Sustainers Share Expertise With Iraqi Forces

WASHINGTON — Rec­og­niz­ing that the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces — no mat­ter how well they’re trained and equipped — require an equal­ly capa­ble sus­tain­ment net­work, U.S. logis­ti­cians have moved into over­drive shar­ing exper­tise they say will be crit­i­cal after U.S. forces leave Iraq.
As the Army Reserve’s 103rd Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand focus­es on keep­ing the rough­ly 50,000 U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers in Iraq sup­plied and mov­ing excess equip­ment out of the coun­try to meet the Dec. 31 with­draw­al dead­line, it’s also tak­en on a new train­ing mis­sion, its com­man­der report­ed.

“An army that can­not sus­tain itself for the long term is not real­ly a viable army,” Army Brig. Gen. Mark Cor­son told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice from his head­quar­ters at Joint Base Bal­ad in Iraq. “Even­tu­al­ly their equip­ment will fall apart. Even­tu­al­ly they will run out of bullets.” 

Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, assigned the new train­ing mis­sion to the 103rd about two months ago to shore up gaps with­in Iraq’s logis­ti­cal net­work -– the prover­bial “tail” need­ed to sup­port the com­bat “teeth.”

“They have the basic maneu­ver piece down,” Cor­son said of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces. “But the rea­son Gen­er­al Austin puts so much empha­sis on this is that he real­izes at the strate­gic lev­el that an army that pro­vides that lev­el of secu­ri­ty but can­not sus­tain itself for the long term is going to have real problems.” 

A recent report by the inspec­tor gen­er­al for Iraq recon­struc­tion expressed con­cern that real or poten­tial gaps in Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces’ capa­bil­i­ties could affect their abil­i­ty to lock in hard-won secu­ri­ty gains, cit­ing logis­tics as an area requir­ing improvement. 

Cor­son agreed that a sol­id logis­tics, trans­porta­tion and sus­tain­ment capa­bil­i­ty is crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing progress in Iraq, par­tic­u­lar­ly among its secu­ri­ty forces, after U.S. forces leave. 

“You may have good maneu­ver forces and secu­ri­ty forces, [but] if you can’t sus­tain them so that they are fueled, fed and armed, they are not going to be very long-lived and not very robust,” he said. 

“It is one thing to put forces out there that can man check­points and guard things,” he con­tin­ued. “It is anoth­er thing to have a force that can actu­al­ly sus­tain and regen­er­ate itself — in oth­er words, over the long haul, they can con­tin­ue to fix their vehi­cles, keep every­one sup­plied with ammu­ni­tion, and keep every­body prop­er­ly fed.” 

Cor­son said the Iraqis have no short­age of logis­tics skills at the tac­ti­cal or unit level. 

“They have excel­lent mechan­ics who can not only fix things, but if they don’t have the parts, they can actu­al­ly fab­ri­cate the parts,” he said. “In spite of a lack of tools, they are very resource­ful.” Now, he added, the task is to extend that capa­bil­i­ty to high­er lev­els of sus­tain­ment, into the high­ly com­plex enter­prise man­age­ment arena. 

“It’s not just teach­ing them how to fix things and hang parts, but the whole process of main­te­nance, of require­ments devel­op­ment, of devel­op­ing an enter­prise man­age­ment solu­tion,” Cor­son explained. 

“It goes all the way from ‘How do you, at the nation­al lev­el, bud­get and pro­cure parts which typ­i­cal­ly are bought from abroad?’ ” he said. “How do you do that, between the finance min­istry and the min­istry of defense, and then get those parts to the high­er-lev­el depots and then get them dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try? That is seri­ous busi­ness that is not eas­i­ly done, so I think our oppor­tu­ni­ty is to help them, with our var­i­ous train­ing part­ners, to be able to mas­ter that process.” 

