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Distribution-Based Logistics in Operation Iraqi Freedom

The lifeline to the Army’s combat power is its distribution network and demand-supported, on-hand stocks for all classes of supply.

In the summer of 2005, Brigadier General Rebecca Halstead, the Commander of the 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM), directed our unit, the 3d Corps Distribution Center (CDC), to analyze, optimize, and refine the distribution architecture of the Iraqi theater. Her charter to the CDC was: Increase the velocity and quality of support to the warfighter, optimize effectiveness of scarce distribution assets, keep Soldier and contractor force-protection paramount, and improve unity of effort across the many disparate organizations to enhance tactical, operational, and strategic distribution enablers for supporting a transforming Army.

In order to reduce the millions of dollars worth of “insurance stocks” and increase the confidence of supported units in the distribution network, the variability of supplies and equipment must be limited. At the same time, the operational readiness and visibility of unit equipment must be increased. While the processes of requisitioning, distributing, and receipting materiel, supplies, and commodities are interrelated and integrally linked to readiness, each process is straightforward when individually scrutinized. In Iraq, the CDC team analyzed all distribution modes and nodes while using the Army distribution management philosophy: define, measure, and improve. From the tactical level through the strategic level, the distribution process involved numerous agencies and many disparate teams of professionals.

Command and Control for Echelons Above Brigade

Unity of command greatly facilitated the logistics success of 3d Corps units on the battlefield during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 05–07. Previous rotations operated under the Army of Excellence organizational structure, in which the divisions were supported by their assigned division support commands. For OIF 05–07, transformed and transforming modular units were employed at various levels of manning, with all of the division’s logistics capabilities residing in the brigade combat teams (BCTs).

During our deployment, the 3d COSCOM’s support brigades assumed the missions of the former division support commands as well as those of the supporting corps support groups. Brigadier General Halstead was in direct command and control (C2) of all logistics assets above the BCT level and could effectively flex to meet the Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC–I) commander’s intent. The tremendous logistics capabilities of 20,000 COSCOM Soldiers and 5,000 Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contractors encompassed materiel management, field maintenance, automated logistics systems operation, and distribution.

The 3d COSCOM’s C2 reach extended to every corner in Iraq, and, unlike any single division or coalition force headquarters, 3d COSCOM units traversed almost every main supply route and most alternate supply routes nightly in support of their corps sustainment mission. The depth and breadth of the 3d COSCOM span of control over the combat service support echelons-above-brigade units, coupled with its ownership of direct support and general support stocks, enabled the 3d COSCOM to manage all of its resources seamlessly and effectively in a coordinated and synchronized manner. Providing support to over 220,000 coalition Soldiers and civilians and backup support to the emerging 300,000-man Iraqi Security Force was a mission the 3d COSCOM embraced with conviction.

The 3d COSCOM comprised two sustainment brigades, three corps support groups, a theater security BCT, an area support group, and two rear-area operations centers arrayed across Iraq on diverse, inhospitable terrain in an area the size of Texas. Almost 40 percent of the 3d COSCOM’s force was committed to providing force-protection duties for 5 bases and serving as theater security escorts for 2,000 trucks organized into approximately 70 nightly combat logistics patrols (CLPs). These 70 CLPs were in addition to the 30 CLPs (over 1,000 trucks) from the theater transportation group that accompanied deployments, redeployments, and theater sustainment from Kuwait. During surge periods, the 3d COSCOM had to track up to 4,000 trucks moving in more than 130 CLPs. During our yearlong rotation, corps, theater, and contractor trucks moved in more than 37,000 CLPs (over 1.1 million truckloads) throughout Iraq and endured over 1,400 enemy confrontations on the dangerous supply routes.

The 3d CDC, composed of commodity analysts, distribution and movement control experts, and future operations planners, served as the logistics nerve center for the 3d COSCOM. The CDC fused the supply expertise of the 19th Materiel Management Center with the transportation, distribution, and movement control functions of the 27th Movement Control Battalion under the supervision of the 3d COSCOM support operations staff to achieve a logistics common operating picture. Enabled by logistics automation systems and supported by movement control and distribution management teams throughout Iraq and at three borders, the CDC was ideally postured to synchronize seamless, continuous support.

