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The Critical Role of Shower, Laundry, and Clothing Repair Teams

As missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have changed over the past 6 years, so have the logistics requirements. During the initial entry phase and the first 2 years of the war, shower, laundry, and clothing repair (SLCR) teams were the only means of providing Soldiers with adequately cleaned laundry and a respectable shower. If they were not fortunate enough to receive the field services that SLCR
(pronounced “slicker”) teams provide, Soldiers were forced to fabricate their own showers and wash their clothing by hand.

SLCR Teams in OIF

By the summer of 2005, the OIF theater of operations had matured, and most Soldiers resided on large bases like Logistics Support Area Anaconda and Victory Base Complex (VBC) or substantial forward operating bases (FOBs) that contracted laundry and shower services to support their populations. By the end of 2005, most SLCR teams found themselves without purpose because of the abundance of contractors. SLCR team members took on “in lieu of” missions, including convoy security and escort duties and base force-protection missions.

But in late 2006, the lack of security in Iraq became intolerable. Escalating violence was threatening the long-term success of democracy in the country. So President George W. Bush appointed leaders with fresh ideas and a comprehensive understanding of counterinsurgency operations. Those new leaders decided to use a new tactic: placing Soldiers in patrol bases (PBs) and combat outposts that were embedded in communities throughout Iraq, far from the comforts of well-established bases. Shower and laundry services were once again in high demand to support these remote PBs and combat outposts, and SLCR Soldiers began using their military occupational specialty again.

When outposts are fortunate enough to have a SLCR team, the units enjoy a significant combat multiplier. The teams provide a service that gives Soldiers not only clean clothes to wear, but also a way to wash off sweat and dirt at the end of a hard day of patrolling. This capability enables Soldiers to enjoy their free time, not spend it washing clothes by hand or carrying clothes to the nearest FOB for contracted laundry support. SLCR teams allow combat units to focus on combat missions rather than trying to solve simple logistics problems. Another benefit of a SLCR team is their ability to repair ripped and torn uniforms. Patrolling Soldiers often damage their uniforms while executing their duties, but with a SLCR team on site to mend these deficiencies, they should always have usable uniforms available.

In late July 2007, in the midst of new and improved counterinsurgency operations, the 1st Platoon, 549th Quartermaster Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (which was under the administrative control of the 1st Sustainment Brigade), deployed with over 40 Soldiers who were eager to begin their mission of providing field services for forward-deployed outposts and bases in Iraq. The platoon’s SLCR teams met the laundry needs of one FOB, one PB, and one combat outpost with over 1,900 Soldiers. The platoon also operated the only Soldier-run renovation shop in Iraq at VBC.

Team 1

When the 1st Platoon arrived in Iraq, it immediately sent a SLCR team to FOB Iskandariyah to support the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. That SLCR team, “Team 1,” provided laundry and minor clothing repair services to over 750 Soldiers, civilians, and some third-country nationals who worked on the FOB. Soldiers enjoyed a less than 24-hour turnaround on their laundry during regular operations, but the laundry advanced system (LADS) facility personnel also accommodated Soldiers if they returned from patrols or convoys during off-hours and needed immediate laundry service. This practice gave Soldiers who spent only one night a week on the FOB the ability to leave the FOB and continue on their missions with clean clothes in hand. Team 1 processed an average of 300 bundles of clothing each day for the 3d Battalion and regularly repaired torn uniforms for the Soldiers at FOB Iskandariyah.

Team 2

Beginning in November 2007, another group of 1st Platoon Soldiers, “Team 2,” was tasked to provide shower and laundry support to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, at PB Murray and also to some units at the surrounding PBs. Before Team 2’s arrival at PB Murray, the infantry Soldiers had to take their clothes to FOB Falcon, which was 30 to 45 minutes away. The Soldiers sometimes waited 2 or 3 weeks before they could get to Falcon to have their clothes laundered, and they also had to return to pick up their completed laundry a few days later. This risked Soldiers’ lives by forcing them to be on the roads unnecessarily.

Before the 1st Platoon’s arrival, the units at PB Murray and the other surrounding PBs took cold showers with bottles of water or engineered makeshift shower sites with privately owned Sun Shower bags. PB Murray had established gravity flow showers, but the water was heated by sunlight, so the Soldiers took cold showers in the winter months.