The 103rd Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand has plen­ty of exper­tise to share. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing sus­tain­ment for the 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, the command’s sol­diers arrived just in time to sup­port the logis­ti­cal draw­down of forces from 130,000.

Now, with about two months left of their deploy­ment, they are con­tin­u­ing the logis­ti­cal draw­down while fine-tun­ing the plan for the full with­draw­al of U.S. forces by Dec. 31. In addi­tion to mil­i­tary-acquired skills, many unit mem­bers bring par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able exper­tise from their civil­ian jobs. 

For exam­ple, Army Lt. Col. Ger­ry Schwartz, Corson’s deputy sup­port oper­a­tions offi­cer, is a Lean Six Sig­ma black belt for Hewlett-Packard, respon­si­ble for the company’s man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion oper­a­tions through­out North and South America. 

Anoth­er unit mem­ber is an engi­neer with sev­er­al patents to his name and sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence in project man­age­ment and process management.

“We have a fair num­ber of peo­ple with real­ly sub­stan­tial civil­ian-acquired skills who can bring those to bear. And we think that is part of our val­ue-added,” Cor­son said. “We also have some high­ly expe­ri­enced reserve- and active-com­po­nent offi­cers with great mil­i­tary-acquired skills at this lev­el of logis­tics operations.” 

Despite their exper­tise, Cor­son said, he and his sus­tain­ers rec­og­nize the impor­tance of diplo­ma­cy as they share it with the Iraqis. He not­ed that he first learned that les­son while deployed to Koso­vo in 2001 sup­port­ing the Koso­vo Pro­tec­tion Corps. 

“You don’t just walk into some­body else’s oper­a­tion and throw your weight around,” he said. “You have to be diplo­mat­ic, and you have to be cul­tur­al­ly aware of how they do things, why they do things and rec­og­nize that we are not going to try to force upon them our ways. We have to learn their ways of doing it and help them to improve their process­es along the way.” 

Using this approach, Cor­son said, his expert sus­tain­ers have a chance to make a big dif­fer­ence in help­ing the Iraqis take their sus­tain­ment appa­ra­tus to the next lev­el. Cor­son said he sees the Iraqis mak­ing strides. 

“They have a nation­al depot that is actu­al­ly very well resourced, with some real­ly excel­lent ware­hous­es and work­shops,” he said. “They have a gen­er­al trans­porta­tion reg­i­ment that is very pro­fi­cient at its mis­sion to take things and get them to where they are sup­posed to go.” 

What’s need­ed now, he said, is an abil­i­ty to “con­nect the dots” –- get­ting all of those pieces to work together. 

“I think the poten­tial is cer­tain­ly there,” Cor­son said. “But they still need some addi­tion­al help in flesh­ing all that out.” 

Ten months into their deploy­ment, Cor­son and his com­mand rec­og­nize they’re work­ing against the clock to get a lot accomplished. 

“You might think, as we come to the end of our tour, that we are ready to take it easy and pack it up and pack it in, but it is absolute­ly the oppo­site,” he said. “Our oper­a­tions tem­po has increased with this advise-and-train mis­sion, along with our plan­ning activ­i­ties and our draw­down activities.” 

Mean­while, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told Con­gress ear­li­er this week that he expects the Iraqis to encounter some ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ties with logis­tics and oth­er issues as U.S. forces leave. 

“The truth of the mat­ter is, the Iraqis are going to have some prob­lems that they’re going to have to deal with if we are not there in some num­bers,” he told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. In addi­tion to logis­tics and main­te­nance, he cit­ed intel­li­gence fusion and the abil­i­ty to pro­tect Iraqi airspace. 

Gates hint­ed that the Unit­ed States might be able to pro­vide extend­ed sup­port beyond Dec. 31, but only if the Iraqis request it. 

“This is the agree­ment that was signed by Pres­i­dent [George W.] Bush and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, and we will abide by the agree­ment unless the Iraqis ask us to have addi­tion­al peo­ple there,” he said. 

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

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