Logistics: A mystery solved

Steve LeSueur

Washington Technology Staff Writer Joab Jackson, who wrote this issue's feature story on logistics systems, has some first-hand experience with military supply chain management. Jackson served three years in the Army, from 1983 to 1986, including an one-year tour of duty at Camp Stanley in Korea as a parts clerk and maintenance manager for the Second Infantry Division.

"I spent most of my time at a desk -- without a computer -- handling parts requests," Jackson said. "Not finding the parts, just filling out the paperwork. A mechanic would come to me and ask for a gasket or an O-ring. If we didn't have it in stock, I'd order it, which required looking up the part number and filling out a form.

"When the unit got a new fleet of GM 'Deuce and a Half' trucks, I spent three months worth of evenings ordering two replacements of almost every part on that model, each set requiring one of these forms to fill out," Jackson said. "It was an insanely repetitive task. I envy these young soldiers with their automated ordering and maintenance scheduling systems."

In his cover story, "Chain of Demand," Jackson had a chance to revisit the state of logistics management and technology, and found the military services are making great strides to make the supply chain more visible to those whose lives depend on it. Increasingly, the services are adopting and adapting commercial solutions that have worked well for some of the world's largest companies, such as Shell Oil Co. -- and that's a good thing.

"It sounds as if Army mechanics are starting to find out when their parts are actually coming in," Jackson said. "If we didn't have something, I could call around and find something on the sly; but if no one had it, the truck would just sit there indefinitely until the part arrived. It was always a bit of mystery when that would be."

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