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NEWS | Nov. 30, 2023

Civilian deployers: Globe-trotting logistician teaches DLA deployers essentials of combat logistics

By Cindy Pray Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime

For DLA Supply/Logistics Instructor Gary “Shep” Shepherd, "subject matter expert" is not a term he uses to describe himself despite decades of experience as a logistician.

“I would never say I’m an SME especially in the logistics field,” he said. “Logistics is always changing, and evolving with new systems, business practices and distribution channels. It is our jobs as logisticians to continue growing and developing alongside these constant changes. To call oneself an expert gives a sense of complacency, and I learned early in my career to never be complacent.”

The 26-year Army Soldier has dedicated his DLA career to fulfilling that objective. Wielding his military experience and several civilian deployments, the ‘lifelong learner’ is committed to sharing his vast knowledge and experience with others.

Shepherd teaches various DLA logistics courses including Material Management Contingency Training, a class aimed at preparing DLA Land and Maritime's newest civilian deployers to integrate effectively and support combatant commanders. The course covers topics like tracking problematic requisitions and resolving logistical problems in theater – matters that Shepherd is no stranger to.

Rewinding three decades, Shepherd began his military career in 1990 as a cannon crew member. He then transitioned to logistics serving in various roles with multiple deployments before he was medically discharged in 2004.

After a seven-year break in service, he joined the Army Reserve in 2011 and is currently assigned to the 307th Medical Brigade in Blacklick, Ohio.

Shepherd came to DLA in 2008 through a corporate internship as a supply planner for DLA Maritime Customer Operations. After a coworker shared insight on civilian deployment, Shepherd decided it was something he wanted to pursue.

“With my military background, I knew I’d be a good fit for civilian deployments,” he said.

His first taste of a civilian deployment came in 2014 with the Defense Department’s Expeditionary Civilian Workforce. He served as a DLA accountable officer for nine months in Iraq.

In 2016, again as a DLA Land and Maritime representative for ECW, he served six months in Kuwait as a universal customer account specialist.

“I really like integrating with the military. I understand how the military thinks and I integrate that with how DLA thinks to help the agencies understand each other,” Shepherd said.

In 2017, Shepherd landed a position on the DLA Land and Maritime Readiness and Civilian Deployment team, leading to four more deployments.

The following year, he spent 10 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan, serving as a DLA accountable officer supporting the Army’s 1034th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion for sustenance, construction material and repair parts.

“We were able to recoup and reallocate millions of dollars’ worth of Army equipment and supply commodities to other regions within the [U.S. Central Command] area of responsibility,” he said. “This saved a lot of money toward the final years of the Afghanistan drawdown.”

Shepherd went on to spend seven months in Bagram in 2020 as a universal customer account specialist assigned to DLA Support Team – Afghanistan, where he said his current military connection came in handy.

“I was there when [COVID-19] hit, and we needed masks, respirators and other medical assets,” he said. “We were getting them for our U.S. forces, but Afghan forces needed them as well. I was able to work with my own Reserve unit’s medical logisticians to help procure these items. I found myself working more medical supply issues than anything else and would not have been successful without the assistance of my unit.”

Shepherd’s wife, DLA Land Post Awards Contracting Officer Jenelle Shepherd, was a tremendous help as well.

“During that deployment, I found it refreshing to work with [my wife] on several open requisitions in which she was able to assist in expediting the items,” he said. “This had an immediate impact on the health of the weapon systems in Afghanistan.”

Shepherd added that another fond memory from Bagram was showing then DST – A Commander Debra McBeath the 13 folds of Old Glory.

“[McBeath] was the first civilian DST commander and had never served in the military,” he said. “The flags were presented to deployers before their return home and as commander, it was important for her to be a part of this. I felt a sense of pride sharing the customs and courtesies of military tradition.”

Shortly after his return from Bagram, Shepherd packed his bags once again and headed to Kuwait with DLA Support Team – Middle East from April through October of 2021, in support of Operations Freedom’s Sentinel, Spartan Shield, Inherent Resolve and Allies Refuge.

With an aggressive surge in positive COVID-19 cases, the DST – ME deployers were affected and frequently short-staffed throughout the deployment. Shepherd was initially assigned as a UCAS and fulfilled this role but was also hand selected by the DST – ME commander to fulfill the duties of operations officer.

Additionally, he took on the extra workload of the second UCAS and the Warfighter Support Representative – four positions in total.

“I can recall looking over my shoulder and seeing a lot of empty seats, but the work did not stop,” he said. “Units still needed support and parts were still needed for critical weapon system platforms. I had to incorporate both DLA and Army systems to work efficiently to help bring order to chaos for mission success.”

Most recently, Shepherd spent nine months in Germany from April of 2022 to January of 2023, as a DLA UCAS and a repair parts lead advisor assigned with U.S. Army Europe and Africa.

He engaged Army customers daily to resolve customer parts issues, contributing to the operational readiness of dozens of Army weapon systems in support of the U.S. European Command/Ukraine effort.

“Understanding how the logistics process works throughout the different branches and how that correlates with DLA was key,” he said.

Now, after nearly a dozen military and civilian deployments combined, Shepherd has just eight short years until retirement and will be spending them stateside as an instructor.

“I’ve been married 20 years now and when our first granddaughter was born, I knew it was time. I wanted to be home more,” he said of transitioning from deployer to instructor.

His passion for the deployment program, however, continues.

“I took this position because after all my deployments, I knew I could make an impact – helping future deployers understand the complexities of logistics sustainability in a forward presence,” he said. “I’m able to pull from my experiences and give examples of issues they may run into and how to handle them.”

“What I’d really like to see is an opportunity to visit the various forward locations to not only provide additional training to deployers but to stay in tune with the ever-changing logistics field while deploying as an instructor,” he added.

This would allow him to bring back information on current challenges to best inform his instruction, he explained.

“The work civilian deployers do is paramount,” he said. “It is my job now – and one I don’t take lightly – to help prepare them so they can provide the best support, ensuring the readiness and lethality of our nation’s warfighters.”