By C. Todd Lopez
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Dec. 01, 2011) -- In 2008, there were more than 500 military bases in Iraq manned by U.S. military personnel. Before United States Forces-Iraq leaves that country at the end of 2011, the future of each installation must be determined, and an appropriate transition must be made to either the Iraqis or the U.S. State Department.
In general military parlance, most of those locations are referred to as "forward operating bases," though they are known by more specific names, based on their size. A "contingency operating base," for instance, is a larger facility that might house a brigade combat team, a "contingency operating site" would be sized for a BCT-sized element or smaller and a "contingency operating location" might house a battalion-sized element. There are also patrol bases, and joint security stations, and coalition outposts.
Each property, including the infrastructure must be evaluated before turnover. Equipment must be moved out or transitioned, and property must be legally and responsibly transitioned to the follow-on unit or organization that will occupy it.
By late July 2011, the portfolio of installations the U.S. military occupied in Iraq had dropped by some 90 percent, to about 57. By Dec. 31, that number will have dropped to zero.
Brigadier Gen. Scott F. "Rock" Donahue, director, J-7, U.S. Forces- Iraq, said bases are transitioned to the government of Iraq through a "very deliberate, base transition process" that he says is outlined in "The USF-I Base Transition Smartbook."
"'Transition,' like FOB is an overarching term," Donahue said. "We can either close a base, return it to the government of Iraq, conduct a partial return of a base or complete an administrative closure. The base transition Smartbook explains how we do this."
There are many people involved in the process, with as many as five "lines of operation" needed to complete a transition, the general said. Included among those are real estate management, environmental oversight, property distribution, contracting and documentation and final real estate transfer.
Transitioning a military installation after it has been used for so many years is akin to moving out of a home, Donahue said. "We inventory property and ensure facilities are clean, functional and free of any debts or financial burdens."
He said about 45 days prior to USF-I leaving an installation in Iraq, they begin a "weaning" process where various services cease. Included among those might be morale, welfare and recreation services as well as various utilities. "You start to thin and consolidate," he said.
And while Soldiers are repositioned off those installations, to ensure a "responsible drawdown" of forces, USF-I coordinates with the Iraqis to determine who is going to accept the property on the installation, and who is going to accept the facility or base.
The government of Iraq provides a "receivership secretariate," who works with the USF-I J-7 basing team to complete the transition, Donahue said. The joint process is meant to ensure the transition is conducted fairly and accounts for the installation and everything on it: furniture, utilities and key infrastructure such as water treatment plants, hazardous waste treatment centers and incinerators.
In most cases, the installations are transitioned whole to an Iraqi unit. In the case of Victory Base Complex -- the largest of the 12 "large" bases in Iraq, situated outside Baghdad International Airport -- the installation will be parceled out in various pieces to different ministries of the Iraqi government, including the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense.
Allowing the government of Iraq to take pieces of VBC, means USF-I no longer needs to provide security for that part of the installation.
"It allows us to thin our own lines, which minimizes the resources we have to commit," Donahue said. "That's one aspect of that land you don't have to worry about."
Not all installations will transfer to the Iraqis, however. Some "enduring sites" will instead transfer to the U.S. Department of State, for use by the U.S. embassy.
Another aspect of the installation transition process includes ensuring that the location meets U.S. Central Command and USF-I environmental regulations. While Iraq itself has no environmental regulations, Donahue said, USF-I remains "very good stewards of the environment here. Our aim is to protect the natural environment as well as human health and safety," he said.
Before a base is transitioned in Iraq, USF-I conducts several environmental site closure surveys. "Our goal here is to mitigate any of our environmental challenges and minimize any of the environmental impacts," Donahue said.
The USF-I works to "mitigate," not "remediate" environmental issues in Iraq, he added. Fuel spills, for example, are something they routinely mitigate.
"We do that through environmental response and cleanup teams," Donahue said. The teams go out and assess a spill, or a lagoon, for instance "and determine what we need to do to restore these facilities in accordance with CENTCOM 200-2."
The general was careful to point out that installations in Iraq are not being returned in accordance with U.S. environmental regulations. "That would be unrealistic and impractical, and extremely costly," he said.
In Iraq, burn pits have been removed and replaced with incinerators. Hazardous waste treatment centers have been set up and cleanup actions, such as oil spills, have taken place at more than 600 sites in the last year.
"It's down to how do we take care of lithium batteries or printer cartridges," he said. "From small things to the big things, like incineration of trash -- including medical waste or regulated waste."
Transitioning land sometimes involves more than just accountability and environmental issues, Donahue said. Land deeds must be verified to ensure that no one has a claim on the land. In some cases, he said, there may be unexpected claims to land from outsiders.
"We get involved in real estate management to determine if there's validity to that claim or not," he said, noting that USF-I works with the government of Iraq to establish the validity of those claims.
It's not just land that USF-I must transition. In July, there were a little more than 1 million pieces of U.S. government-owned property in country that had to be dealt with. That number was down from more than 2 million when Operation New Dawn began in September 2010.
