Reflections on Fifty

BY REAR ADM. DANIEL MCKINNON, Jr., SC, USN (RETIRED)

McKinnon“Do you want to count skivvies?” It was spring 1956 and the executive officer (XO) of the University of Missouri’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps unit was not pleased. A friend had returned from his first year as an Ensign at sea and told me about a junior officer on his ship that had an office full of safes. He ran the ship’s business and did not stand watches. He was called a Supply Officer and my friend said that a business major would love this kind of duty. I thought he was right. Throughout high school and college, I had been treasurer of everything. I thought a non-career officer spending three years keeping the books and not pacing the bridge seemed pretty practical. The XO did not like this idea. My letter to BUPERS requesting a June commission in the Navy Supply Corps was making him fume. “Do you want to serve your country by counting skivvies?” he shouted.

I guess I did. In June I was off to the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS), Athens, Georgia to become a Navy businessman in uniform. And that is where the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, the old BuSandA, entered my life.

This experience 60 year ago is what came into mind when the Navy Supply Corps Newsletter’s editor asked for reflections on the fiftieth anniversary of the Naval Supply Systems Command evolution from BuSandA to NAVSUP. My first friend at the Navy school in Georgia was named Manual Busanda. Manual was like a child. He required continuous changes. For two weeks my fellow ensigns collated new pages into BuSandA manuals. To get “ready for sea” you had to get ready for class. And that meant the guides to our new state craft had to be assembled carefully. Somewhere there was a Bureau of Supplies and Accounts where smart people were cranking out continuous guidance on how to conduct the Navy’s business. We were handling sacred text.

With the change of titles from the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts to the Naval Supply Systems Command (NavSup, later changed to NAVSUP) in 1966, former Paymaster General Hersch Goldberg became simply, Chief of Supply Corps. Goldberg was a graduate of Central High School in Saint Joseph, Missouri….just like me. I remember a birthday of the Supply Corps when U.S. postal trucks throughout Washington D.C. had posters on their sides that said, “The Postmaster General Salutes the Paymaster General.”

RADM D.W. McKinnon, Jr., SC, USN COMNAVSUP, makes the first call.

RADM D.W. McKinnon, Jr., SC, USN COMNAVSUP, makes the first call.

The truth is that for the Supply Corps and those using BuSanda Manuals, there was little change that year. Soon we were reading NavSup manuals. BuSanda along with the other former bureaus (BuWeps, BuShips, and BuYards and Docks) now reported to a four-star line Admiral, the Chief of Naval Material (CNM), which replaced an old coordinating “Office of Navy Material” that had a three-star flag, sometimes a Supply Corps (SC) officer. We were now “systems commands”, modern words but just part of a seamless evolution in Navy business organization that grew out of the lessons and experience of World War II. The CNM reported to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), where previously in the old bilinear Navy, the bureaus looked to the offices of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) for business guidance.

During my career, elements of the old bilinear Navy were at work. In 1985, the SECNAV eliminated the Chief of Naval Material and its staff…. a stroke of genius. The SysCom commanders would still meet weekly. When classmate Frank Kelso became CNO we started attending his meetings. We also met weekly with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (ASN) responsible for acquisition. NavSup provided assurance that all was well with the mundane like making Navy small business goals, while most conversations took place around weapons programs in distress. One day the ASN (Research, Development and Acquisition) asked me to stay behind. “Dan, why is it when a Navy program is in trouble, it is a Supply Corps officer that explains things to me?” My answer was simple. “Contract problems are usually found inside the four corners of the contract. Contracts and business are our specialty”. When Frank Kelso privately asked me, “who do you work for?”, I said, “whoever is on the phone”. That was a prevailing philosophy with CNO and SECNAV in the last years of my career. I think that philosophy weakened when the Tailhook scandal hurt relationships and the SysComs left Washington DC.

