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Reliable Tempo draws down 13-year combat footprint in Afghanistan

By C. Todd Lopez

AFGHANISTAN (April 09, 2015) -- By Dec. 31, 2014, the United States transferred more than 300 military installations and $180 million in foreign excess personal property to the Afghan government. Concurrently, more than 30,000 pieces of rolling stock and 50,000 shipping containers of equipment were sent back to the United States, as well.

Much of that work was accomplished under the direction of the Army's 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), or TSC, as part of its four-phase Operation Drum Beat, or ODB, and Operation Reliable Tempo, or ORT, from June 2012 - December 2014, which was designed to remove U.S. Service members, equipment and vehicles from Afghanistan by the presidentially-mandated, Dec. 31, 2014, deadline, thus transitioning the U.S. presence from the Operation Enduring Freedom, or OEF, combat mission to the Operation Resolute Support, or ORS, mission.

The ORS mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, while leaving security responsibilities to the Afghans.

Under the guidance and orders of International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, Joint Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan, or USFOR-A, Commander Maj. Gen. Jeffery Colt, who provided operational command over ODB, the 1st TSC and 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), or ESC, conducted ORT with a "team of teams," which was required to tackle this monumental mission; no one command or agency could do it alone.

To accomplish the mission, the 1st TSC and USFOR-A depended upon strategic partnerships with Army Materiel Command; Defense Logistics Agency; U.S. Transportation Command; Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command; U.S. Central Command J-4; U.S. Central Command Deployment Distribution Operations Center; Army G-4; assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology; and others.

"Our relationship with these strategic partners was the key to success," said Maj. Gen. Darrell Williams, commander, 1st TSC. "This is the ultimate team sport."

"The 1st TSC's operational command post, located in Kuwait, and its main command post, located on Fort Bragg, N.C., provided tremendous reach capability fostering success in personnel and equipment management that supported the retrograde of equipment from Afghanistan," Williams said.

Operating forward in Afghanistan, from April to December 2014, to conduct the ORT Phase 3 and 4 retrograde mission for the 1st TSC, was the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, or ESC, commanded by Brig. Gen. Flem B. Walker Jr.

The 3rd ESC accomplished, what is seen as arguably the largest and most demanding retrograde of equipment and personnel in the Army's modern era. This is due to the challenging geographical location of Afghanistan and the aggressive timeline to retrograde equipment out of the country by the end of 2014.

The 3rd ESC was involved in Ph.D.-level logistics, using lessons learned from Iraq to get the mission accomplished. Afghanistan is a landlocked country. To retrograde equipment, it was necessary to use every possible transportation node, while placing an emphasis on the stewardship of resources and creating efficiencies.

"Our mission in Afghanistan was to be the single-sustainment mission command for the entire combined joint operations area," Walker said. "In concert with our doctrinal mission to serve as a forward operational command post for a theater sustainment command, we were able to serve that role operating under the 1st TSC, whose focus is on the entire [U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility]."

"Sustainment is a team sport, and it was an entire enterprise effort that resulted in our strategic and operational successes over this last year," he said.

Walker said that during the retrograde from Afghanistan, the 3rd ESC's mission involved five major lines of effort: daily sustainment operations, theater provided equipment, or TPE, retrograde, materiel reduction, support to base closure/transfer, and preserving the first team.

More retrograde-specific lines of effort included the collection and sending home of TPE back to the United States, which includes "rolling stock," or combat vehicles. "We executed that through the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, out of Army Sustainment Command, or ASC. TPE accountability and retrograde have been top priority missions for them and we simply could not have been as successful without their expertise."

The 3rd ESC also focused on materiel reduction, which included the sorting, processing and shipment of virtually any type of standard and non-standard type of equipment imaginable that was either identified for disposal through Defense Logistics Agency-direct support or put back into the Army's inventory for future use.

The 3rd ESC supervised base closures and transfer of installations. "We've been very successful in doing that through our USCENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] Materiel Recovery Element, or CMRE, Brigade, which consisted primarily of a sustainment brigade headquarters, two engineer battalions and a combat sustainment support battalion," Walker said. "The CMRE was developed based on many lessons learned from the Iraq retrograde operation and proved to be our biggest "game-changer" in terms of our success in expeditious, standardized base deconstruction efforts."

The 3rd ESC also focused on preserving the 1st Team. "We practice on a daily basis the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program with all of our down-trace units," Walker said. "Engaged leadership, with emphasis on the five pillars of fitness [emotional, social, physical, spiritual, family], enabled our sustainers to remain focused and resilient throughout the deployment."

TRANSFER OF BASES

At one point, there were some 300 military installations that ranged in size from installations including Kandahar Airfield, also known as KAF, or Bagram Airfield, also known as BAF - two of the largest - down to "installations" that amounted to maybe just one building.

The U.S. footprint included installation "clusters," where multiple smaller facilities, each with their own security, sat in close proximity to one another that they were counted as one installation.

By the start of ORS, the U.S. footprint had to be reduced to less than 30 installations. Making that happen meant transferring existing installations to the Afghans. The United States worked with Afghan commanders to determine what they wanted and could sustain on their own. These installations were "de-scoped" to such a degree the Afghans could take care of them on their own.

Included among the responsibilities of base closure was the removal of personnel, equipment, rolling stock and non-rolling-stock equipment, as well as either complete or partial removal of facilities before the handover to the Afghans.

Lt. Col. Doug Kadetz, 3rd ESC, support operations branch at BAF, explained that situation regarding one installation case, where there had been a land dispute over what would happen to the facility once the United States handed it back to the Afghans. Cases like this could result in installations being stripped to nothing more than the concrete slabs that buildings once sat on, he said.