All of USF-I's vehicles, weapons, buildings, equipment and infrastructure on an installation must be accounted for and then either transferred to the Department of State, destroyed, sold, handed over to Iraq, sent back to the United States for reset or transferred to other theaters of operation.
According to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Richardson, the USF-I, J-4, property in Iraq is categorized as either organizational property, theater-provided equipment or contractor-operated/government-owned.
Organizational property includes those things a unit brings with them from home. It's clear how that leaves the country, he said: The unit takes it home with them.
It's the theater-provided equipment, such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles and communications equipment, as well as the contractor-operated/government-owned equipment like fuel trucks, containerized housing units and generators, that must be dealt with.
How it all gets where it belongs, Richardson said, involves "a very methodical process that only the U.S. military could come up with."
Theater-provided equipment, for example, goes into a database and a determination is then made regarding its disposition.
"That property, for instance a radio, might need to be reset," Richardson said, meaning restoring an item to an as-new condition. "So it goes to Tobyhanna Army Depot for reset. Or something else that doesn't need to be reset might go to Fort Hood. That disposition is given all the way down to the supply sergeant."
A unit supply sergeant then does all the paperwork and takes it to the redistribution property assistance team, where it is taken off the sergeant's property book and added to another set of books.
"There's a shipping address and trucks to pick it up, and eventually it goes home," Richardson said, adding most non-sensitive items will leave Iraq by contractor-provided surface transportation. Sensitive items, such as weapons, are taken southbound through Kuwait by military convoy. In July, he said, about 500 truckloads of equipment made their way to Kuwait. Urgent-need items bound for Afghanistan, like firefighting equipment, depart Iraq by air.
Air Force Capt. Chris L. Martagon runs the RPAT yard at Victory Base Complex near Baghdad International Airport.
He and his team of Soldiers and Airmen are responsible for gathering both equipment and vehicles that will be shipped out of country back to the United States, or moved to other missions in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
"(Business) is definitely picking up now because units are trying to get out of here. So, as they complete their mission, they are getting rid of all their stuff so they can redeploy and head back to the States," Martagon said. "We are staying consistently busy."
In July, there were hundreds of pieces of equipment in his yard, including about 101 MRAP vehicles that he is responsible for. Of those, about 40 were headed to Kuwait, and the rest were headed to other missions in Iraq.
When a piece of rolling stock, like an MRAP, comes to the yard, Air Force Staff Sgt. Lamar Harvey, the noncommissioned officer in charge of rolling stock, manages the in-processing inspection of the vehicle.
"We're looking ... to make sure they have the correct paperwork, and make sure these vehicles are free of trash, and make sure all the accountable items are there," Harvey said. "We also verify the vehicle identification number, stock numbers, serial numbers and make sure it matches up with the paperwork so we know what we are accountable for."
The RPAT yard also accepts non-rolling stock, including computers, communications equipment and even surplus enhanced-small arms protective inserts.
Across Iraq, there are about eight RPAT yards, with the one managed by Martagon being the busiest. Between October 2010 and July 2011, those eight RPAT yards together received and shipped more than 5,000 pieces of rolling stock. They also received and shipped more than 80,000 pieces of non-rolling stock.
Facility items on an installation -- the air conditioners, containerized housing units, cooking supplies in dining facilities, tents, latrine facilities, shower facilities and generators, for instance -- might all either be destroyed, turned in to the Defense Reutilization Management Office or given to the Iraqis as foreign excess personal property, but it all must be itemized.
"We account for everything," Richardson said. "Every T-wall, every Hesco barrier is accounted for."
When FOB Sykes was closed in the north, it was turned over to the Iraqis, Richardson said.
"There were about 7,000 pieces of property there," he said. "We shipped roughly 500-600 items out of there to go to the State Department." The transfer shipment included the firefighting equipment at FOB Sykes and a gymnasium. The rest, Richardson said, became FEPP.
A FEPP package, he said, could be almost 350 pages long, and itemizes things that will go to the Iraqis. Getting things on that list involves a business case analysis to determine what the item is worth, and what it would cost to ship it versus giving it away.
"We consider it a cost avoidance," Richardson said. "Because if we have to send it all out, we have to pay for someone to ... take it all apart."
Stuff that's been used in Iraq for seven years, for instance, may not be worth the cost of shipping it home. Other items might not have any value in the United States. Containerized housing units, used as sleeping quarters by Soldiers in Iraq, for example, run on 220-volt power.
"If I would send that back to the United States, what would we do with it?" asked Richardson. "We are a 110-volt society." So the CHUs stay in Iraq, with a FEPP sticker indicating they will become the property of the Iraqis, if they want them.
"The challenge is to make sure we stay synchronized throughout this process," Richardson said. "That takes a large amount of communications between all of the elements turning things and working each of the problems as they arise and in finding solutions to fix the problems."
Richardson said USF-I has done the analysis needed to orchestrate the transition out of Iraq, and determined that it has what it needs to get the job done.
"We have enough trucks, we have enough time and processes to get everything out of here, and do it in an orderly fashion," he said. "This is probably the first time in the American history that we have left a place like this and in this fashion."