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Fleet Industrial Supply Command adapting to new needs of Navy

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The changing face of the fleet and roles in international response are keeping the Fleet Industrial Supply Command busy.

Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, commander of the Fleet and Industrial Supply Centers (FISC), told business and community leaders at the San Diego Military Advisory Council meeting Wednesday morning about FISC and its role in today’s Navy.

Right now, East Coast commands are focused on supporting relief efforts in Haiti. Water, food and other essential supplies for the victims of last week’s earthquake that killed tens of thousands of Haitians have been loaded on ships and brought to the Caribbean nation.

At the same time, the commands also must supply the Navy ships and crews aiding on-site relief efforts.

“The work being done by these commands on the East Coast is nothing short of miraculous,” Heinrich said.

In fact, he said the recent list of top priorities for Haiti did not include food and water. He said their absence from the list tells him the 80,000 cases of water per day loaded up for delivery are getting where they need to go.

But FISC’s work goes beyond getting supplies to Haiti.

The command is responsible for providing supplies and products to deployed ships, Navy Exchange, and everything in between.

As the fleet changes, so does the role of FISC.

Most ships have at least one supply officer to manage needs on a ship. But FISC is working to relieve those officers of some of their duties that could be done remotely.

Heinrich said he does not want a supply officer to be faced with a decision to either fill out a payment slip or perform tasks important to a mission.

“We’re going to move that into the back office of FISC so supply officers don’t have to deal with that silliness,” he said.

The centers will provide support from a distance -- a skill required for the Littoral Combat Ship whose crew will not include a supply officer.

“Among the crew of LCS is one supply professional -- a chief,” Heinrich said. “Those guys have to be supported from the shore.”

The FISC commander for San Diego-area ships, which will include the first 12 LCS, has set up a team to provide that support.

His skills will be put to the test as the first LCS, the USS Freedom, prepares for its first deployment next month.

Heinrich was involved in conversations discussing the possibility of putting a supply officer on LCS. Ultimately it was decided none was needed.

While that decision fits into the plan for global logistics support, it does not help train new FISC leadership traditionally trained at sea as junior officers to best understand the needs of a deployed unit.

Already, the pool of officers is smaller than Heinrich would like -- a problem not unique to the supply corps. He said he needs another 90 ensigns to meet demand.

“The appetite for captains and commanders across the supply corps is insatiable,” he said.

As LCS phase in and other ships phase out of the fleet, fewer supply officer sea tours will be available.

But not all hope is lost. Other platforms that now have a supply officer among the crew did not start with one.

“We never had supply officers on subs, until we did,” he said. “We never had supply officers on mine sweepers, until we did.”

Send your comments to Erin.Bridges@sddt.com

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