BY TINA C. STILLIONS
DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER YOKOSUKA
The C-140A airplane carrying a team from NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Yokosuka touched down on the small atoll of Diego Garcia as part of a Naval Forces Japan staff visit May 16.
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NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka Site Director Cmdr. Keith Applegate and Lt. Justin Burdett give a tour of the ship store facility on Diego Garcia.
One of 55 islands that make up the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory, Diego Garcia is at the tip of the spear with NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka Site Diego Garcia playing an important role in logistics services and oversight of the large base operating support (BOS) contract.
“We execute our mission by meeting customer needs,” said Cmdr. Keith Applegate, Diego Garcia Site director. “In order to coordinate support and communicate with the fleet, we rely on our contract support team to provide technical oversight and ensure logistics functions are carried out, whether it is fuels supply, material movement and transportation, facilitating the supply of urgent parts, or maintaining inventory for the Navy’s largest ship’s store. We are the subject matter experts that make it all happen.”
Site Diego Garcia has been part of the U.S Navy supply chain for many years. NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka established the site in early 2006, staffing it with logistics experts to support ships in the area and help ensure a constant state of readiness on the island. Since then, site personnel have maintained a key role as subject matter experts and technical points of contact for the BOS contract. In addition to contract oversight, the small staff of personnel comprised of military, Philippine offshore general (OG) employees, and contractors, provides a wide range of additional support services, from fuel supply for visiting ships and aircraft, to mail services for tenant commands and contractors that live and work on the island.
Applegate said under his direction, everyone works hand-in-hand for a common goal.
“We really adhere to ‘one island, one team, one mission’ in Diego Garcia,” said Applegate. “This area is referred to as ‘The Footprint of Freedom’, not just because of the shape of the island but for its strategic importance, past and present, to our U.S naval forces. Whether it’s keeping our ship’s store stocked with the right products or ensuring people receive their mail, these services are important, not only to day-to-day operations, but to the overall morale on the island. We enable continuity of operations that keep the island resourced and running.”
Site Diego Garcia works jointly with U.S. Navy Support Facility (NSF). As the host Navy command on the island, NSF was established in 1977 to support U.S. Seventh Fleet and forward deployed forces. Site Diego Garcia is integral to the larger island support team.
Located in the central Indian Ocean seven degrees south of the equator, Diego Garcia is more than 1,000 miles from the Tanzanian coast. There has been a military presence on the island for more than 50 years.
“Some of the issues we face on the island are not necessarily in our staffing or manpower, though the remote, one-year assignments do present some detailing challenges and personnel shortfalls,” said Applegate. “The infrastructure, including older buildings and technology, and the unpredictability of transportation on and off island, impacts some of our day-to-day operations as well.”
“There is no access to commercial shipping, such as FedEx or DHL, for high priority materials,” said Applegate. Combined with Air Mobility Command (AMC) schedule changes, space and maintenance issues and limited access can create long customer wait times and impact access to Diego Garcia.
Ship’s Store Officer Lt. Justin Burdett reiterated that unpredictability and delays often create some of the bigger challenges for his team.
“Our NSF Ship’s Store is the sole provider of retail services on the island, including retail operations, barber and beauty shop, tailor shop, and laundry services. It’s a $1.2 million BOS contract-funded operation that generates $6 million in average annual sales,” said Burdett. “Our continued coordination with AMC Singapore on material handling processes for temperature sensitive cargo, for instance, has resulted in improved performance and inventory control.”
Most of the active duty and civilians who live and work on Diego Garcia have short assignments or one-year tours. A large percentage of the support component that carries out the day-to-day operations is comprised of contractors and OG, Republic of the Philippines direct hires. Many are from the Philippines, a handful more are Mauritian, and have been on the island for significant periods of time, anywhere from a few years up to 25 or more. Though Diego Garcia is an unaccompanied assignment, meaning spouses and children are not allowed, it has not stopped the many who live on the island from staying to work and supporting their families from abroad.
Loida Huertas is an administrative staff assistant at Site Diego Garcia. She has been with the organization since its inception and has been working on the island since 1992.
“After 10 years of working as a contractor, I was hired as an offshore general civilian in the religious ministries program,” said Huertas. “I like Diego Garcia. There’s no traffic and I have nice accommodations. I really like the people here.”
Originally from the Philippines, Huertas started working at 17 in Subic Bay. As is fairly common in the Filipino community, she is the breadwinner for her family. She said she began sending money back home once she started working.
“There aren’t a lot of employment opportunities in the Philippines if you are past a certain age. Part of our values as Filipinos is supporting each other, so I send my family an allowance every month and own a home where my extended family stays,” she said. “I help them with anything they need. I share my blessings with them.”
Huertas has no regrets regarding her decision to live and work in Diego Garcia. She is able to travel home on a paid flight for a month every year.
“Everybody knows everybody here. We know all the other Filipinos in our community,” said Huertas. “We have lots of community events, including bingo, movies, Sunday potlucks, and Karaoke after church.”
According to Huertas, you make your experience on Diego Garcia.
“You make your own life here. You can stay in your room or you can explore the island and meet new people,” said Huertas. “I’ve met so many people since I’ve been here. I’ve established my own Diego Garcia family.”