Logistics Director Lauds Workforce
Logistics Director Lauds
Workforce, Notes Challenges
By Karen Parrish, American
Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– June 27, 2012 – The military’s logistics enterprise has done “miraculous
things” in supplying two wars over the last decade, and in tackling the
challenge of reversing the flow of equipment into Afghanistan, a senior leader
Navy Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek, Defense Logistics Agency
director, told the Defense Writers Group here his workforce confronts two
central challenges: carrying on the enormous task of recovering equipment from
Afghanistan as U.S. troops finish their combat role there by the end of 2014,
while also cutting costs and adding efficiency to meet a tighter defense budget.
According to NATO International Security Assistance Force
officials, 90,000 U.S troops remained in Afghanistan as of May 15. By the end of
September, 23,000 of those service members will withdraw. While it’s not yet
clear what size the U.S. force will be during the ongoing security transition to
Afghan forces, or how many will remain beyond 2014, it’s clear U.S. troop
strength will shrink significantly.
Harnitchek noted his agency isn’t responsible for managing
returning unit equipment or items that will be transferred to Afghan forces. The
services will take care of those stocks, but DLA is tasked with disposing of
worn-out property -- from vehicles to computers -- and moving inventory stocks
out of Afghanistan.
The agency has shredders as big as houses, and machines that
can cut a mine-resistant vehicle into 18-inch squares, he said.
“We’re doing that in probably three to four places,” he said.
“We can cut several hundred vehicles up a month.” The agency then sells the
scrap, Harnitchek added.
Recovering military equipment is a bigger challenge in
Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, he noted. “Afghanistan is a much tougher
logistical nut to crack,” the admiral said.
With ground routes through Pakistan still closed to NATO
forces, airlift and the ground-based northern distribution network are the only
options for getting supplies in or out of Afghanistan, Harnitchek said. U.S.
Transportation Command has the lead in managing that network, but DLA relies on
it, he added.
“Frankly, I think commanders on the ground would tell you we
haven’t missed a beat,” since Pakistan closed its routes in November, he said.
“And on the logistics side, and the big commodities I manage, I’ve never had
more fuel or more food in Afghanistan than I have right now.”
The network is made up of ports, rail and road routes winding
like “a spider web,” Harnitchek said, through countries including Latvia,
Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Responding to a question about the network’s possible
vulnerabilities -- Russian political differences with the United States, for
example -- Harnitchek said all partner nations have been “remarkably cooperative.”
Because the network is designed to provide an array of
transport options, the admiral said, no one route is essential.
“When you think about supporting operations in a place like
Afghanistan – that’s landlocked – what you want to do is build a network that is
so robust that everybody is an integral part of it, but nobody is absolutely
vital,” he said. “You don’t want [to be] leveraged by your network partners.”
The routes are long, arduous and expensive, he acknowledged,
but said he’s confident the network and the military’s airlift capabilities will
manage the return of U.S. equipment from Afghanistan if Pakistan’s roads remain
Turning to his agency’s budget goals, Harnitchek said he has
challenged his workforce to cut their own operating costs, independent of demand,
by 10 percent over the next five years. His strategy to achieve that goal
requires better needs forecasting and keeping inventories smaller, he said.
“We need to do a much better job buying inventory,” the
director said. “We buy way too much inventory that we don’t use, and then we
keep it too long.”
DLA contracts to buy and deliver nearly all of the U.S.
military’s consumable items: food, fuel, uniforms, medical supplies, and
construction and barrier equipment. The agency also supplies more than 84
percent of the military’s spare parts. The agency already uses commercial supply
lines for products such as food and pharmaceuticals, he said.
“We’re out of that business now,” Harnitchek noted. “We rely
on commercial industry and their … supply chains to do that for us,” which means
DLA saves storage and warehouse costs, he said. He’s pursuing similar goals with
supplies such as light bulbs, nuts, bolts and lumber.
“Why would I want to spend $11 managing a bag of nuts that
costs 75 cents? I don’t want to do that,” the admiral said.
His staff is also working with private industries that are
big fuel consumers to gain a better understanding of market knowledge and when
prices are likely to be best, he said. The Defense Department uses 130 million
barrels of fuel a year, he said, and price fluctuations drive “a big budget
Unlike industries such as aviation, “We have a lot of storage
infrastructure,” he noted. “We could buy and store fuel when the price is right.
… That’s something we’re taking a very hard look at.”