As a NSCS student in the fifties, we were taught that the Navy bureaus were “technical bureaus” with “technical cognizance”. BuAir had airplanes, BuOrd had ordnance, and BuShips had you know what. In 1959, BuAir and BuOrd merged into BuWeps and this changed again in 1966 with the creation of the systems commands and BuWeps split in two with NavAir taking aviation and NavOrd taking guns and bullets. NavOrd joined NavShips to become NavSea in 1974. NavElex was established to take over and centralize radio and electronics responsibilities of the bureaus and then disestablished in 1985 with the advent of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

For decades, BuSandA had the Navy purchasing function for almost everything except ships, planes, medicine and Marine Corps material until WW II when procurement workload demanded that the other bureaus expand their purchasing staffs, but only by the authority and delegation of BuSandA. The SysCom contracting functions were headed by senior Supply Corps procurement professionals and for several years in NavAir and NavSea they were flag officers with another Supply Corps flag on the NavMat staff. The purchasing function of the “hardware systems command” field activities and laboratories remained, however, under the authority of NavSup as part of the Navy Field Purchasing System with NavSup having technical, legal and oversight responsibility. The other SysComs resourced the buying of their stuff; and NavSup made sure it was done right.

Among the “not-so-new” SysComs, NavSup and Naval Facilities Systems Command remained unique. They both were headed by a staff corps officer and both had a horizontal reach and technical impact across the entire Navy. They were, and are, considered “homes” of their corps. The idea in the Navy of a staff corps needing a home for relevance is still important and I recall vividly how an admiral engineering duty officer (EDO) mentor lamented how the EDOs lost much of their identify when they became restricted line, and of course they lost more when the URL began assuming command of NavSea in the early 1980s. The medical bureau was always different and stayed BuMed and home to Navy medicine, and Navy lawyers, who had been a line specialty for years, got their own corps in 1967. The Supply Corps helped by giving up a flag number to this new staff corps, which now had its own device. Before then, the poor sailor who needed legal help had to just endure. Before promotion to lieutenant, I had to take and pass a Uniform Code of Military Justice course in order to be a defense counsel.

During the decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Supply Corps held fast to its seven “functional specialties” even with the loss of some finance positions to the line. Our officers held these “functional specialties” in every SysCom and throughout the Navy: inventory management, financial management, procurement management, petroleum management, retail management, food service management, transportation management. “Trending” was automated data processing management which with increasing analytical technology tools now included operations research and systems analysis, especially as they involved business systems. Each specialty had a supporting master’s degree program, and for some time, one or two doctorates a year. It was all in the conduct of business. When the Navy Information Technology (IT) world began to divide between combat systems automated data processing (ADP)/IT and non-tactical ADP/IT, I tried to make NavSup the leader in Navy business systems applications, including development of production control programs for shipyards and naval aircraft rework facilities, as well as management of  regional ADP/IT service centers. Having had duty at both an industrial naval air station and a shipyard, I felt we could help. I failed.

In 1967 as program chairman of the Charleston chapter of the SC Association, I wrote then SC Chief Hersh Goldberg and asked that he send the leader of each Supply Corps sub-specialty to Charleston to speak at a monthly luncheon and tell us all about their career fields. The Chief did. My job was easy.

Over the years the Supply Corps began to share many of its business duties with the line. The biggest change took place with the ascendance of positions like “comptrollers”. Managing resources was more than accounting. Planning, programming, budgeting process systems came into place. It drove Navy asset allocation and was clearly the responsibility of those senior officers running Navy. The line sought a billet base to grow financial managers. (At my naval air station, a fail-to-select commander became comptroller and made sure he had a lieutenant SC accounting officer.) In the 50s and 60s, BuSandA and the Supply Corps slowly moved away from leadership in financial management as comptroller billets moved to the line. Shipyards held out the longest. For years, the basic work of accounting and payroll stayed with NavSup. It continued to develop business systems and its field accounting and finance offices and the Naval Supply Centers performed regional accounting and paid the Navy’s bills. It was after I retired that the Department of Defense (DoD) began to centralize finance and accounting.