The CDC maintained continuous visibility and oversight of all commodities and common-user land transportation assets in Iraq. The CDC had real-time situational understanding and was fully integrated in the operational and mission planning of the MNC–I, so it was able to apply resources to operations rapidly and effectively while continuing to balance the complex theater sustainment mission. Having single operational logistics C2 reside with the 3d COSCOM also provided the MNC–I commander and his staff complete logistics situational awareness, flexibility, responsiveness, and sustainability in the allocation of resources in the dynamic joint and coalition theater.

While achieving unity of command for the corps’ logistics assets, the 3d COSCOM served as the primary logistics integrator and conduit for leveraging the capabilities of our in-country strategic partners to achieve unity of effort. Working with the MNC–I C–4, the Multinational Force–Iraq (MNF–I) Deputy Chief of Staff for Resources and Sustainment, the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command C–4, the 3d COSCOM coordinated logistics unity of effort by leveraging the capabilities and resources of the Army Materiel Command (AMC); the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and subordinate DLA organizations such as the Defense Energy Support Center and the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, the U.S. Transportation Command and its forward-deployed U.S. Central Command Deployment and Distribution Operations Center (CDDOC), the Joint Contracting Command, and our LOGCAP and contractor partners. The 3d COSCOM’s unique single logistics C2 structure facilitated the synchronization of vertical and horizontal coordination of all logistics required for simultaneous protracted theater sustainment, deployment, and redeployment and enabled operational support.

Operations

The Iraqi Theater was a hotbed of activity. Routine sustainment and operational support missions occurred simultaneously and continuously throughout Iraq. During our rotation, but most notably for the Ramadi and Baghdad operations, the 3d COSCOM rapidly conducted parallel and multiechelon mission analyses to implement flexible, effective complex mission sets. The 3d COSCOM was able to balance the fight carefully with the right enablers to implement proactive measures for countering or mitigating enemy actions, the friction of competing events, and natural challenges. Employing and managing the critical assets of each of the support brigades in Iraq as a single, seamless logistics capability resulted in a logistics effort greater than the sum of its many parts.

For both the Ramadi and Baghdad missions, only the 3d COSCOM could plan, coordinate, assemble, and allocate the Soldiers and the resources necessary to ensure that these operations succeeded in the required timeframe. Both missions required common-user land transportation, field services, and materiel exceeding the capabilities of the respective support brigades in the battlespace. The CDC’s future operations planners, who were attuned to corps and division planners, developed effective concepts of support for using Soldiers, equipment, and materiel from all five support brigades. The timely movement and repositioning of over 2,000 truckloads of equipment enabled the maneuver commanders to execute their missions and postured the corps for logistics success. For each of these missions, planning and execution were accomplished seamlessly within a 2-week timeframe and without adversely affecting the nightly sustainment missions. Fortunately for the Baghdad mission, the theater transportation trucks were already in Iraq in preparation for the redeployment of the Stryker brigade, so the corps movement control battalion, along with the corps and theater planners, diverted the convoys to Baghdad.

The 3d COSCOM, in concert with all of its partners and subordinate units, planned and coordinated to provide the right amount and type of transport needed to balance the operational requirements effectively with its capabilities. Single C2 for synchronizing transport resources, timing, and the ability to leverage existing infrastructure and processes, coupled with the robust stocks on hand, provided unprecedented flexibility, agility, and responsiveness.

Defining and Refining the Distribution Process

As the CDC team studying the theater distribution system identified the key nodes through which materiel would travel from end to end, the term “partnering” took on new meaning. Identifying tasks, applying measurable, standardized metrics for success, and assigning responsibilities at each node were prerequisites for refining a common distribution operating concept. Essential for process improvement was identification of an individual who was directly responsible for each task and who could make a change in the process.

The CDC team also had to identify what the change to the distribution process should be and, more importantly, how the system components should be modified and measured. The entire system had to be analyzed holistically, because an improvement in one segment could affect the functionality in another segment and impede its established performance metrics. Although distribution systems in the theater had matured significantly over the course of OIF, individual distribution nodes and segments were under constant and often dramatic transformations that affected other segments. Changes to automated logistics systems, advances in radio frequency identification technology, improvements in in-transit visibility (ITV) devices and systems, new air and ground systems, and modular organizational structures for tables of organization and equipment were some of the many variables affecting distribution. Although we encountered constant challenges and constraints with the distribution system, we were able to refine the system in order to provide a complete range of supplies and services to a hard-fighting, demanding force.

