The challenges are unique in military history. At the same time that U.S. forces are tasked with responsibly “drawing down” more than seven years of combat and theater sustainment (contractors) equipment in Iraq, optimizing door-to-door deployment and distribution through the ports of Shuaiba, Kuwait; Aqaba, Jordan; and Umm Qasr, Iraq, they are also being called upon to support a logistics “surge” in landlocked Afghanistan, using both the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communications and the newly formed routes of the Northern Distribution Network for successful equipment and cargo movements to warfighters.
The unique combination of challenges is being addressed through the expertise and professionalism of Army Materiel Command’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC).
Beginning with the drawdown aspects of the ongoing parallel commitments, Col. (Promotable) Edward F. Dorman, deputy commanding general, SDDC, acknowledged that, while Iraq may not be the nation’s No. 1 combat effort at this time, “We certainly met the 30 August 2010 timeline where we are down to 50,000 personnel. And of course that has an inextricable linkage to how we draw down the amount of equipment and sustainment stocks in that country.”
Dorman, who was identified in July to be the next chief of transportation for the U.S. Army, highlighted an in-country team that begins with the 595th Transportation Brigade and its subordinate 840th Deployment and Distribution Support Battalion, which is forward located at Balad, Iraq.
“Our principle route of retrograde is, of course, to the south and out through Kuwait,” Dorman continued. “That is because you have AMC facilities there that will do technical inspections or some necessary preparations before it goes out through the Port of Shuaiba [Kuwait]. The AMC goal is 2,150 ‘pieces’ a month, and it looks like we will continue to exceed that goal.”
He attributes that success, in part, to a close and coordinated working relationship between SDDC elements and Army Sustainment Command’s 402nd Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB), both in Kuwait and Iraq.
“In addition, we also send units out through the Port of Aqaba, Jordan, and Umm Qasr, Iraq, to a lesser degree,” he noted.
“We have also been working what we call ‘I-to-A,’ or ‘Iraq-to-Afghanistan’ shipments, coordinated among the stakeholders, to send excess property that may be needed in Afghanistan,” he added. “That mostly includes things like ‘Class IV,’ which is construction material, barrier material, concrete, ‘FOBs [forward operating bases] in a box,’ tentage, or related items. We have started sending that material north, through Turkey, over land, across the [Caspian] Sea, and down through what we call the Northern Distribution Network. It essentially goes from Iraq, to Turkey, to Georgia, to Azerbaijan, and then down into Afghanistan. That network has proven to be successful and it has given us another option and capability.”
The initial movement on the northern “I-to-A” network took place around February 2010.
“That was an end-to-end global freight management move,” Dorman recalled. “It was great, because we were moving about 4,200 [kilometers] from Balad to Kandahar.”
He added that ongoing commercial carrier competitions since that time have provided reductions in both freight movement costs and transit times through the sovereign nations along that route.
“Of course, there is a lot of activity that goes on to coordinate those efforts with the USF-I [United States Forces – Iraq] staff and the USFOR-A staff,” he acknowledged. “That coordination includes respective J/G-4s as well as our 595th Transportation Brigade and its 840th and 831st Deployment and Distribution Support Battalions, and our Command Operations Center (COC), here at SDDC, which is monitoring the whole operation. So we plan it, direct it, monitor it, and assess how well we are doing and where we have to go to assure that we are getting the right volumes. Of course we are also working with our commercial movement partners – the sealift industry and so forth – and our global freight management folks to get this cargo out of Iraq.”
Dorman continued, “We also work very closely with the R2TF, which is the responsible drawdown task force that is there in Kuwait, at Camp Arifjan, where our 595th Brigade is headquartered. So that is a really great working relationship that is paying big dividends.”
Reflecting on the upcoming Aug. 30, 2010, force reduction milestone, Dorman observed, “Originally we thought we would see a large ‘waterfall effect,’ of equipment coming out of Iraq. So there was great consternation as to whether we would have the capacity to handle it. And the answer is yes. We have sufficient commercial capacity for shipping the move, should they present a ‘waterfall’ out of there. And we also have plenty of stevedore and related terminal service capability, with plenty of room at the Port of Shuaiba for break bulk and rolling stock to get retrograded out. We also have the systems in place that would allow us to do that. So it would come through Arifjan’s ‘Lot 58’ and the preparations of AMC and its AFSB on the ground. And then we have got more than enough capacity to manage the equipment at the port, receive vessels, and get it out.”
“It’s an end-to-end process,” he continued. “Our 595th and our battalions work the Port of Shuaiba – because we actually manage the port as the Single Port Manager – and then, once the shipment gets to CONUS, we’re running ports there as well, through units like our 832nd Transportation Battalion [Jacksonville, Fla.], 842nd Transportation Battalion [Beaumont, Texas], or 841st Transportation Battalion [Charleston, S.C.]. So those three ports, predominantly, receive and process a lot of the retrograde coming back. And we have a standard at SDDC, because we are the global surface transportation experts, of clearing the port in seven days and then having that close working relationship with the correct CONUS installations to ensure that we are not flooding their zones with equipment that they can’t receive and that the depots are receiving what they need in a timely manner.”
