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Logistics Agency Lines Out Its Support to Forces in Iraq

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2003 – "Speed can kill the enemy" were some of Army Gen. Tommy Franks' words of wisdom for his commanders and troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And the U.S. forces' lightning thrust to Baghdad with minimal Iraqi resistance and few U.S. and coalition casualties substantiates this saying.

But these fast-moving combatants created a problem for the Defense Logistics Agency's logisticians: The combatants outran their supply line.

Fortunately, the problem wasn't widespread, nor did it last long, according to DLA's director, Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, during a recent interview.

"Supplying the fastest moving combatants in history was an interesting thing," said Lippert, the former commander of the Naval Supply Systems Command. "There were some isolated instances where warfighters were saying they'd run short on MREs (meals ready to eat) and bottled water. We always had enough of MREs and bottled water in theater."

Meddling With the Menus Just a Matter of Taste

American Forces Press Service

FT BELVOIR, Va., June 6, 2003 -- Any good chef knows that to stay in business, he or she has to please the diners. That principle holds true whether we're talking about four-star gourmet restaurants or Meals Ready to Eat. The Defense Supply Center Philadelphia has taken this truism to heart and recently changed the menus of its MREs.

Under a new contract, some menu items will be phased out and replaced with other entrees. MREs featuring the new entrees are going into production in June and will go immediately to the military services.

Entrees that are being eliminated include the Jamaican Pork Chop, Pasta Alfredo and the seemingly universally disliked Beef with Mushrooms. However, the current stock of MREs will be used until exhausted. The new entrees include Pork Rib and Sauce, Vegetable Manicotti and Roast Beef with Vegetables. The changes were made in response to Army surveys, which recorded the preferences expressed by military personnel in the field.

The MRE is a pre-packaged operational ration designed to sustain an individual engaged in heavy activity such as military training or during actual military operations when normal food service facilities are not available. It is totally self-contained and consists of a full meal packed in a flexible meal bag. The full bag is lightweight and fits easily into military field clothing pockets. Each meal bag contains an entre and a variety of other useful items, such as chewing gum, matches and moist toilette.

Except for the beverages, the entire meal is ready to eat. While the entre may be eaten cold, it can also be heated in many ways, including submersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entre package. Since 1991's Operation Desert Storm, a flameless ration heating device has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entre.

Each meal bag contains the components of one meal. Service members engaged in heavy activity normally consume three MREs a day. Special humanitarian daily rations are also produced and distributed to displaced persons or refugees under emergency conditions. These packs contain enough food to sustain a moderately malnourished person for one day.

DLA provides several types of MREs tailored to different dietary requirements. The Meal, Religious, Kosher or Halal, is provided for individuals in the military services who maintain a strict religious diet. Each meal consists of one kosher or halal certified entre and religiously certified or acceptable complementary items sufficient to provide the recommended daily nutritional requirements. There are two vegetarian meals in every box of MREs that support troops who, for various reasons, cannot consume meat.

(Based on a Defense Logistics Agency news release.)

Inefficiency wasn't the problem, Lippert noted. "The issue was, they advanced so quickly that in many cases they outran the distribution lines," he explained. "That's where the shortages came. The troops marched to Baghdad in a hurry and it was a matter of the supply lines catching up with them."

When it comes to comparing and contrasting support of troops during 1991's Operation Desert Storm to those in Operation Iraq Freedom, Lippert said, "There have been major, major differences. I'd put it under the broad titles of people being forward deployed with the warfighter a big difference."

Before the first shot was fired in Iraq, DLA already had customer representatives embedded with warfighters at 71 different sites around the world. At the request of U.S. Central Command, there were 72 logistics experts in-theater working as contingency support teams.

"They're there as logistics experts," Lippert said. "They communicate back to us what the issues and requirements are so we can respond much quicker than any time before."

He pointed out that communications was much faster during Iraqi Freedom than in Desert Storm, when telephones were the primary mode of communications.

The admiral noted that he uses a secure Internet system to stay in daily contact with the combatant commanders' logistics heads in theater. The messages also go right down to the logistics center that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"So I'm in communications with the warfighter in-theater and also with the Joint Staff," he said. "We get almost real-time exchange of information for what the issues are. That's a big, big difference than in anything we've had in the past."

During Desert Storm, there wasn't any way of telling exactly where shipments were or what was in them. Consequently, warfighters were ordering three times more, "hoping to get the quantity they needed," Lippert said.