Different rotation polices and support solutions among the services could adversely affect support if not carefully orchestrated among strategic, operational, and tactical units and critical strategic logistics providers. The inevitable disruptions along main and alternate supply routes by improvised explosive devices or complex attacks could result in delays and an increase in the supported units’ requisition wait time (RWT) if not properly considered. To ensure seamless support to the warfighters, we developed mitigating strategies and compensating mechanisms. For example, by adjusting days of supply for fuel and food and relocating tankers and refrigerated storage vans at key nodes in order to implement more flexible redistribution measures, the 3d COSCOM was able to absorb the variables inherent in the friction of war without any impact to the warfighter. [“Friction of war” is a term coined by Major-General Carl von Clausewitz, a renowned Prussian military theorist, to refer to unforeseen circumstances that frequently arise and routine tasks or expectations that often become extremely difficult.]

Reducing Requisition Wait Time

To measure RWT, we used weekly supply pipeline reports produced by AMC’s Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA). These reports provided RWT and pipeline segment processing times for requisitions receipted in Iraq by class of supply, priority, mode of transportation, and source of fill.

Near the beginning of OIF 05–07, the 85th percentile RWT measurement was below the Army Central Command’s standard of 20 days. However, there were several weeks during which RWT fluctuated between 22 and 23 days, which exceeded the standard. Factors contributing to higher RWT were unit transitions, strategic transportation demands outside the theater, competing demands for in-theater transportation, supply support activity (SSA) personnel turnover, and limited periods of movement during critical Iraqi constitution referendum and national elections.

We formed a process action team (PAT) to explore ways to reduce the time required to process a unit’s requisition from the time the requisition reached the SSA until the requested item was received in the SSA. The PAT was a cross-section of subject matter experts from the tactical, operational, and strategic distribution levels. We examined ways to improve processes throughout the supply chain, assigned responsibility for each process, and identified the individual who could impact specific areas for improvement. The PAT studied intratheater airlift and the ground lines of communication at the operational and tactical levels. We analyzed trends, routes, the current number of CLPs, the volume of transportation movement requests, and the priorities of the MNC–I in relation to the ability of 3d COSCOM, division, and theater transportation assets to meet those priorities.

Part of the PAT’s charter was to increase the visibility of requisitions throughout the supply chain and to instill confidence in the distribution system in our customers. Increasing visibility and reliability would greatly reduce the counterproductive cycle of redundant ordering, which further burdened an already constrained distribution system and taxed the supply nodes.

The PAT conducted a detailed support-to-supporting-unit analysis, and each Department of Defense Activity Address Code (DODAAC) was aligned with the unit position on the battlefield and further aligned with the closest SSA. We reorganized operationally and reallocated and repositioned transportation assets. We also reduced the number of ground lines of communication and implemented measures to vary routes in order to reduce the predictability of convoys to the insurgents. Using a variety of statistical tools and reviews, we constantly scrutinized the logistics hierarchy at all levels, which improved the utilization rates of the subordinate logistics brigades.

As a result of these detailed efforts, the CDC and its key enabling partners were able to reduce the RWT from 22 to 23 days to 12 to 14 days over the course of 6 months. Quarterly, we studied the changes that were implemented and made incremental adjustments to ensure maximal support to the units with negligible impact on the distribution resources at all levels.

As a part of our supply chain analysis, we implemented mitigation strategies that would reduce the threat to Soldiers and contractors traversing the dangerous roads of Iraq and, at the same time, enhance distribution. For example, we maximized the use of airlift, built water-bottling plants, and increased ITV. For every four pallets flown, one truckload was displaced. For every CLP not sent out, up to 35 personnel were kept off the road.

Maximum Use of Airlift

The 3d COSCOM partnered with the Air Force and Army aviation units to ensure maximum use of their pallet- and cargo-carrying capabilities. The Air Force and the CDDOC team embedded forward at the theater level were highly supportive of our efforts. Their mantra became “Load the pallets into GATES and the aircraft will come.” [GATES (Global Air Transportation Execution System) is the Air Force Air Mobility Command’s aerial port operations and management information system designed to support automated cargo and passenger processing.] GATES provided the much-needed visibility of cargo and the accompanying workload data needed to schedule channel missions and opportune lift. Cargo usually was moved within 72 hours.

In addition to the usual gray Air Force cargo planes, the CDDOC contracted commercial aircraft—most notably Russian IL–76 cargo planes. Starting out as a proof-of-concept principle, use of the cargo planes proved reliable, flexible, and predictable throughout the entire rotation. These planes moved more than 15,000 pallets (the equivalent of over 3,700 truckloads). Monthly, the CDC Air Cell, in conjunction with the CDDOC and the Air Force, reviewed aircraft utilization statistics to assess requirements and adjust flight route channel frequencies and locations.

