Partnership Integrates, Improves Combat Supply System
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 22, 2004 The Defense Department's top transportation and supply organizations have joined forces to fix a combat supply system that at times didn't perform well during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As U.S. and coalition forces raced toward Baghdad last year, some units reportedly experienced a shortage of "bullets and beans" an alarming state of affairs in the deadly serious business of waging war.
The overseas logistics problems have been fixed, in part, through application of more integrated communications between supply procurers, transporters and customers, two senior military logisticians told journalists during a March 18 press conference at Defense Logistics Agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Transformation of the U.S. military's transportation and supply systems was well under way before Operation Iraqi Freedom, explained Army Maj. Gen. Robert T. Dail, director of operations at U.S. Transportation Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Dail, who was in Illinois, participated in the joint DLA-TRANSCOM press briefing through video-teleconference technology.
Today's use of radio-frequency-identification-tagged supplies, Dail pointed out, has improved the tracking of shipped supplies and reduced logistics confusion. During the Persian Gulf War more than a decade ago, many crated goods shipped to Kuwait had to first be opened to determine what they contained before being sent to front-line units.
However, Dail said, the recently fought Iraq War revealed communication problems between front-line combat units and their rear-line suppliers. Better integration across the supply and transport chains was needed, the general said.
Before and during the recent Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, DoD policy called for TRANSCOM to deliver supplies and troops into overseas combat theaters, leaving responsibility to reorder and transport supplies for front-line units to combat commanders, Dail said.
"We would turn that (responsibility) over to a combatant commander," Dail explained, "and he would take care of the onward movement and supply of those forces." In Iraq, though, that system was sometimes found wanting, and the Army launched a 'white paper' investigation into the matter.
"What we have now is a rigid (logistics) support system that does not work well in a flexible, changing environment," Army Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, the Army Staff's logistics chief, noted in an article published in the Jan. 15 issue of Aviation Week's "Net Defense."
Addressing digital communicators at a conference here Jan. 21, retired Navy Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation, noted that supply problems in Iraq resulted, in part, because logisticians use separate information and command and control systems apart from those that warfighters use.
"The fact of the matter is that there is dysfunction from both of those things, and that has to change," Cebrowski, DoD's chief transformation proponent, declared.
As part of initiatives to improve the military's supply system, Dail said TRANSCOM was designated as DoD's overall supply distribution process manager. TRANSCOM, Dail said, promptly formed a partnership with DLA, and logistics technicians were sent to join forward-deployed division headquarters staffs.
Now, Dail explained, "We have deployed our experts into overseas areas, armed with information technology the latest in (logistics management) systems and they are providing a real-time visibility of the requirements that our military members need to support their operations overseas."
That change, Dail asserted, has produced "a tremendous improvement" in how the military provides supplies and services to deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
"No longer are we just looking from the national level at providing forces and delivering goods to overseas airports and seaports," Dail noted, "but now, we're looking at delivering them and tracking them all the way to forward locations, and northern locations in Iraq, far-forward locations in Afghanistan."
Army Maj. Gen. Daniel G. Mongeon, director of DLA's logistics operations, echoed Dail's assertions during the press briefing, noting the DLA-TRANSCOM partnership "brings together complementary capabilities and skills essential to effectively and efficiently supporting our military services."
The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, Mongeon noted, "rely on DLA to provide a huge variety of items," including food, fuel, medical supplies, clothing, construction materials and more than 90 percent of weapon systems repair parts.
In mid-January, a Deployment and Distribution Operations Center was set up in Kuwait to facilitate U.S. Central Command's supply and personnel distribution systems, Mongeon noted. Army Brig. Gen. John C. Levasseur, director of DLA's reserve mobilization office, left for Kuwait in February to assume directorship of the DDOC from Air Force Brig. Gen. Brad Baker.
And, Mongeon said DLA plans to establish a forward-deployed supply depot to better support and improve CENTCOM's logistics operations.
The partnership with "supply-chain integrator" DLA, Dail pointed out, leverages TRANSCOM's "awesome capability to deliver forces and material around the globe, armed with greatest and latest information technologies to support our professionals.
"These have been the major improvements that we've seen since one year ago when we first began this journey," he concluded.