As I hauled down my flag in June 1991, the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts was but a memory. Its legacy lingered long however, and still does. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) came of age in the 1980s, as it became the DoD supply wholesaler. It followed the history of the military handling its supply business by commodity and industry, which is how the Navy and its Supply Corps organized things after WW II with its system of inventory control points and decentralized Navy Supply Centers. Soon the single managers of supply were forming with medical and industrial being first and with SC flag officers in charge. The U.S. Air Force history is one of early heavy dependence on contractor support while the Army had supply control agencies for each of its technical services. It was fun for me to be an observer and student of this evolution as a Navy lieutenant with the Army’s Eighth Logistics Command in Italy and a customer of the entire Army supply system in support of the United Nations in the Gaza Strip. What an education. In 1962 “military standard standards” procedures, or MilS, were introduced with MilStrip being first to create standard requisition, invoicing, and shipping forms. The Navy quickly implemented it with its “NavStrip”. The Air Force produced “AFStrip”, and the Army came out with “DARRIS”, or the “Department of the Army Requisition and Issue System”. “Not so fast,” said Office of the Secretary of Defense. MilS means MilS….and all three services quickly changed their manuals and procedures to “MilStrip”.

I will argue that the Navy Integrated Supply System that emerged from the war created the methods, environment and philosophy that led to today’s DLA. Standard Navy Stock Numbers led to the Federal Cataloging System. Total item visibility and management led to in-transit, and sometimes installation, visibility. Navy led the services in business systems ADP applications, first with cards and then with computers. I saw my first random access computer, the RAMAC, as an IBM student in 1959. To go back even further to the 1930s, it was a SC officer who led creation of the Federal Supply Service then under the Department of the Treasury.

The Supply Corps of today has a history that in many ways began as mine ended. As I walked out the door, the defense management review (DMR) was beginning. The DMRs led to today’s centralization of supply assets as well as organization. I submit it never could have happened without information management technology that finally came of age with its instant communications and visibility of almost anything. The “know how to get it done” leadership came from Navy SC officers.

They sometimes say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I am not sure. I will agree that one thing stays the same. The professional interest, competence, and patriotic devotion to their country in the conduct of business affairs remain the hallmark of the professionalism of the officers of the Navy Supply Corps. In the past two decades we have seen it in the demand for officers of this unique staff corps including three-star leadership positions throughout the defense establishment.

Where do we get these men and women? I think I know. I wrote 25 years ago that SC officers:

  • join the Navy to pursue a calling that combines service to country, a love of the Navy, and an interest in the conduct of business affairs;
  • are Naval officers who recognize that theirs is a career commitment to the support of Navy warfighters and the successful conduct of the Navy mission at sea and around the world;
  • are responsible stewards of the Navy’s material resources, managing and guarding a supply pipeline that stretches from industrial America to the storerooms and shops at sea;
  • are effective servants ready to meet the service and morale needs of the Navy family;
  • are competent managers of Navy resources whose professional pride is derived from demanding quality, reducing cost, challenging methods, improving service, and leveraging the application of resources that have been entrusted to their care;
  • enjoy career paths that uniquely take them horizontally across all warfighting areas and throughout the Navy operating and support establishment; and
  • possess the highest ethical standards, having long ago understood the meaning of “accountability” and that “supply” connotes possession of the “keys to the storehouse of public trust.”

That is you!


Rear Adm. Dan McKinnon was commander of Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) from 1988 to 1991. Prior to that, he was the deputy commander for acquisition of the Defense Logistics Agency and director of the Defense Contract Administration Service. He spent ten of his 35 year Navy career in seven different positions in NAVSUP, including director of Supply Corps Personnel, deputy commander for inventory and systems integrity, and vice commander. He held all three “front office” positions, having served as executive assistant and senior aide from 1973 to 1974.

May/June 2016