In terms of the challenges surrounding the parallel “surge” activities to support warfighters in Afghanistan, Dorman highlighted the teamwork at all levels, offering the example of cooperation between SDDC’s 595th and 598th Transportation Brigades.
“The 595th has two battalions: the 840th in Iraq and the 831st, which is stationed in Bahrain but with responsibility for Afghanistan as well,” he explained. “So, when you look at the 831st, they are really tied to facilitating what we call multi-modal operations, because not everything can go in by surface. Some equipment requires a combination of surface [ship] moves to Bahrain or Oman, then overland by convoy to an aerial port of embarkation, and then a flight to locations in Afghanistan. We have several of those multi-modal operations ongoing. So the 595th and the 831st were doing those in Bahrain, working together with our Air Force partners within United States Transportation Command to get critical and sensitive items into Afghanistan and to various bases. In addition to the multi-modal operations out of Bahrain and Oman, the 831st also has detachments at Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan as well as deployment and distribution support teams throughout that country to facilitate deployment and redeployment operations as well as container management issues.”
“We were also doing some multi-modal operations in Rota, Spain, which were facilitated by the 598th Transportation Brigade,” he added. “The 598th also works in close coordination as we execute the Northern Distribution Network, tied to the 595th and the SDDC COC, in order to provide an integrated and optimal end-to-end solution.”
“Our end-to-end solution includes regulating not only what is coming in the distribution pipeline but also when it is coming and the appropriate sequencing so that we don’t have lower priority cargo ahead of higher priority cargo,” Dorman said. “And, along with our Northern Distribution Network, we are also closely monitoring the flow into our other border crossing – the Pakistan-Afghanistan Ground Line of Communications. That comes in through the Ports of Karachi and Qasim, moves up to two border crossing sites – one in the south and one in the north. Then, the 598th also coordinates sending other equipment overland, either from CONUS or across the Central Region in Europe and then entering into Afghanistan. We monitor all of that to make sure that the flow is correct, that the border crossings are not overloaded, and that we do not create any negative effects on the receiving units. After all, one of the most limiting factors is the ability for units to receive cargo in Afghanistan.”
“This is not the first ‘surge’ that we have facilitated,” he noted. “We have had three force packages that have been moving and will continue to move out through September. And we have done the very detailed coordination and identified the optimal solutions for the equipment that makes up those force packages. The supporting equipment packages consist of unit equipment and theater provided equipment. And when we say theater provided equipment, that doesn’t just come from ‘the theater.’ Elements of those complex force packages include equipment coming out of Iraq identified to fill voids; new production equipment coming out of depots in CONUS; and equipment from other pre-positioned stocks located around the world. So SDDC is coordinating multiple stakeholders and multiple sources, venues and locations of equipment, end-to-end. And it’s all transparent to the warfighter, who only knows that they want it there by a set date. And we are getting it there as a result of our coordinated and collaborative efforts.”
Dorman mentioned the presence of SDDC liaison officers in places like the United States Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Kabul Afghanistan and in the office of the defense representative in Pakistan as another critical contributor to the ongoing success.
“They work the day-to-day coordination with those sovereign nations and our staffs there to ensure that diplomatic clearances are timely and continuing relationships focused on reducing the amount of processing time and other issues,” he said. “Clearly they are the unsung heroes.”
Asked about challenges over the next two years, Dorman projects challenges associated with an evolving appreciation of the theaters.
“We will need to set the conditions to ensure success for any course of action that is chosen by the nation’s leaders,” he said. “If that is a responsible drawdown out of Afghanistan then we need to make certain that we have set the conditions for that to work smoothly and quickly, depending on the requirements. If there is a requirement to move fast we will need to move fast. And we will need to make sure that we are employing the best methods to provide the best value to the nation while continuing to offer optimal end-to-end solutions. I think that continued coordination and condition setting is probably going to be critical.”
He elaborated, “Key and essential to that will be continued collaboration with the Theater. Of course both Pakistan and Afghanistan will also be part of the coordination process as we ensure that we have the proper procedures for foreign customs clearance out of Afghanistan. We are dealing with sovereign nations so we will need to make certain that we have interoperability with those nations and their desires, that our procedures are well established and understood by everyone, and that we do that not only effectively and efficiently, but with transparency.”
Summarizing, Dorman observed, “All of this comes from SDDC, which is not a huge organization by any stretch of the imagination. In reality it is quite a small organization, with single representatives and two person teams out there who are pulling significant responsibilities in many locations. We have lieutenant colonels and majors doing the work of colonels in many instances. In other cases, our non-commissioned officers and our junior officers are running detachments that are reducing the amount of detention on containers. They are assisting units with deploying and redeploying. They are working closely with commercial carrier representatives to ensure that we are delivering to the right places. They are establishing alternative options to make sure that we don’t overload a particular hub.”
He concluded, ”Our entire professional workforce is nothing short of amazing and truly earns its mantra of ‘committed, dependable, and relentless’ as global surface transportation experts.”
This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: 2010-2011 Edition.