BY LT. CMDR. DAN O’BRIEN Naval Supply Systems Command
On February 23, 2020, the Navy Supply Corps celebrates our 225th birthday and enters another era of ensuring our Navy is Ready for Sea. Celebrations across the globe mark the occasion with parties, balls, guest speakers, toasts, and some well-deserved esprit-de-corps.
For many, it will be one of several Supply Corps birthdays during a career in service to our country. For others, this is the first time they are introduced to our rich history. Whether they are friends, family, or brand-new Supply Corps officers, we have a chance to tell our story and ensure that our customs and traditions are shared and remembered.
Two hundred twenty five years ago, President George Washington appointed a Philadelphia businessman named Tench Francis as the first “Purveyor of Public Supplies” and with that created the Navy Supply Corps. Prior to this, “pursers” were assigned within the Navy that were responsible for all pay and the procurement of all supplies and stocks for ships. The United States Navy borrowed the titles used by the British Royal navy, which had created the role of the purser back in the 14th century. Naval logistics have always played a critical role in any sea-faring country, and the United States Navy is just one in a long line of many that relied heavily on a cadre of individuals with specialized business training.
The Supply Corps has a long and complex history of service to the Navy, most of which can be found in Rear Adm. Frank J. Allston’s book entitled “Ready for Sea: The Bicentennial History of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps,” as well as “Ready for Sea: The History of the Supply Corps.” These books recount the fascinating history of the Navy Supply Corps and the role our predecessors played in the many wars and conflicts our country has engaged in.
Allston wrote a thorough narrative on the history of the Supply Corps in the winter edition of the Supply Corps Newsletter in 1995. He took the reader on a journey through humble beginnings, showing how critical the Supply Corps was to the Navy and our nation during tumultuous times. He recounted how critical the nature of our work was, not only at sea, but on land during the Vietnam War.
Allston ended with the hope of a bright future for the Supply Corps. As he was writing his article, there was a lot happening and changing throughout the Navy and the Supply Corps. Naval Supply Systems Command was about to relocate to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania from its home in Crystal City, Virginia, and we were a few short years away from a new millennium, with a focus on continuing to support our Navy.
Fast forward two centuries, and we continue to prosper as a Supply Corps. Although our numbers are significantly smaller than in the past, we still play a critical role in sustaining our fleet. Technology has enabled the modern Supply Corps officer to become more efficient and effective at supporting their commands. The advent of the internet and development of logistics IT infrastructure allows the modern Supply Corps officer to multi-task and ensure their commands are properly supplied.
There has been massive change within our nation, our Navy, and more importantly, our Supply Corps over the past few decades. We saw the devastation that 19 hijackers could do to a city and to a nation. America was at war, and has been ever since, and we continue to provide our professional expertise to our Navy. Our roles have shifted to accommodate global support assignments, expeditionary logistics, and a Navy that has faced budget shortfalls for years. Through all of this, we stand resilient.
In 2010, the Navy formally opened submarine duty to females, and asked the Supply Corps to nominate their top-performing female lieutenants to blaze the trail. Lt. Britta Christianson became the first female in the history of the U.S. Navy to earn her “dolphins,” formally recognizing the beginning of a new era.
A few short months later, the Navy approved the Navy Expeditionary Supply Corps Officer warfare designation, formally recognizing the invaluable efforts by many Supply Corps officers supporting our expeditionary forces. We also closed our Athens, Georgia schoolhouse and re-opened in Newport, Rhode Island. The Vice Adm. Kenneth R. Wheeler Navy Supply Corps School has taught hundreds of students and built lasting relationships with the other schoolhouses in Newport.
These are just a few examples of the exponential growth that the U.S. Navy Supply Corps has experienced in the past 25 years since Rear Adm. Allston’s article. As we enter our 225th year, we do so under the leadership and guidance of Rear Adm. Michelle Skubic, the first female Commander, NAVSUP and 48th Chief of Supply Corps. This period of rapid change has set the Supply Corps on a successful path into the future.
Our roles have changed over the years, as well as our name, but we have always been charged with ensuring that our Navy is supplied and sustained in order to accomplish any mission. We do so by ensuring that we interface not only with our line counterparts, but with other services, the American industrial base, and most importantly with each other. Thousands of men and women have worn the golden oak leaf that distinguished them as a Supply Corps officer. This signifies to those around them that the wearer is a professional, and can be relied upon to ensure their units are sustained for the fight. At 225 years old, our professional reputation and commitment to being Ready for Sea is as important as it was since our inception