MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Of the three changes of command that took place in the blazing summer heat here, one was that of the commanding general for Marine Corps Logistics Command.Brig. Gen. James A. Kessler assumed command of LOGCOM June 29 in front of a large audience gathered at Schmid Field.Kessler believes his experiences in the Marine Corps have prepared him to assume command of LOGCOM, which is a two-star billet.
“Like all officers, I attended the basic officers’ course in Quantico, Va., then on to my military occupational specialty school, which was ground supply officers in Camp Johnson, N.C., formerly known as Montfort Point Camp. This was home to the Montfort Point Marines, which has a lot of great history behind it,” he said.
Kessler’s first duty station was 1st Supply Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group, MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif. His next tour was in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as the operations officer at MCB Camp Butler and officer in charge of the organic supply analysis team at the Field Supply and Maintenance Analysis Office there.
“As a captain, I attend the amphibious warfare school and since that time completed other tours of duty in MCB Quantico, Va., MCB Barstow, Calif., Camp Kinser, Japan, served as an aide-de-camp at the Pentagon to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and multiple deployments including Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Kessler said he was fortunate to gain experiences that were out of the norm for general supply officers, but they broadened his horizons by allowing him to see elements of the Marine Corps and Department of Defense that most Marines don’t get to experience.
Now that he has had time to assess his new command, which he has not spent as much time as he would like at due to his hectic travel schedule, he sat down for an interview to share his vision, goals and priorities for LOGCOM.
Q: What is your vision for LOGCOM?
A: My vision for LOGCOM is to be the best operational logistics provider in the Department of Defense. That is a pretty lofty vision, but I think the command is definitely able to accomplish it. It is also important to understand our mission, which is to provide worldwide integrated logistics and supply chain management and distribution management and strategic prepositioning capability to support the operating forces.
What that means is to predominately support the Marine Corps warfighters. However, in this business, there is competition from other depots and contractors out there as well. When I say we want to be the best within DoD, I want to make sure this command is positioned to be competitive with every other depot of any other service in order to provide the things our commandant expects in support of the warfighters.
Q: How do you plan to accomplish this?
A: With that mission in mind, first and foremost, we must understand the requirements and needs of the warfighter and the operating forces. Those requirements extend beyond just the immediate fill of equipment, but what those needs are down the road, with current and future equipment.
We work closely with Marine Corps Systems Command as they field new equipment and understand what we need to do to supply that equipment to support the operating forces as well. Understanding the customer and what their requirements are is very important. We also must make sure the command, Maintenance Center Albany, Barstow and Blount Island Command and the staff sections at this headquarters understand that this is a very dynamic world in which we live and we have to be sensitive to that.
As requirements change, we must have a workforce that is capable of changing with it. What I have seen in my short time here, is we have that in our workforce. Their adaptability and flexibility is unprecedented. I have been a customer in the past and this command supported me while I was deployed.Kessler said this workforce is excited about the opportunity to stay competitive, and has found new and better ways of supporting the customer.
“They are constantly looking for better ways to do it, not accepting the status quo, not taking ‘good enough’ as an acceptable answer, but finding better ways of doing things,” he said. “We must position the command as best we can to accomplish all of our goals in an effective and efficient way, being ever mindful that we must be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar. The business aspect also plays a major role in what we do,” he added.
Q: What are your immediate goals for LOGCOM?
A: At least in the near term, we have got to stay focused on how to best support the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation Enduring Freedom as we draw down the force in Iraq and contemplate a build up of force in Afghanistan.
The focus will be on how to position this command to best support the warfighter. In the immediate sense of providing the capability and augmenting that combat power for the operating force. That is a big challenge today because our equipment that has been in Iraq is worn out and worked extremely hard. Our ability to get it through the depot is extremely important.
At the same time, there is a great competition for equipment out there to accomplish the many things the operating forces need to accomplish. It is not just the deployment to Afghanistan, but the preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. While we are fielding equipment to support the equipment in Afghanistan, we also need to make sure we have enough equipment at the home station for them to do the necessary training so the Marines and sailors are as prepared as they need to be.
Balancing all of those requirements and making sure we get equipment through the depots so that in the long range view of things, we are best positioned to regenerate the force for the Marine Corps down the road.
Q: What is retrograde and reset and how does it fit into your immediate goals?
A: Retrograde is getting equipment moved from the hands of the operating forces into the hands of Marine Corps Logistics Command Forward in Iraq, then transitioning it to Afghanistan, if serviceable, or back to the U.S. so the maintenance needs can be addressed.
Those maintenance needs can be field level, intermediate or depot level. This piece is extremely important as the lead-in to reset. Reset, from the LOGCOM perspective, is that once that equipment gets back, it goes through an intermediate or depot level maintenance line, so that it can be made ‘like new’ in most cases. In some cases we have a total rebuild of equipment and in other cases we have to inspect and repair only as needed.
Based on the SYSCOM program managers’ procurement plan, they will decide if the equipment goes through a rebuild program or an IROAN program at the depot. So, the reset piece for us is to get that equipment fixed and back into the hands of those that need it.Another piece is procurement, which is a very important part of reset. All of this leads to regeneration, which is to regenerate the combat capability of the Marine Corps.
Q: What happened to the equipment that was scheduled to come back, but didn’t?
A: Certain planning factors or assumptions were made prior to an understanding of what Afghanistan might grow into. Those assumptions were based on what we thought was going to come back in to Barstow, Albany and in some cases Blount Island Command. As a result of Afghanistan growing, a lot of that equipment which was still in usable and ready for issue condition, got diverted to support that effort and consequently, it is not coming back.What that does is change the assumption made in the initial FY10 planning. It has had a significant impact on what we now expect to come through the depots. The ultimate objective is to support the warfighter.
