Defense Media Network

Rapid Fielding Initiative

A decade of providing urgently needed gear

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For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

While the analogy might be a bit of a stretch, the 14th century nursery rhyme builds its logical progression of military events on a foundation of simple individual equipment.

Advanced Combat Helmet

3625th Maintenance Company’€™s Spc. Shanta Haney tries on one of the models of the advanced combat helmet to find out her size, Jan. 12, 2004. DoD photo by U.S. Marine Cpl. Clinton Firstbrook

More than six centuries after the rhyme’s first appearance, the U.S. military codified the proven tenets of the rhyme in a program designed to provide modern warfighters with a tactical combat edge by ensuring that they possessed the latest “horseshoe nails” in terms of individual and unit tactical equipment prior to their deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Known as (RFI), the program has now accumulated more than a decade of logistics lessons and on-the-ground experience derived from theaters in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With the drawdown of United States combat operations in Afghanistan now on the horizon, it is important to look back across that decade at some of the key aspects of the RFI effort.

As described by representatives of the U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO)  Soldier, “The Army’s Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) is a program that ensures our soldiers receive the finest individual and unit equipment the Army can provide – as rapidly as it can be procured and fielded. RFI was developed at the beginning of the Global War on Terror. It was developed in response to supply shortages experienced by units in Afghanistan. PEO Soldier representatives met directly with soldiers in the field to gather feedback and inadequacies in equipment and how to address them, and to identify additional needed equipment.

“Prior to RFI being put into place, soldiers and units purchased commercial items they needed in Iraq/Afghanistan to supplement items the Army issued them,” they added. “As a result, the Chief of Staff of the Army tasked Program Executive Office Soldier with equipping soldiers as a system to support both Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The soldier as a system model allows for soldiers to be given integrated products instead of piece parts. RFI provides an equitable distribution of capabilities across our force and facilitates soldier modernization in a systematic and integrated manner.”

Rapid Fielding Initiative gear and equipment

Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan get improved, warmer gear and other new and top-of-the-line equipment from the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) issue facility on Schofield Barrack’€™s East Range, Honolulu, Hawaii, on March 18, 2004. The equipment received at the RFI issue was based on each soldier’s deployed mission. The Army has used lessons learned in the first war in Iraq and early stages in the Afghanistan conflict to better equip its troops for deployment. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Chris Stump, 17th Public Affairs Detachment

Noting that the RFI program is designed to equip soldiers as needed, they explained that the equipment list is updated frequently, as new equipment is added or older equipment is subtracted.

“Equipment received from over 50 suppliers and industry partners around the United States is staged and packaged into unit sets,” they said. “These sets are shipped to the user stationed at one of the locations throughout the world. Unused inventory is returned to be staged for future fieldings. If there is shortage, a request is made back to the program manager to determine if they are in stock and then shipped directly to fulfill the due-out.

“The challenge for the Rapid Fielding Initiative was obtaining high volumes of equipment for the fighting forces in the correct quantities of equipment (and in the right sizes) and deliver them to soldiers in time,” they acknowledged. “The challenges were threefold: maintain a focus on the primary mission needs, meet the mandate by the Chief of Staff of the Army to field those units and soldiers before deployment, and to flexibly identify, acquire, and deliver material in support of emerging individual soldier equipping items.

“The Rapid Fielding Initiative provides soldiers with additional items they need to do their jobs in contingency areas,” they summarized. “Since its inception, hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been fielded. RFI has greatly streamlined acquisition processes that previously took months and years to supply new or improved equipment. Acquisition cycles were reduced to weeks, and sometimes even days. By developing this more efficient method for procurement and distribution, soldiers are equipped before they are deployed. The Rapid Fielding Initiative remains the most popular program by PEO Soldier, as judged by the enthusiastic response of every soldier from private to general.”

As outlined by the United States Senate Armed Services Committee in May 2003, the origins of the RFI emerged as an Army response to lessons learned from the 2002 deployment of combat units to Afghanistan.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...