To make life easier on the 1st Battalion, Team 2 arrived at PB Murray with 2 shower tents that provided an average of 150 showers per day and a LADS, which allowed the team to complete laundry in less than 24 hours. Such turnaround times were ideal because the Soldiers sometimes spent more than 16 hours on convoys and patrols and often returned to the PB for less than 24 hours.

To the Soldiers’ delight, the water in the field showers was heated to the perfect temperature, and the SLCR team established operating hours to coincide with returning patrols so troops could clean off the sweat and dirt of the mission immediately. Team 2 provided services that not only kept Soldiers off the roads but also improved their morale with freshly laundered clothes and daily showers.

Other 1st Platoon Missions

A few Soldiers from the 1st Platoon remained at VBC and operated the Stagecoach Renovation Shop, where they repaired clothing and sewed patches onto the uniforms of not only Soldiers but also Marines, Sailors, and Airmen. Within the limitations of their sewing machines, shop personnel fabricated simple textile items like rifle covers, weapon slings, modified reflective belts, and makeshift harnesses. The Stagecoach Renovation Shop repaired or patched the uniforms of several high-profile Soldiers, including General David Petraeus and Sergeant Major Marvin Hill, who were the Multi-National Forces-Iraq commanding general and command sergeant major.

The 1st Platoon maintained a command and control element at VBC, but the platoon leader and platoon sergeant spent much of their time traveling to each SLCR site to check on their troops and ensure their equipment readiness remained at the highest level possible. The 1st Platoon also had two mechanics who remained at VBC to repair broken equipment that came back from the outlying sites for direct-support repairs. They often caught flights to outlying sites to take high-priority parts to the teams and conduct organizational maintenance, which reduced maintenance problems and long-term deadlines on the LADS, generators, and water boilers.

The 1st Platoon took on one last mission to support about 800 Soldiers in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area of operations in March 2008. “Team 3” established the third SLCR site of their tour at Combat Outpost War Eagle. The site was built from excess plywood on the post, and the Soldiers erected the building within 48 hours of arrival.

Equipment

Many SLCR customers wanted to know what a LADS is and how it works. A LADS is a 40-foot-long mobile laundry trailer that is easily hauled by an M1088 tractor and M871 trailer from location to location. The system can be set up and operational within hours. LADS is now completely computerized, making it easier to operate for even the most inexperienced SLCR Soldiers.

While many household detergents contaminate water and produce what is commonly known as “gray water,” LADS uses only environmentally friendly cleaning agents. Generally, the clothes put into the LADS are washed in a mild detergent solution (procured from the Army supply system) with an added anti­foam chemical. The components of the detergent break apart and disintegrate into the environment without causing chemical damage to soil, so the laundry water does not require waste-water disposal. By using these nonhazardous chemicals, LADS can be set up anywhere clean (not necessarily potable) water is readily available, allowing SLCR teams to deploy with any unit.

Shower equipment in a SLCR operation normally includes one tent with a 12-head private shower stall setup. On camps or outposts with both men and women, hours of operation are gender-specific to ensure adequate privacy, but the hours always accommodate the operating tempo of each specific customer unit. A shower tent has one small generator to power the boilers that heat the water and to pump water to and from the tent. SLCR Soldiers are responsible for ensuring that the water is the proper temperature and that the showers are kept clean and sanitary. They also take special care to maintain the often overworked equipment, making certain it is kept in proper working order and supplied with fuel and water as needed.

Soldiers of the 1st Platoon received several certificates of achievement, Army Achievement Medals, and coins from their supported units in appreciation for their hard work and dedication to their fellow Soldiers deployed in support of OIF. The 1st Platoon successfully redeployed from Iraq in October 2008 and rejoined the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado, where they currently continue to train for future SLCR operations.
ALOG

Captain James C. Machado is the aide-de-camp for the Multi-National Forces-Iraq deputy commanding general in Baghdad. He was the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Area Support Group, from January 2007 to June 2008. He was commissioned at Arizona State University through the Army’s Green to Gold program and is a graduate of the Airborne School and the Signal Officer Basic Course.