Currently, we have roughly 200 Marines and civilian-Marines deployed and some of them may transition to Afghanistan from Kuwait or Iraq. We are currently working with the Army Materiel Command to stand up a joint maintenance capability in Afghanistan because we have a lot of the same equipment. We feel we can gain some synergy there by helping each other out.
What this does for reset, is push it back to beyond 2010 and it will come in through principle end item rotation, where new equipment is sent to replace old, worn out equipment, or what gets replaced as a result of battle damage and comes back to the depots. Eventually, the equipment will find its way back here, just not when we thought it would happen.
Q: Has LOGCOM had to develop any new capabilities to accomplish reset?
A: Besides what has already been discussed, a lot of what I saw from the outside as a beneficiary of some of the changes while in Iraq, were the uparmored Humvees and the development of the first mine roller. LOGCOM should be proud of the first one that made it out to the fleet, thanks to the work of some smart, hard working civilian-Marines who work here at MCA. Now, we have four or five versions out there saving lives. That innovation and creativity also led to the development of the Mobile Trauma Bay from an idea someone had. This workforce took that idea and created from scratch a piece of equipment that is currently saving lives. The vision, innovation and the ability to look outside the wire is phenomenal here and has been necessary to ensure we stay relevant in contributing to the warfighter.
Q: What is LOGCOM’s biggest challenge with reset?
A: The biggest near-term challenge is being able to predict what is coming in and being flexible enough to adjust when assumptions do not pan out. We must be flexible enough to adjust to new realities, which is always a challenge. It is a very complicated process, especially when predicting workload and both direct and indirect labor hours. The biggest long-term challenge is going to be making sure we are aggressive in resetting and regenerating the force.
Q: How long will reset last?
A: We are not sure how long the reset will last, but certainly longer than we originally thought. In June 2009, the commandant published the reset plan with the assumptions made prior to publication. We thought we could do it in two or three years, but that will stretch out further. It will depend on whether or not the force grows in Afghanistan, how big does it grow and how long it stays that size. All of these things will have a direct impact on how long it takes to get gear back, get it through the depots and back out in the field.
Q: What are your long-term goals for LOGCOM?
A: Looking down the road at the goals for the command, it is important to stay flexible and relevant. This is a very competitive business and it is important for us to stay razor-sharp so that we remain the best operational and depot level supply and maintenance capability within the DoD. Sometimes people do not realize that there is competition and choices out there and if we don’t stay relevant and provide the best ‘bang for the buck,’ people will look elsewhere. We want our maintenance centers to be the depots of choice of any service. We want everyone to look to us first.
We have certain restrictions, but as new requirements are generated and new systems get fielded, we want to make sure that when decisions are made for future equipment, it is clear to those making those decisions that we are competitive, interested and have the workforce that is capable of working on that new equipment, whatever it may be.
Q: As the largest tenant aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, what are your thoughts on the existing relationship and the way forward?
A: I think our relationship is extremely good and Col. (Terry) Williams does a tremendous job taking care of us. There can be some elements of friction between commands, but, I have not seen that here. Col. Williams is a great host to us and our relationship is extremely good. We meet regularly and have very open discussions and dialogue about any concerns. I am excited about the relationship we have.
Q: What is your vision for community relations and your assessment of the community as a whole?
A: I am so happy that this community loves this base and we love them. It is another one of those areas where it better here than in many other places. The community is very supportive of the command and the base. My biggest regret thus far is that I have been too busy to do as much as I would like with them.
I am hoping that as time goes on, I will be able to participate in more activities and events. The relationship with the mayor, state and federal leaders is great. A big part of that is open dialogue and discussions as we try to keep them informed of what is going on here and vice versa. I could not be more pleased with the relationship with the community.
The Day of Caring was my first exposure to a formal participation with the community and it was great to see. I visited all but one of the sites and the enthusiasm of the workforce was wonderful. Our employees are a large part of the community and I try to remind them that we are the community. It is a win-win for all of us.Everyday I see the Marines and civilian-Marines who are coaches and involved in their child’s school. They are involved in so many aspects of the community that to focus on one day sells short the overall participation of the members of this command in the community.
It is important to realize that the desire to help and be involved is a wonderful thing and if that were not the case, I would be concerned. It extends not only to Dougherty County, but Lee, Worth and all the different places our workforce comes from.Part of my responsibility is to provide an environment where folks know they can volunteer and we encourage them to get involved. If that means working flexible hours so they can coach their child’s little league team or whatever it may be, I will support and facilitate it to the fullest extent that I can.
I want to encourage not only the job shadowing that took place recently, but extend an invitation to Albany State University, Albany Technical and Darton College to allow their students to come in and observe our workforce. Those are just some of the things I want to support, including the wonderful youth organizations here on the base.It tears me apart that I have been unable to participate as much as I would like. I am very happy to see that Col. Williams is just as excited about being involved in and supporting the community as I am.
It takes the sting out of me not being able to be there as much and while I don’t want to steal his thunder, I would like to participate and be involved when I am able to. I definitely do not want to give the impression that I am not interested, because I truly am. I really would have liked to be able to participate in the Christmas parade, but unfortunately, my calendar does not permit me to.
Debbi and I are thrilled to be here and it is an opportunity of a lifetime. To have this opportunity is both rare and unique. I could not be happier to be here and if I could have picked any assignment, this would be it.A native of Mountlake Terrace, Washington, Kessler graduated from Mountlake Terrace High School in 1976. He attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he was a member of the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps, received his commission in 1980 and is a proud "Husky" fan. He and his wife have one daughter.