With offices and missions all over the world, logistics is a complicated but critical function for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Officially, logistics is the management of the flow of things – people, furniture, office supplies, mail, and more – between the points of origin and requirement or use. For USACE elements beyond the continental United States’ borders, logistics functions takes on additional challenges.
For the Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM), with offices throughout the Middle East including contingency locations, the logistics mission takes on a whole new level of complexity moving needed people, supplies, and facilities, into position to meet mission requirements both at the TAM headquarters in Winchester and throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
TAM is responsible for providing engineering, construction, and related services to the Middle East, Central Asia, and other areas as required. TAM’s work includes designing and constructing facilities for use by U.S. forces, performing engineering activities for other U.S. government and foreign agencies, and providing operations and maintenance services for various customers.
The projects are completed through a Project Delivery Team approach, including members in Winchester, personnel stationed long-term in the countries with the project, and short term temporary duty personnel who travel back and forth across the Atlantic for specific technical issues or milestones. Across all those locations, all of the people involved require travel, supplies and office space necessary to complete these projects for U.S. and allied forces, and support for the district’s allied mission partners.
“Our Logistics team supports all of the Transatlantic Division and anyone else who needs assistance, including Forward Engineering Support Teams, district personnel stationed at any of our overseas offices and those deploying for contingency operations,” said Rick Bierlich, chief of Logistics. “Our mission is different from logistics operations in other districts and divisions because of our foreign military sales and overseas operations, field offices overseas and contingency operations.”
The USACE-wide logistics mission operates similar to the USACE Information Technology mission. Services are provided throughout the Corps of Engineers from a centralized location with a limited number of specialists in divisions and districts around the country.
For IT services, the Army Corps of Engineers Information Technology (ACE-IT) is centralized at the Army Engineering and Support Center, in Huntsville, Ala. For logistics, that centralized location is Millington, Tenn., called the USACE Logistics Agency (ULA). TAM is currently exempt from both because of the uniqueness of its mission, and maintains a staff of specialists in Winchester for both services.
“The ULA services all of USACE except for the Transatlantic Division, Japan, Korea and Europe Districts,” said Bierlich. “The Transatlantic Division, including both its districts and other organizations, are serviced by the Middle East District’s logistic team.
“Even though those districts are not members of the ULA, we still provide reachback services when needed,” said Richard Kim, ULA Regional Manager for Pacific Ocean Division. “For instance, if there is a vacancy that is taking a while to fill, we can back-fill that position with an asset from the ULA. That employee is already a USACE team member and so they know CEFMS and all the other internal systems and programs.
The difference in services for members and non-members is financial.
“If a non-member District, let’s say Korea, needs our reachback services, we would still provide it but Korea District would have to pay for that. For member districts, it would already be covered,” said Kim.
TAM’s Foreign Military Sales involvement is part of the reason TAM is exempt from both ULA and ACE-IT.
“Dealing with FMS is quite different from both civil works and military construction,” Bierlich said. “We could find ourselves arranging travel for foreign dignitaries or purchasing some unique equipment, supplies and materials for some of our customers. It’s a whole different process, with different rules and constraints.”
TAM’s Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Richard Collins added, “The TAM logistics team’s mission of providing logistical support to all of TAD across the Middle East is critical to enabling program delivery in support of our various mission partners. Relatively simple actions can become exponentially complicated when the effort requires movement of personnel, equipment, or supplies through multiple countries. TAM’s logistics team members have become experts on navigating the ever-changing regulations, political situations, and vender options to provide support to the forward offices as efficiently as possible.”
Travel. Travel is an important cog in the district’s mission wheel. And the Logistics Team manages all aspects of travel -- all passport issuance and renewals, Visas, ticketing, country clearances, and even a small fleet of Government vehicles.
Passport Office. The Department of State has certified the Middle East District to process passport applications. This requires an annual DOS inspection to maintain that certification.
Transportation Specialist Cheryl Young, long-time Logistics team member, is in charge of processing passports. “We are working with IT to add a kiosk in Logistics, so team members can finish any missing details from their applications right here, instead of forcing them to return to their desks to finish it up. It’s just one way of smoothing the process even further.”
“We have been able to streamline much of the red tape and processes because we have built successful relationships with stakeholders outside of the District and within the Department of State for passports and visas,” said the Director of TAM’s Logistics Division Rick Bierlich.
Ticketing. The contracted travel agency, Carlson-Wagonlit, currently has two full-time agents in Winchester to serve the travel needs of the Division, answering the needs of the division, and turning travel plans and itineraries into tickets and realities.
“One of the biggest differences in securing travel arrangements for TAM team members is having to be more flexible with routings and the order of countries traveling to, creating a final itinerary with the least number of connections and backtracking possible,” said Travel Experience Counselor Karen Angus. “We create the best itinerary according to their plans and the amount of time needed for their mission at each location. This may require reworking itineraries many times prior to and during travel as their situations change sometimes on very short notice. The great amount of international travel requires that we be very in tune to currency conversions to meet or fall below per diem rates for hotels, secure vehicles that meet their needs and safety at destination – flexibility is key in anything that is handled through our office.”
Most USACE elements do not have their own transportation capabilities. “If something comes up during a travel that changes plans, other USACE travelers have to use the call centers at Fort McCoy or San Antonio for help,” said Bierlich. “But we have the authority to direct changes as necessary, which is most times quicker and easier for the travelers.
Emergency travel is another important role for logistics. Team members who have a death in their family, or are sick or injured, usually have no time to waste in returning to the States. Logistics team members have been on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for such emergencies, for more than 20 years now. They respond at all hours to resolve travel emergencies.
“COVID-19 has presented even more challenges in getting passports and visas because all the embassies have closed and Department of State is no longer accepting passport applications,” he said. “And it's far more difficult to arrange for travel when countries are not even allowing aircraft in or out.”
Property Book. TAM’s Property Book officer works directly for the Chief of Logistics. Robert Shulka, Edward Miller and Don Shelton maintain control of all government properties, supplies and inventories, in Winchester and for each overseas location.
Physical inventories are performed (how often?) which sometimes requires the PBO to travel to project sites.
“Our PBO team is responsible for outfitting new offices with everything necessary to function,” Bierlich said. “Everything from desk chairs to paper clips, computer systems to signage. We’re responsible for providing, wherever the requirement.”
Facilities Management. Logistics is responsible for managing the long-term headquarters building and our short-term lease for our records holding warehouse. “In managing this facility, we coordinate externally between the lease-holder (GSA) and the landlord,” Bierlich explained. “Internally, we also coordinate Security and Law Enforcement for physical security issues. And with EEO and Office of Counsel on reasonable accommodations for employees.”
Since the vast majority of TAM projects are executed within the Middle East region, Logistics is especially vital in accomplishing all aspects of the mission. There’s no taking a credit card and running to the local Staples to outfit a new office. Logistic handles everything from purchasing and transporting all furniture, equipment and supplies for overseas project offices to arranging travel itineraries and ticketing for engineers, architects and project managers; from processing applications for official passports to express shipping delicate technical components for communications servers. The Logistics team supports the entire Transatlantic Division, enabling mission accomplishment in all areas.