Logistical Drawdown Continues in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2011 — Spring is still a month away, but that’s not stop­ping what is like­ly to be the largest and longest-run­ning spring-clean­ing project ever under­tak­en to pre­pare for the with­draw­al of U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31.
As the com­bat mis­sion in Iraq offi­cial­ly end­ed in August and U.S. forces reduced their foot­print to about 50,000 troops, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma her­ald­ed “one of the largest logis­ti­cal oper­a­tions we’ve seen in decades” with the exo­dus of mil­lions of pieces of mil­i­tary equip­ment, prop­er­ty and sup­plies.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Cor­son, com­man­der of the Army Reserve’s 103rd Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand that has over­seen that mis­sion, equat­ed it to mov­ing the entire city of St. Joseph, Mo., with all its peo­ple, vehi­cles, equip­ment and prop­er­ty, to “the oth­er side of the plan­et.” And despite the immen­si­ty of the effort, it was com­plet­ed 10 days ahead of sched­ule, he said.

Now, with about two months left in their deploy­ment, Corson’s troops are con­tin­u­ing the logis­ti­cal draw­down while lay­ing crit­i­cal ground­work for its fol­low-on unit to reduce the U.S. foot­print in Iraq to zero by the year’s end.

The draw­down oper­a­tion under way now isn’t near­ly as dra­mat­ic as the head­line-dom­i­nat­ing images of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Stryk­er Brigade dri­ving their con­voy of armored vehi­cles into Kuwait in late August.

But since the launch of Oper­a­tion New Dawn on Sept. 1, about 3,000 truck­loads of equip­ment and gear have con­tin­ued to roll out of Iraq, Army Lt. Col. Ger­ard “Ger­ry” Schwartz, the command’s deputy sup­port oper­a­tions offi­cer, report­ed. And in the months ahead, he added, the vol­ume will increase sub­stan­tial­ly.

Over­see­ing that effort isn’t sim­ply a mat­ter of mov­ing every­thing from Point A to Point B, Schwartz explained. It requires iden­ti­fy­ing what’s no longer need­ed and can be shipped home now, what can be trans­ferred to units in Afghanistan or else­where, and what’s sim­ply too worn out or cost­ly to trans­port. Under specif­i­cal­ly reg­u­lat­ed con­di­tions, the Unit­ed States can trans­fer some of its excess equip­ment to Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

Three fixed and eight mobile mate­r­i­al dis­tri­b­u­tion teams are at work through­out Iraq, help­ing units to cat­e­go­rize their prop­er­ty items.

“They’re sort­ing through things that are excess … that might poten­tial­ly be used for for­eign [mil­i­tary] sales to get to the Iraqis,” or items that could be returned to the U.S. mil­i­tary inven­to­ry , Schwartz said.

As they do so, Schwartz said, they’re ever mind­ful of the need to be good stew­ards of the tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey.

“We are cer­tain­ly aware of how much has been spent in this coun­try and how well we have been equipped, and we want to make sure every­thing we can pos­si­bly get back, that we can con­tin­ue to use in the [U.S.] inven­to­ry, that we do that,” he said.

While con­duct­ing the logis­ti­cal draw­down, the 103rd ESC faces anoth­er com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor: ensur­ing that troops on the ground have every­thing they need until the day they rede­ploy. “It’s a very del­i­cate bal­ance,” said Army Col. Kathryn Luna, the command’s plans offi­cer. “Our No. 1 mis­sion is to sup­port and sus­tain the force. So there­fore, that mis­sion can­not fail with those 50,000 troops that we have here.”

So the trick, Schwartz said, is to move for­ward with the logis­ti­cal draw­down with­out inter­fer­ing with the ongo­ing U.S. mis­sion in Iraq.

The com­mand does not want to cause any oper­a­tional impacts for Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq], or any­one else, he said.

“So that is the chal­lenge: mak­ing sure we are doing the pri­ma­ry mis­sion, which is train­ing Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, and that we don’t lean too far for­ward on get­ting things out,” Schwartz said.

This also requires the 103rd ESC to fore­cast exact­ly how much food, water, fuel and oth­er com­modi­ties it will need to move into Iraq to sus­tain a down­siz­ing force through Dec. 31, Luna said. The goal is to ship exact­ly what the force will need, and noth­ing that ends up being reshipped home.

“When it comes to sus­tain­ment, we know what we need to do based on the num­ber of [mil­i­tary, civil­ian and con­trac­tor per­son­nel] in the­ater,” Schwartz said. “But we cer­tain­ly want to make sure that when it comes to fuel capac­i­ty or the amount of rations, that we don’t over­do it. We have to keep close tabs on that.”

And in light of huge and mount­ing trans­porta­tion require­ments, the sus­tain­ers are ensur­ing that every vehi­cle that arrives in Iraq with sus­tain­ment sup­plies leaves full of out­go­ing mate­r­i­al.

“It takes trucks to bring sup­plies in, and it takes trucks to get equip­ment of out the the­ater,” Luna said. “So when those things are bal­anced, you are good to go. But it’s a very fine line, keep­ing that all bal­anced.”

Mean­while, the 103rd ESC is doing the detailed plan­ning its fol­low-on unit, the 310th Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand, will need when it takes over the sus­tain­ment and logis­ti­cal draw­down mis­sion this spring, Cor­son said.

Just as the 103rd ESC arrived in Iraq to car­ry out a mas­sive draw­down at the end of U.S. com­bat oper­a­tions, the 310th will over­see the final draw­down of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We go home in April, but our com­mit­ment is to set the con­di­tions for suc­cess for the 310th Sus­tain­ment Com­mand as they come here to replace us so that there will be a seam­less tran­si­tion, just as we had a seam­less tran­si­tion back in July to accom­plish the mis­sion,” Cor­son said. “And I think that is very impor­tant to U.S. Forces Iraq.”

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter