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Transportation Chief: Atrophied deployment skills must be bolstered

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 21, 2014) -- The Army has been at war for nearly 13 years now in Afghanistan. And while many units have deployed, some multiple times, Army leaders say units may be lacking the pre-deployment readiness skills that will be necessary for future operations.

"It seems counterintuitive, with the operations tempo we've had and the number of deployments we've had," said Brig. Gen. John P. Sullivan, chief of transportation and commandant of the U.S. Army Transportation school. "But there have been a number of unit deployment skills that have atrophied."

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Sullivan spoke yesterday, at a force sustainment seminar in Arlington, Va., hosted by the Association of the United States Army.

One example of atrophied skills is the unit-level staging and loading of equipment out of garrison for deployment. Sullivan said these skills were at one time exercised regularly by Army units during "emergency deployment readiness exercises."

The general said that while not easy, pre-deployment processes for units going to Iraq and Afghanistan have been "pretty much uniform" across the board. Those processes included immense contractor support in their efforts to mobilize.

Additionally, he said units have relied almost exclusively on theater-provided equipment as part of their deployment process. That is, they didn't bring with them to theater most of the vehicles and heavy gear they would need there. Instead, they inherited that equipment in theater from the units they replaced.

"In OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) for example -- certainly from OIF-3 and onward, units by and large deployed with containers, not with all of their organic MTOE (modification table of organization and equipment)," he said. "As we look forward, as we expect units to deploy in a short timeline, not in a rotational manner, not with long lead times, possibly with all or most of their organic MTOE equipment, to an environment that does not have the robust contractor support that units have had here before, it calls for training a certain number of skills."

He said that the Rapid Expeditionary Deployment Initiative is a step the Army has taken to prepare for that -- "To try to re-instill some of those basic expeditionary deployment skills that have atrophied over the past 12 or 13 years."


The AUSA conference, called "Sustaining the Force 2025," put an array of sustainment professionals together to discuss how the Army and the joint force must adapt to be prepared for future conflicts and commitments.

In particular, the seminar focused on sustainment aspects of the future fight, and how the Army must adjust in the next 10 years.

Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, speaking as part of the same "Strategic Mobility Now to 2025" panel as Sullivan, said that in terms of transportation capability -- aircraft and ocean-going vessels -- he believed the joint force was squared away.

Instead, he said, he is concerned primarily with delivery of warfighting materials across the "last tactical distance."

"Where we are not very good is access, infrastructure, and options or flexibility," Harnitchek said. "All those machines don't mean anything if you can't clear the port, if the road networks aren't any good, if the airfields aren't long enough or plentiful enough and are not air-mobility friendly. If we can't close that last operational, tactical distance ... it really doesn't make any difference if you can get it close. If you can't get it all the way there, you haven't completed your mission."

"I think if we need to do anything in terms of homework here, between now and the immediate future, 2025 or so, it's figuring out where we have to operate and then doing that hard work that discusses how do we close that operational and tactical distance," Harnitchek said. "How do we build a network here that allows us to exercise leverage?"

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