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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