That problem was solved during Iraqi Freedom by using advanced technology and having specialists in the field to handle any problems. "As we issue materiel to our distribution depots, everything gets a radio frequency identification tag on it," Lippert noted. "The recipient scans the ID tag to find out what is in the van and where it's going. So there's asset visibility that has made a huge difference."

Getting involved in the early stages of advanced planning helped DLA prepare to support warfighters during a conflict, according to the admiral. "All the way back in July 2002, the Office of the Secretary of Defense asked us to start preparing for a potential conflict," Lippert said.

"They gave us the force structure, but it wasn't exactly what we had in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but it wasn't too far off. We developed requirements based upon that medicines, food, spare parts, fuel right on down the line.

"We bought things like the chemical protection suits, MREs, sand bags and construction material," he continued. "We were consuming about 350,000 of those meals per day, so we had to make sure we had plenty of MREs. We issued 48 million MREs.

"They're still eating about 350,000 MREs per day," the admiral said. "We try to keep about seven days' worth of MREs on hand. So that's more than 2 million in theater."

MREs and certain aspects of the war got a lot of attention, but to Lippert, the most rewarding thing was the troop and weapons systems readiness.

"We had a very ready force to go into Operation Iraqi Freedom," Lippert said. "That was done because a lot of people have worked very hard to improve the overall readiness. DoD and the president made concerted efforts to increase the funding for spare parts, so we were in good shape."

Traditionally, DLA has stored materiel in warehouses and issues it as necessary, which incurs additional costs. Now the organization is saving thousands of taxpayers' dollars by contracting civilian-sector companies to manage and issue materiel.

"There are many items that move at such velocity that the private sector is willing to assume the inventory management of those items," Lippert said.

"We monitor their performance and compare our costs to manage it to the civilian company's cost manage it," he said. "If they're cheaper, we award these contracts to them. For example, we don't have any food in our warehouses anymore. We go right to them and they give us fresh stock, usually brands you recognize."

Lippert said most of the medical supplies are handled the same way and "we're doing it more and more with spare parts."

This new way of doing business requires state-of-the-art information technology systems, the admiral noted. For example, for the vast majority of items, DLA is using a system that was designed in the 1960s.

"It's written in 6 million lines of COBOL (common business-oriented language) and should have been replaced 20 years ago," he said. "We've just started replacing the system with something we call 'business systems modernization.' It's a project that uses SAP (a software company) as a backbone and has several other companies that has given us state-of-the-art world-class information technology systems."

He said instead of taking days to get items out of DLA, it now takes hours. "We have 170,000 of our 4.6 million items up on the system now," Lippert noted. "We're learning and trying to figure out to adjust our practices to these best business practices. By 2006 we plan to be up entirely on this whole system."

DLA is now involved in something called 'reconstitution.' "We have to figure out what we need to buy ahead of time so we can have the equipment back up to its full mission capability," he said.

"We're working closely with the services trying to identify in advance what these requirements are so we can get them bought," Lippert said.

Another lesson was learned from setting up a forward distribution depot in Bahrain, according to Lippert. "We put construction-type of material in there - - wire, sand bags," he said. "It was a huge success. We had a hard time keeping it filled because of the volume of business."

The admiral recently returned from Bahrain and Kuwait, where he discussed whether permanent depots should be opened in those countries. If the depots are established, the main question is, "What type of material should we stock there on a full-time basis?" Lippert noted.

The admiral pointed out that DLA is a joint command with more than 22,000 civilian employees and some 500 military for all of the services. A tenant organization at Fort Belvoir, Va., DLA manages more than 4.6 million items worldwide.

With its sales and services garnering more than $24 billion annually, if the organization was compared to Fortune 500 companies, it would rank No. 69. The far-flung global organization operates in 48 states and in 28 different countries.

Managing 4.6 million items is a mammoth task, which includes providing the services with 100 percent of their fuel, food, medical supplies and construction materials, and 90 percent of the repair parts they need.

"We get on an average 30,000 requisitions or requests for material per day," Lippert noted. "To accomplish that, we award about 4,000 contracts per day. So it's a large business from that aspect, no matter how you look at it."

With 22 distribution depots worldwide from Japan to Germany DLA runs the world's largest distribution center. Much of the material is forward-positioned in strategic locations overseas. "We run a national stockpile, defense cataloging service and property disposal operation," the admiral said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution image"Supplying the fastest moving combatants in history was an interesting thing," said Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, referring to his efforts during major combat operation in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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