Iraq — Logistical Drawdown in Iraq Proceeds Ahead of Schedule

WASHINGTON — As Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma this week hailed “one of the largest logis­tics oper­a­tions we’ve seen in decades” accom­pa­ny­ing the force draw­down in Iraq, the com­man­der over­see­ing the move­ment cred­it­ed hard work and inten­sive prepa­ra­tion with ensur­ing the mis­sion pro­ceeds smooth­ly and ahead of sched­ule.

Joint Base Balad, Iraq
com­mand­ing gen­er­al of the 103rd Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand left, along with Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. LeRoy Haug­land, com­mand sergeant major of the 103rd ESC uncase the 103rd ESC col­ors dur­ing a trans­fer of author­i­ty cer­e­mo­ny July 1 at Joint Base Bal­ad, Iraq. The event sym­bol­ized the 13th ESC com­plet­ing its mis­sion and the 103rd ESC tak­ing the reins to con­tin­ue sus­tain­ment oper­a­tions in sup­port of the respon­si­ble draw­down of U.S. troops and equip­ment from the Iraq.
U.S. Army pho­to by Pfc. Emi­ly Wal­ter
Click to enlarge

“We’re mov­ing out mil­lions of pieces of equip­ment,” the pres­i­dent said in a speech to the Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans describ­ing progress toward reduc­ing the U.S. foot­print in Iraq to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1, and ulti­mate­ly to zero by the end of 2011.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Cor­son, com­man­der of the Army Reserve’s 103rd Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand, is the point man on the ground charged with over­see­ing the logis­ti­cal with­draw­al while con­tin­u­ing to sup­port forces on the ground.

Con­duct­ing the largest re-pos­tur­ing of forces and equip­ment in more than 40 years is noth­ing short of “mon­u­men­tal,” he acknowl­edged dur­ing a phone inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice from his head­quar­ters at Joint Base Bal­ad in Iraq. It’s an around-the-clock oper­a­tion that involves fly­ing sev­er­al thou­sand troops and mov­ing 3,000 to 4,000 trucks loaded with their accom­pa­ny­ing equip­ment, prop­er­ty and sup­plies to Kuwait or the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr every day.

The pace of the exo­dus – about 72,000 pieces of equip­ment a month since June 2009 – is up, Cor­son report­ed. Dur­ing May alone, U.S. forces returned 146,700 pieces of equip­ment to the Unit­ed States, includ­ing 2,700 vehi­cles, gen­er­a­tors, trail­ers and mate­r­i­al-han­dling equip­ment.

Most of the equip­ment gets returned to the States, some gets sent for­ward to troops in Afghanistan, and under tight­ly con­trolled con­di­tions based on a con­gres­sion­al man­date, some gets left behind for use by Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

Just five weeks after assum­ing com­mand of the logis­ti­cal draw­down, Cor­son said he’s sat­is­fied by the progress. “So far, it’s going extreme­ly well,” he said. “We are actu­al­ly two weeks ahead of sched­ule.”

That’s a far cry from how Cor­son felt back in 2003, when, as com­man­der of the 450th Con­trol Bat­tal­ion, his focus was on surg­ing mas­sive quan­ti­ties of logis­ti­cal sup­port into Iraq to sup­port the ini­tial U.S. troops there.

“We got here about two weeks after forces crossed the berm (into Iraq) and found our­selves play­ing catch-up,” he said of the ini­tial deploy­ment. Work­ing with com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment they were issued on arrival, and hav­ing to set up the sys­tems and process­es sup­port the logis­ti­cal oper­a­tion, Cor­son called the mis­sion “a peri­od of high adven­ture.” “The Army did its best to train us for what we were going to face dur­ing [Oper­a­tion Iraqi 1] dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion of Iraq, but the truth was, we didn’t know what we were going to face,” he said. “We found that the adapt­abil­i­ty and resource­ful­ness of the Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­ber real­ly came into play, because we made a lot of our process­es up and per­fect­ed them on the spot – and we were suc­cess­ful.”

Draw­ing down in Iraq is a whole dif­fer­ent sto­ry. “We now have excel­lent facil­i­ties, excel­lent infra­struc­ture and excel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” Cor­son said. “The biggest chal­lenge fac­ing us now is that we have so much stuff… and we have to make sure the move­ment is all coor­di­nat­ed, and that we exe­cute it well and safe­ly while also sus­tain­ing the force.” And with a clear­er sense of what the draw­down mis­sion would entail, the Army was able to set up Corson’s team for suc­cess from the start.

“A tremen­dous amount of plan­ning went into this, in very great detail, so we came into a very well-planned oper­a­tion,” he said.

Cor­son and his key staff spent months inter­fac­ing with the unit they replaced in Iraq, the 13th Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand, before the deploy­ment to ensure a smooth tran­si­tion.

They also par­tic­i­pat­ed in sev­er­al major exer­cis­es, includ­ing a mas­sive com­mand post exer­cise at Fort Lee, Va., that Cor­son said prepped them staff for many of the sit­u­a­tions they’re now encoun­ter­ing in Iraq “It’s like we were in a sim­u­la­tor,” he said. “When we face chal­lenges here, I tell peo­ple, we have seen this before. We have done this before.”

“We’re extreme­ly well-trained for this, and that is one of the rea­sons I think it’s going so well,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s because so much effort on the part of the ser­vices was put into this that it set us up for suc­cess.”

Now on the ground, Cor­son cred­its his team of active-duty, Army Reserve and Nation­al Guard sol­diers, air­men, sailors, civil­ians and con­trac­tors with putting this prepa­ra­tion to work as they endure gru­el­ing hours, sti­fling heat and chal­leng­ing con­di­tions to keep the mis­sion on track.

He paid par­tic­u­lar trib­ute to the truck dri­vers and con­voy escort teams who run 70 to 100 con­voys every day, bump­ing their way down Iraq’s road­way sys­tem that’s noto­ri­ous­ly busy by day and long and lone­ly by night.

“These are some of the hard­est-work­ing folks I’ve ever met, and every­body wants to be here,” he said. “The typ­i­cal work­week is a 13- or 14-hour day, six-and-a-half days a week, and if we didn’t make them take that half day, many of them wouldn’t.”

Con­cerned that they may be push­ing them­selves too hard – par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of progress already made — Cor­son recent­ly direct­ed a “safe­ty stand-down” so his troops can “catch their breath” and per­form extra vehi­cle as well as per­son­al main­te­nance. The mis­sion will con­tin­ue 24/7, he said, but at a slight­ly slow­er pace in the inter­est of keep­ing it safe. These troops “are doing a fan­tas­tic job of get­ting things were they need to be and get­ting the mate­r­i­al out,” Cor­son said, and all rec­og­nize the mag­ni­tude of their mis­sion. “Folks are very excit­ed about this because they know that once again, we are mak­ing his­to­ry, and this is their oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­tribute.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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