When I arrived in the Iraqi theater at the end
of June 2003, repair parts, uniforms, and many other items
were still very scarce. Units were able to maintain readiness
only because their mechanics kept equipment operational by
what is called “controlled substitution.”
As the focus of the action shifted to sustainment, it would be logical to assume
that many of the logistics shortcomings experienced initially had been resolved.
Not so. In fact, as the months wore on, the logistics situation worsened.
The inability to cope with a very high operating tempo (OPTEMPO) early in the
war, and even for a while after the campaign to end Saddam Hussein’s regime
ended successfully, is understandable. But why did we still have the same problems
months after major combat operations were declared over? For one, hostilities
weren’t over. However, it certainly wasn’t the high rate of fuel
consumption or the high burn rate of ammunition that caused the logistics problems
to linger. So what were the causes?
The Business of Logistics
The first rule in good business—or, in this case, logistics—is “know
your customer.” Theater logisticians knew their forward unit customers’ requirements
for classes I (food), III (fuel), and V (ammunition) during intense operations.
However, they did not know the requirements nearly as well as they might have
with better logistics systems connectivity. In reality, the logisticians were
able to push forward barely enough supplies to satisfy the forward units’ immediate
needs, and they were even less successful in supplying the requirements of
their customers in the rear.
The ideal way to move all classes of supply forward quickly and efficiently
is to have all supplies for a single customer loaded into a single package
continental United States (CONUS). A theater distribution center (TDC) should
be used only when serving small customers with low demand rates. When it is
necessary to use a TDC—and it will be in a theater with many units and high OPTEMPO—“cross-docking” is
the preferred method of operation because it is the most efficient.
Cross-docking refers to configuring input and output flows so all cargo arrives
at one area in the TDC, travels through “on-the-move” sorting, and
then is loaded in a separate area onto a delivery vehicle assigned to a specific
customer’s route. Delivery routes are designed to accommodate the smallest
vehicle possible that will support the most customers at frequencies that best
sustain those customers. The designers of the route also must consider the
availability of vehicles in the fleet.
A good throughput operation requires the U.S. suppliers—the Defense Logistics
Agency (DLA), Army Materiel Command (AMC), and commercial contractors—to
know which units, over a short period of time, have enough demand to fill a
container or tri-wall box. To know this, the supplier must know
the customer’s characteristics and its Department of Defense Activity
Address Code (DODAAC). DLA manages a database on all of its customers and their
requirements history. If a theater manager prescribes package configuration
rules for a customer, the DLA distribution centers will conform to those rules.
it is imperative that the DLA database be updated quickly and efficiently to
govern the flow of supplies and material into the theater of operations in
the right configuration, to the right place.
Déjà Vu All Over Again’
The throughput problems I observed in Iraq were not new to
me. In 1997, I served in Kaiserslautern, Germany, as the
Army National Guard Assistant Chief of Staff
in the 21st Theater Army Area Command (now the 21st Theater Support Command)
and concurrently as the Chief of the Commander’s Initiatives Group. The
Kaiserslautern TDC, which was operated by the 37th Transportation Command, received
approximately 100 full containers a week. The TDC was a cross-dock facility,
which meant that containers—usually 40-foot metal containers packed with
supplies—came into one side of the facility, were unloaded, and the
supplies were transferred by load-handling equipment to the other side of
according to the DODAACs on the items.
During a review of all theater distribution processes in the 21st TAACOM,
the Commander’s Initiatives Group found
that more than half of the supplies received weekly in the TDC were moved
on to single customers. Logic dictated that, if the TDC could reconfigure
multiple loads into one container
for a single customer, those multiple loads could be configured for single
customers at an earlier stage. Therefore, after careful review of customer
time, the group was able to effect an update of the DODAAC management database
at the Defense Distribution Center (DDC) at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.
The packing lines at DDC were instructed to place all items for an individual
customer into a single container, and the port shipping contractor was told
to ship that container directly to the customer. This change in procedures
the workload at the TDC by 50 percent and the average in-theater delivery
time to high-use
customers from 16 days to 8 days.
