Bridging the Gap Between Navy and Defense Logistics Agency: What is a Customer Support Representative?

BY DR. THOMAS MEYER Customer Support Representative, Defense Logistics Agency Headquarters

If there is one thing I have learned as a customer support representative (CSR) working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), it is that you will never figure out all of DLA on your own.

My name is Tom Meyer, and I am known by hundreds of people worldwide as “the Navy DLA guy.” I am the only DLA headquarters Navy team CSR, but I am not stationed at headquarters. I am embedded with the fleet at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, as well as Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) in Virginia Beach. I split my time between these two bases and travel to others as needed in the Hampton Roads area. It is fairly normal to walk in the door and hear, “Hey, it’s Tom Thursday!” because they know DLA is in the house and, on that particular day of the week, I am at NECC.

The great part about my career in the Navy is being able to interact with both the engineering side and the supply side. My first 10 years were spent on the enlisted side as a submarine nuclear machinist mate. My last 10 years were spent as a supply officer on both submarines and in the landing helicopter dock world.

Whether the conversation is about technical things, such as how components interact or integrate with larger systems, how they work and how they fit, or if it is about how many are in stock, when will they get here or why is my requisition backordered, the Navy appreciates someone who understands what they need and can speak their language.

I can promise you this, no one person in DLA has all the answers. During my last seven years as a CSR, I have built numerous relationships within the DLA team that can help get answers to the Navy’s questions. The great thing about this job is no two days are the same. Whether I get asked about hurricane support for the upcoming season, clothing for individual augmentees, parts for the Mark VI in Bahrain, or forward positioning parts in Yokosuka for a carrier, I will need help from someone to get the results the Navy needs.

I believe one of the greatest benefits of having a CSR at the fleet level is that the fleet can go to one person at DLA, vice trying to sift through thousands of names and phone numbers. That is why the Military Service Support division at headquarters was created. We are the conduit for all things between DLA and the Navy. We help weed out the middleman and find the right person to get answers. Sometimes that takes a while. I have some days where I have to talk to eight to 10 people before I even find the correct person that can help. I get phone calls from around the world, literally, and for just about every reason you can imagine. Even after seven years, people sitting near me will usually hear me say, “Well that’s a first” about once a month. You just never know what people are going to ask.

Part of the reason I am in this position is to bridge the gap between the strategic level and the operational level of what occurs in both DLA and the Navy. I attend flag-level conferences and briefings, I fly to Bahrain to brief and train operators, go aboard ships to train people how DLA works and the systems we use, hunt down missing body armor in California and even get calls from NCIS – yes the ones you are thinking of – to help track down counterfeit parts.

Even though I work as part of the Navy team for DLA headquarters, I get phone calls from other service members asking for help on various items. The great part of being on the DLA side is I have access to all DLA service teams and can point them in the right direction. I believe every person on the DLA team wants to help our warfighters have the best possible advantage over our enemies, so we all do our part to help. Sometimes that means you have to look past the answer on the computer screen. When you don’t like what the computer is telling you, sometimes you have to go see for yourself. There are times when items are backordered, yet it seems impossible that it would take that long, especially something like grey paint. You have to dig a little deeper and drive a little farther to get the answers the Navy needs. Anyone can look up supply status on a screen, but are you willing to talk to the owner face to face and ask, “What’s the problem?” Welcome to my world.

At the end of the day, my desk phone is forwarded to my cell phone in case the Navy needs me. It seems extreme and many would say, “Just check your voicemail in the morning.” My laptop goes where I go and I never leave it at work. If the Navy needs help, and it’s an emergency, the last thing I want them to hear is “call me tomorrow.” I may not be able to get the help they need at that exact moment, but they appreciate that someone picked up the phone and said, “Yes I will help you.”

Every service has DLA CSRs just like me who go above and beyond for their respective services as well. If you really want to know how DLA can help you, just ask a CSR.