In 1986 Allan Rosen hired me away from the Directorate of Clothing & Textiles to work in DISMS in the Directorate of Subsistence.
Perhaps I need to explain what DISMS is. Or was. And please, don’t take this all as gospel; this is mostly from memory from over 30 years ago and some of it is inference on my part.
The Defense Logistics Agency, or DLA, is responsible for supporting our warfighters with food, clothing, medical supplies, etc. Over the course of time several supply centers coalesced to specialize in one type of materiel or another. For example, the Defense Industrial Supply Center (DISC) in northeast Philadelphia purchased construction and equipment items.
Meanwhile, in south Philadelphia, at the location that used to be known as the Quartermaster, the Defense Personnel Support Center (DPSC, in those days) managed three commodities: Clothing & Textiles, Subsistence, and Medical. Now this was all well and good but there was a problem: each supply center had its own computer system that was essentially incompatible with every other system. And lucky DPSC had three!
And DLA saw this and saw that it was bad.
So DLA set about doing something about it.
Through their Defense Systems Automation Center (DSAC) in Columbus, Ohio, they designed a system to standardize the management of materiel at all of their supply centers. They called it the Standard Automated Materiel Management System or SAMMS. See, it had “Standard” right there in the title.
That was in 1962.
By 1980 when I came on board at C&T (which is what everyone except Paul Zebrowski called Clothing & Textiles), it had been rolled out to all the commodities except C&T and Subsistence.
When I started, they were just in the process of implementing it at C&T. In fact, they had a cadre of people working furiously to get it implemented. They were called the Cadre. (I have some stories about that period, but that would take us too far off the track at this point.)
Meanwhile, Subsistence remained the only commodity that was SAMMS-less. In fact, someone (or someones) in Subsistence had taken one look at SAMMS and decided that it was too outdated a system to handle their requirements. They decided they needed a modern database system, and somehow they convinced The Powers That Be to go along with them. (That all the other commodities felt exactly the same way about SAMMS and all its deficiencies apparently carried no weight with The Powers That Be. I have no idea how or why Subsistence had the clout to pull off this little coup.)
So Subsistence started working on their modern database system, the Defense Integrated Subsistence Management System, or DISMS (at least I think that’s what the abbreviation stands for).
They formed a cadre of their own, although they didn’t call it that, but it was a work group of, I don’t know, maybe 25 or 30 analysts, something like that. These were the people who would develop the requirements for the system and pass them on to the DSAC programmers, who would, of course, implement them exactly down to the smallest detail.
First of all, where did those 25 or so “analysts” come from? Why Subsistence upper management went to their middle managers who went to their first level supervisors and asked (sorry, ordered) them to give up some of their personnel. Now imagine you are a supervisor responsible for, say, ten employees. Of those ten, two are outstanding employee of the month material, another seven are pretty much OK in that they get the job done but you need to light a fire under them from time to time, and the remaining employee, her name is Lulu by the way, is pretty much just taking up space. You are told you have to contribute one employee to DISMS for the greater good. Who you gonna give up?
So DISMS pretty much became a dumping ground.
That is not to say that there weren’t any talented people in DISMS. There were. Maybe six or so.
Meanwhile, DSAC, the programming arm of DLA, had decided that in order to work more closely with the DISMS analysts, they would set up a shop right on the center. And how were they going to staff that shop? Why, they were going to hire local talent. They didn’t exactly raid the local data systems department, but they offered higher grades, meaning higher pay, so that meant that the best and the brightest programmers from DPSC’s Office of Data Systems (or ODS as it was called in those days) jumped over to DSAC, leaving ODS without a lot of talent.
So that was the situation when I climbed aboard the DISMS ship. I was in DISMS, but since my job was really to support the personal computers for all of Subsistence, I wasn’t really part of DISMS, if you catch my drift.
One thing that I did notice. There was absolutely no love lost between the DISMS analysts and the local DSAC shop, or at least between the respective management. I remember one meeting that I was scheduled to attend for some reason or another, but as I arrived everyone else was already leaving. Apparently the head of DSAC and the head of DISMS had locked horns even before the meeting started and stormed out, leaving everyone else just shaking their heads.