Defense Logistics Agency’s Got a Lot Going on Below the Surface

By Chris Erbe

Most people know the Defense Logistics Agency supports the nation’s warfighters with almost everything they need to execute their missions. What they may not know is that DLA performs about 90 unique roles and missions that go beyond what most would expect. Like the proverbial iceberg, what you see on the surface of DLA is only a portion of the whole.

A quick review of the DLA website informs casual observers that the nation’s combat logistics support agency provides military and federal customers with a full range of supplies, acquisition and specialized services like distribution and property disposal. Through its six subordinate commands, DLA buys and distributes over $40 billion in material each year, including nearly 100 percent of the military’s bulk fuel and the majority of its repair parts, plus consumables like food, clothing, medical supplies, industrial hardware and construction equipment.

This Tethered Aerostat Radar System in Deming, New Mexico, is filled with helium provided by Defense Logistics Agency Energy Aerospace Energy. Photo by Donna Burton

While many of DLA’s major activities are evident, some of the lesser known but equally important roles and missions are not. Since its establishment in 1961, DLA has assumed additional roles through Base Realignment and Closure initiatives, Congressional acts and Defense Department directives that have broadened the agency’s capabilities.

DOD printing became one of the agency’s many below-the-surface missions when it was transferred from the Navy in 1996. DLA Document Services provides custom and specialty printed products, desktop publishing, mailing services and more.

“Along with typical printing needs, such as programs, copies or posters, we can also do reflective decals, large-format printing, banners, and aircraft logos,” said Kathy Kruczek, a document automation production specialist, who works at a DLA Document Services facility at Travis Air Force Base, California.

More than 100 DLA Document Services offices are located around the world, including a small team next to the White House dedicated exclusively to printing for the president and the White House staff.

The agency even prints maps. In 2014, DLA signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to take over its Print-on-Demand Program, an integrated effort with NGA to provide up-to-the-minute geospatial mapping products to warfighters. The program consists of seven global sites and can print 75,000 maps daily.

DLA also manages the National Defense Stockpile, a program created to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for materials critical to America’s security.

“We have a mission to acquire, store and test strategic materials used in national emergencies,” said Ronnie Favors, DLA Strategic Materials administrator.

As stewards of the NDS, DLA Strategic Materials oversees 42 commodities ranging from base metals such as zinc, cobalt and chromium to precious metals like platinum, palladium and iridium.

A deputy from Missouri’s Osage County Sheriff office operates a former Coast Guard vessel during spring floods. The craft was obtained through the 1033 program that is administered through Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services. Courtesy photo

When an item becomes excess to military requirements, the services turn to DLA Disposition Services to reutilize or dispose of it. Law enforcement agencies around the country save taxpayer funds by ordering used military equipment through the DLA Law Enforcement Support Office 1033 Program, which provides free clothing, office supplies, tools, rescue equipment, boats, vehicles and more to help law enforcement agencies safeguard their communities. Since its inception in 1997, the program has transferred more than $6.9 billion in property to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies.

Missouri’s Osage County Sheriff Michael Bonham uses the LESO program to keep his county ready to respond to natural disasters. This past spring, when local rivers overflowed their banks, Bonham and his department put their 24-foot, former Coast Guard boat to work.

“We secured it because it’s the perfect piece of equipment for the rivers – we have 150 miles of shoreline, with the Missouri River, the Osage River and the Gasconade River running through our county,” Bonham said.

DLA Disposition Services also provides excess firefighting equipment such as fire trucks, transportable water tanks and generators to federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to combat wildfires. Through the Computers for Learning Program, it distributes used computer equipment to public and private schools, grades K-12.

In humanitarian assistance, DLA has provided medical supplies, clothing, bedding and building material to hospitals, orphanages and road construction teams in developing nations since 1994. Stateside, DLA assists the Department of Veterans Affairs by providing clothing and bedding support to VA homeless shelters. When Congress donates blankets to homeless shelters around the country, DLA supplies them.