Army CH–47 Chinook helicopters proved critical in moving repair parts and major assemblies. Initially, the 3d COSCOM received only one mission (requiring two helicopters) on alternating nights; but our workload soon quadrupled, which meant that we had sufficient workload to justify two missions (requiring four helicopters) nightly. Integrating global contractor repair parts into the 3d COSCOM theater distribution network was essential to effectively distributing unique repair parts for equipment that had been fielded rapidly throughout the theater. During OIF 05–07, the Army helicopters proved to be adaptable for this mission, and they could be dispatched readily to the remote locations from which many requirements originated. The helicopters transported over 3,000 pallets, which made it unnecessary to dispatch more than 770 trucks.

The C–23B Sherpa aircraft was an indispensable workhorse for moving medical cargo and personnel. More than 98 percent of medical supplies were distributed by aircraft. These small, agile, and reliable aircraft transported over 10,000 pallets, or the equivalent of 1,200 truckloads.

Water-Bottling Plants

Soldiers and contractors operating in desert environments need large amounts of potable water for drinking, dining facility operation, and sanitation and hygiene. Despite advances in reverse-osmosis water-purification unit (ROWPU) technology and the Army’s significant investment in personnel and equipment to prepare water for consumption, bottled water is preferred by the troops.

Bottled water was trucked in from Kuwait, Turkey, and Jordan; this required thousands of line-haul truckloads and exposed drivers and escorts to lethal enemy actions. In order to take advantage of an opportunity to mitigate the Soldiers’ exposure to danger while hauling water and the obvious cost effectiveness of building potable water-bottling plants directly on U.S. bases in Iraq, logisticians and representatives of the Defense Contracting Command solicited contractors to build six water-bottling plants.

The first plant was constructed at Logistics Support Area Anaconda. It quickly proved its worth and served as a source of lessons learned for constructing the five other plants. In a 7-month period, the Anaconda facility produced the equivalent of 3,500 truckloads of water and saved millions of dollars because the average case price was reduced by almost 70 percent. Every month, the five completed plants displaced over 3,100 trucks that had been required to haul water. When fully operational, the six plants will displace more than 16,000 truckloads and yield a potential saving of over $100 million a year. In addition to mitigating risk to Soldiers and saving the Army money, the plants afforded increased operational flexibility because we could adjust production levels and rapidly change the distribution schedule to coincide with requirements.

In-Transit Visibility

To increase effectiveness of the distribution system, the 3d COSCOM, MNC–I, and MNF–I embarked on a campaign to “tag everything that moved” to make better use of the maturing ITV infrastructure. With over 90 fixed interrogators at key nodes throughout Iraq and the availability of the upgraded Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS) at SSAs to write radio frequency tag content, ITV provided us an opportunity to assist all stakeholders. Teams of logisticians throughout our area of responsibility relied on the data feeds, data integrity, and data latency to conduct their day-to-day operations. The 3d COSCOM’s readiness analysts were trained to use logistics automation enablers, such as the Movement Tracking System (MTS) and the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), to track and report on the status of shipments. Control of situational information allowed us flexibility in providing support and enabled us to use a variety of modes to move key items of materiel to their ultimate destination.

Redistribution and Retrograde

Redistribution and retrograde of equipment became additional missions for all units in Iraq, most notably for AMC’s Field Support Brigade-Iraq (AFSB–I), the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s 840th Transportation Battalion, and the 3d COSCOM. These processes reversed the paradigm of bringing everything into Iraq, as had been done for the last 3 years. Instead, we began a momentous paradigm shift toward moving equipment and materiel out of Iraq while redistributing other equipment to other combat, sustainment, deployment, and redeployment operations.

Redistribution and retrograde were key components of the Army’s transition from limited wartime property accountability to stricter peacetime accountability standards. Redistributed equipment was allocated to coalition forces and provided to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as significant military equipment. [“Significant military equipment” is defined as articles for which special export controls are warranted because of their capacity for substantial military utility or capability.] The remaining equipment would be retrograded to reconstitute the Army pre-positioned stocks in theater or redeployed out of theater for refurbishment to reset the Army.