During the time I was in the Iraqi theater, there was little, if any, DODAAC
management. Arriving containers were loaded with items for multiple DODAACs,
and many of the tri-wall boxes had items for multiple customers. This placed
a tremendous burden on the small and understrength supply units that operated
the various supply support activities (SSAs) and the TDC at Camp Doha. Every
container and many of the tri-wall boxes had to be opened and sorted before
their contents could be forwarded to the requisitioning units. After a while,
that resulted from the inability to keep pace with the volume caused them
to ignore the ultimate customer and simply add the items to their customers’ authorized
stockage lists (ASLs) to meet myriad dues-out. Supply personnel assumed that
items had been in transit so long that the original requester had satisfied
the requirement in some other way.
Management of DODAACs must be put at the top of any list of corrective actions
to be taken as a result of lessons learned in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Only
through good management can throughput to customers be maximized and the
on support units in the theater, and ultimately the customers, be relieved.
We must reexamine how DODAACs are managed. The automated processes for handling
DODAACs at the AMC Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) at Redstone Arsenal,
must be changed to enable on-the-fly, quick-response changes in “ship-to” addresses.
As late as October 2003, the DODAAC file at LOGSA had home or mobilization
station locations listed as the ship-to addresses for many units that were
Installations and theater commands can and should maintain control of the “bill-to” address,
but the ship-to address is the ultimate responsibility of the unit commanders.
A Web-based system (easily changed to a batch mode system if there is no Internet
connectivity) that allows the commander to quickly change the ship-to address
for his unit is critical to good throughput management. A unit’s DODAAC
should be as permanent as its unit identification code or
derivative unit identification code.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, containers arrived in theater
with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags carefully
mounted and full of data on
what was inside
the containers. However, no one was at the port to forward the containers
to their correct destinations when they came off the commercial vessel,
that labeling work was a wasted effort.
This issue isn’t new; it is simply a continuing saga of a new idea with
no sponsor. Adding technology without first implementing the right organizational
and doctrinal changes only means that we know more quickly that we’re in
trouble—and we have no way to fix it. The Army has failed to institutionalize
RFID technologies even though we have had those technologies for over 15
years. The Logistics Transformation Task Force, commissioned in May 2002
by Army Chief
of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki and headed by Major General N. Ross Thompson
III, commander of the Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, recognized
this shortcoming and recommended that responsibility for standardizing
RFID technologies be given to the movement control community. To date,
has happened to
resolve this ownership issue.
The Army is planning the future logistics organizations that will deliver
support to the warfighter during the first 30 days. Now is the time to
embed the right
structure in the resulting organizations to support in-transit visibility
and provide the technology our units need to obtain information on the
sustainment flow. When we are preparing for operations, distribution
teams must deploy
to critical distribution centers and ground, air, and sea ports to install
in sufficient quantities and locations so logisticians can “see” in-transit
assets that have RFID tags or barcode labels attached.
Joint policies, procedures, and regulations must be changed to require
the correct labeling of all Department of Defense assets to support RFID
when units and supplies move through the logistics nodes, the data will
feed to the Global Transportation Network (GTN) database, where they can
by those who need unit and asset visibility, regardless of their location.
Once the data are in the GTN database, linking them to trains, trucks,
ships is a data-linking process rather than a major input operation.
Our current systems already have pieces of this solution, but there still
is no established method to ensure that data are updated at critical points
supplies are in transit. Doctrine that assigns responsibility for developing
such a method to movement control elements would correct this deficiency.
A final thought: Soldiers often have simple solutions to some of these
seemingly overwhelming challenges. We must harvest their ideas before
they become stale.
Progress in technology is often measured in micro steps forward, not
in blinding leaps. Therefore, we must garner these advances, apply them
and institutionalize the changes. It matters little who gets the credit—the
bottom line is doing the best that we can for our soldiers. ALOG
Colonel Glenn W. Walker, ARNG AGR, serves as the G–4 for the Army National
Guard in Arlington, Virginia. He has master’s degrees in business
administration from Moravian College in Pennsylvania and in national
from the National Defense University. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster
Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Command and General Staff College,
and the Industrial
College of the Armed Forces.