernas, chief of DLA's Whole of Government Division. 

"In fact, through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, we're integrating with many foreign countries, so I would call it a 'whole-of-globe' response."

Dubernas said the agency's focus pivots to support the nation when needed. "Never has this been more important than the response to COVID-19," he said. "On a daily basis, we're touching a large number of our more than 40 interagency partners."

Two men sit at a table with computers next to each other while they both look at what one man is pointing at out of frame.
Closer Look
DLA Indo-Pacific Korea employees Mark Faivre and Army Sgt. First Class Marcus McDonald work emerging issues in the DLA Korea Synchronization Operations Center activated in March during the international COVID-19 response.
Photo By: DLA
VIRIN: 200423-D-D0441-001

DLA has provided logistics support for 26 disaster relief and humanitarian assistance responses since 2010, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, and Florence and Michael in 2018. The agency also played a major role in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Those events gave agency employees real-world experience consolidating support with government agencies such as FEMA, thef State Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.

To support the current crisis, DLA liaisons are embedded with FEMA, HHS, the White House Task Force, U.S. Northern Command and the Pentagon's Joint Acquisition Task Force.

"I think in many ways DLA was put together for such a time as this," Day said. "We're what the nation needs right now, and I'm really proud of the people who are making it happen."

A flatbed truck loaded with pallets of supplies sits on the dock near a white hospital ship.
Special Delivery
Employees at Defense Logistics Agency Distribution San Diego, Calif., load 31 pallets of material onto the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy, based at Naval Base San Diego, in support of the COVID-19 pandemic, March 21, 2020.
Photo By: Marc Walker, DOD
VIRIN: 200429-D-D0441-001

Williams added that DLA is solidifying its role as an invaluable asset for DOD and the federal government by showing its unique ability to leverage logistics expertise for humanitarian response while maintaining warfighter support.

"I've always been proud of DLA's support to our warfighters and our nation," he added. "Our people remain the secret sauce of this agency – they're the ones who make all of this support possible."

(Chris Erbe is assigned to the Defense Logistics Agency)