Providing fuel for military aircraft, ships and land vehicles – including Air Force One – falls upon DLA Energy. Since the mid-90s, the major subordinate command has managed energy sources to power offices and even homes on military installations. Not only does DLA provide electricity, natural gas and coal, it manages items that support solar and wind power too.

In 2001, DLA Energy became the main source for bulk helium used in DOD’s lighter-than-air weapons and surveillance systems. They also provide bulk cryogenics, which includes the oxygen military aviators breathe in flight, plus specialized rocket and missile fuels used by DOD, commercial space launch providers and NASA, among other entities.

“We’re actively engaged in supporting today’s space program as well as providing the propellants for the launch vehicles for Delta IV, Atlas V, Antares and the Parker Solar Probe,” said DLA Energy Aerospace Energy Director Doug Smith.

Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Clothing and Textiles embroidery specialist Linda Le inspects the only 49-star presidential flag ever made, June 28, 2018. DLA Troop Support embroiders are the sole authorized producers of the current 50-star presidential and vice presidential flags. Photo by Mikia Muhammad

Many customers know DLA Troop Support provides subsistence items to the military, but they aren’t aware the agency has provided healthy food choices to domestic school lunch programs since 1994 through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Other food-related support includes meals for Department of Labor Job Corps centers and for over 130 Native American tribes, plus religious meals for service members and food trucks that serve troops in the field.

DLA Troop Support in Philadelphia also provides the intricately designed presidential and vice presidential flags flown on motorcades and displayed in the background of official photographs. About a dozen talented “flag ladies” embroider the flags by hand.

“Each lady puts a little bit of her heart and soul into each flag that comes out of the flag room,” said Linda Farrell, DLA Troop Support Flag Room Supervisor. The team also produces unit flags and streamers, uniform patches, rank insignias, awards and medals — including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

While DLA has been and always will be a warfighter first organization, the agency supports many additional functions throughout the federal government that would surprise most people. Here’s a list of many of DLA’s “below the surface” roles and missions:

Managed by DLA Aviation:

Managed by DLA Disposition Services:

Managed by DLA Distribution:

  • Depot Kitting: provides all the necessary parts for a task in one kit allowing customer to submit one requisition instead of many
  • Ozone Depleting Substances Reclamation & Cylinder Refurbishment Operation

Managed by DLA Energy:

Managed by DLA Land & Maritime:

Managed by DLA Troop Support

Managed by DLA Document Services:

Managed by DLA Human Resources:

  • Human Resources Support to 11 Defense Agencies, Field Activities, U.S. Transportation Command
  • Managed by DLA Logistics Operations: 
  • Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office: provides strategic and operational level contract support program management, including deployable capabilities, across the DoD and the whole of government. 
  • Whole of Government Interagency Agreements: DLA provides support in varying degrees to the following organizations in the form of general items, energy products, construction and engineering support, clothing and textiles, medical support, subsistence support, industrial hardware and more:
    • Congress 
    • Defense Contract Management Agency 
    • Department of Agriculture Department of Commerce 
    • Department of Energy 
    • Department of Health & Human Services 
    • Department of Homeland Security 
    • Federal Emergency Management Agency
    • US Coast Guard
    • Department of Justice
    • Department of Labor
    • Department of State
    • US Agency for International Development
    • Department of Transportation
    • Department of Treasury
    • Environmental Protection Agency
    • Foreign Military Sales (110 nations)
    • General Services Administration
    • National Aeronautics & Space Administration
    • State & Local Governments
    • District of Columbia
    • Tennessee Valley Authority
    • US Army Corps of Engineers
    • US Postal Service

Managed by DLA Information Operations

  • Additive Manufacturing: 3D Printing of military replacement parts
  • Logistics Information Services: responsible for data strategy, management, operational control and accomplishment of logistics data support for DoD and Federal customers
  • Defense Logistics Management Standards Executive Agency: interprets, prescribes, and implements DoD policy in the functional areas of supply, transportation, acquisition (contract administration), maintenance and finance                                 

Administered by DLA Finance

  • Defense Working Capital Fund (DISA, DFAS, DLA)

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