The equipment to be retrograded ran the gamut of all classes of supply and equipment. Major end items were under the purview of AFSB–I’s redistribution property accounting teams and accounted for using Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE). SARSS was the primary system used to account for other classes of materiel, and responsibility for its retrograde lay with the retrograde materiel redistribution teams and the SSAs. Together with the owning units, the teams opened containers; inventoried their contents; segregated materiel into serviceable, unserviceable, and recoverable items; properly restuffed and consolidated containers; created radio frequency identification tags; and submitted movement requests to the appropriate destinations in or out of Iraq. Hazardous items were containerized for disposition. Various onsite disposition instructions included “scrap,” “hazmat,” “sensitive item,” “demilitarization required,” and “condemned.”

By using the 3d COSCOM’s central receiving and shipping points (CRSPs), the forward redistribution point at Logistics Support Area Anaconda, and the ground lines of communication at the major bases, the mammoth redistribution and retrograde effort was undertaken without disrupting combat or sustainment operations.

Theater transportation units, which provided backhaul of equipment concurrent with redeployments and operational moves, were integral to the success of the operation. In a 6-month period, over 8,000 vehicles (valued in excess of $1 billion) were retrograded from Iraq. Hundreds of pieces of other equipment were redistributed among coalition and ISF forces, and thousands of additional items of materiel were redistributed within the battlespace.

Future Distribution in Iraq

The lifeline to the Army’s combat power is its distribution network and demand-supported, on-hand stocks for all classes of supply. Just-in-time logistics does not work in a combat zone, and “iron mountains” of supplies are too costly and cumbersome for an agile force. The key to logistics success has been optimizing the distribution network with supplies on hand and maintaining multiple lines of communication into Iraq. The overwhelming logistics capabilities of battle-hardened logistics warriors, augmented with a division’s worth of contractors on the battlefield, provide unprecedented, near-total freedom of logistics maneuver on the battlefield.

In the future, the Army must continue to increase its use of ITV by extending it to all units and the BCT SSAs. Better yet, the use of ITV should be instilled in units at their home stations and reinforced at the major training centers to such an extent that ITV becomes an integral part of combat support operations. Without full support for ITV from shippers and shipping activities, transporters cannot enforce the policy that requires that every piece of equipment or container be tagged, because doing so will increase frustrated cargo, backlog subsequent missions, and ultimately impede combat operations.

Iraq continues to serve as the battle laboratory for transformation at many levels. The Iraqi theater continues to mature in many respects, and it is time to truly employ joint logistics, which is a much bolder initiative than merely achieving interdependence and coordination. Although the Army has executive-agent responsibilities for many logistics functions that support all forces in Iraq, each service continues to maintain its own stovepiped systems, which are often redundant and compete for the same limited resources. In the western portion of Iraq, the Marine Corps maintains a field service support group (-), while the Army has a corps support group. Establishing single logistics C2 under the 3d COSCOM (the current sustainment command [expeditionary]), would involve one colonel-level command (either Army or Marine) that would include battalions and companies from each service. At Balad, a similar organizational structure could include the Air Force support group there.

We must continue to expand cooperation and communication with neighboring countries to improve consistency and visibility of cargo transiting their borders. The distribution flexibility afforded to the logistics community by the three reliable Iraq ingress routes for materiel (from Kuwait, Turkey, and Jordan) reduces operational risks and contributes to long-term economic growth and stability in the region by promoting trade and employment.

Distribution in Iraq will continue to evolve as the current operations, the insurgent threat, the pace of transition to an Iraqi battlespace, and politics at home and abroad change. As the ISF assumes the lead for counterinsurgency operations, it may be possible to reduce the current number of BCTs in the theater. However, the number of combat support and combat service support enablers cannot be reduced as part of a linear, total-force reduction. The U.S. logistics, aviation, medical, police, engineer, and signal capabilities provide the coalition forces unparalleled capabilities that cannot be readily replicated or established in the ISF. Ultimately, success in Iraq will hinge on the ability of the ISF to conduct and sustain independent counterinsurgency operations.
ALOG

Colonel C. Brandon Cholek is the C–3 of the 3d Corps Support Command. He served as the Chief of the Corps Distribution Center for the 3d Corps Support Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom 05–07. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the Army War College. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

Chief Warrant Officer (W–5) Matthew A. Anderson, Sr., is the Chief of the Warrant Officer Training Division, Army Quartermaster Center and School, at Fort Lee, Virginia. He served as the Command Master Chief of the 3d Corps Support Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom 05–07. He has a master’s degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology and is a graduate of Warrant Officer Senior Staff Course. He is a Certified Professional Logistician.