"We had to fully reduce Forward Operating Base Walton down to basically hard stands and level the entire forward operating base," he said." That means leveling every building, every piece of infrastructure, every re-locatable Connex, t-wall and concrete barrier. That took a significant amount of effort."

"Our guidance was that anything that was a sustainable structure, concrete buildings or maintenance structures for instance, be maintained or left for transition to the Afghan National Security Forces for their use," Kadetz said.

Lt. Col. Mark Ogburn, commander of the 608th Construction Management Team, managed two engineer battalions in Afghanistan that conducted much of the base closure. He said his team did the coordination and synchronization of those assets throughout the Combined Joint Operations Afghanistan to determine what was needed by the customers to start de-scoping a facility.

He described the work as taking the timeline for building up a base and flipping it on its head.

"We manage construction. You start from zero, you pour the foundation, and you end with the roof," he said. "Then you paint everything and move in. Now we are doing that in reverse. We took our schedule and flipped it upside down and did it in reverse. It was still the same ... we just had to learn to untie our shoes instead of tie our shoes."

For installations that would not be completely stripped, such as at Forward Operating Base Walton, Ogburn's team made sure the installations to be transferred met the needs of the Afghans.

"What we're doing is setting up Afghans for success," he said.

MATERIEL REDUCTION

During the Phase 3 and Phase 4 portions of ORT, the 1st TSC set goals for itself to move a significant amount of both equipment and vehicles out of theater. The Phase 3 goal was to move more than 3,374 combat vehicles out of country. For Phase 4, that goal was 3,453. Overall, during ORT, the 1st TSC ensured that more than 14,000 combat vehicles were shipped out of the country.

Similar goals existed for non-rolling stock, which could be anything from communications gear to mine-detection equipment. Phase 3 saw a goal of 240 20-foot-equivalent units of equipment slated to leave the country, while the goal in Phase 4 was to ship 232 TEU's of equipment.

Significantly larger numbers of combat vehicles and non-rolling stock left Afghanistan before the start of ORT.

And while some materiel was prepared to go home, much more was either sold in theater to the Afghans, or was destroyed in theater and the scrap sold off. Such equipment would have cost more to send home than it would cost to buy new back in the states, said 1st Lt. Petar Mostarac, 133rd Quartermaster Company, at the KAF retrosort yard.

"With an old keyboard we've been using for 10 years, it doesn't make sense to ship that back home," Mostarac said. "It costs $20,000 per container to ship. It's better off buying it from Staples. Most of these items here are going to DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] to get destroyed. But we are capturing high-dollar items like vehicles and communications equipment."

At Mostarac's retrosort yard at KAF, Soldiers received containers of equipment from the field, sometimes as many as 500 20-foot-equivalent units a month, that needed to be sorted through to determine its value and whether to send it back home or not.

"We had some play," Mostarac said in making a decision. "But our biggest assistance came from the Standard Army Retail Supply System [SARSS]."

Mostarac said the SARSS helped them determine the value of an item, using its National Stock Number. How much the Army needed an item back in the supply system also played a role in the decision. The partnerships with Army Materiel Command and the different lifecycle management commands that fall under them, such as Communications and Electronics Command, and Aviation and Missile Command and Tank Automotive Command, helped with the retrosort operation, Mostarac said.

He said subject-matter experts from these components worked with the Soldiers at the yard to identify and sort items and look for high-value items.

"You might see a toaster-sized item come through here that's worth $300,000," Mostarac said. "It's critical we capture those items."

Mostarac's retrosort yard was not the only one in Afghanistan. There was another at BAF as well. In addition, teams went to outlying installations as they were closing, to capture materiels and determine if those materials were even worth sending to the larger retrosort yards for further processing.

"The forward retrograde elements would pull out the scrap materiel and trash first, rather than send it back here and pay for the shipping," Mostarac said. "If it was scrap metal or a mattress, we could just as easily sell ... for 10 cents a pound or something like that, and get rid of that, and pull out the bulk stuff. And what they sent back here is the high-dollar stuff."

Making such decisions at the origin means the materiel doesn't have to be convoyed back -- putting Soldiers' lives at risk, said Lt. Col. Daniel Fresh, support operations officer, 45th Sustainment Brigade, CMRE.

"That materiel was either reduced or given to Defense Logistics Agency - Disposition Services, or DLA-DS, to be redistributed or scrapped out, forward," Fresh said. "The Soldiers didn't have to drive it back. About 90 percent of all materiel that was out forward, was not worth the effort to bring it back. It saved Soldier's lives, it saved money. We reduced it all forward."

Defense Logistics Agency - Disposition Services operated a yard at BAF, where equipment and gear that would not be sent home or could not be sold to the Afghans or others were properly disposed of in theater. In many cases that means a large industrial shredder. In other cases, it meant something was dismantled with a torch by contractors.

"All of the materiel came to our receiving area and they determined the de-mil code of the item, and that determined what happened to that property," said Kathy Wigginton, DLA-DS, BAF. "If it had to be totally destroyed or mutilated, and it's small enough to fit through the shredder, and too small to be cut up with the torch, then it comes here to be destroyed in the shredder."

"We are actually the last stop for all government-owned property. Everything would come here that isn't retrograded back to the U.S.," Wigginton said. "It's our job to make sure the proper disposal is taken for that property, whether it is sold as a usable item, or if it has commercial value. If it is a military offensive or defensive piece of equipment, we totally destroy it so that it can't be used against us."

A big part of the "responsible retrograde" mission in Afghanistan is ensuring that materiel that does not go home cannot be used against U.S. allies in theater.

"Because of what the items are, they have trade-security control regulations, or commerce-control regulations," Wigginton said. "Those items had to be destroyed or mutilated so they could not be used for their intended purposes. We didn't want them to get into the hands of unfriendly nations."

Other equipment, such as gear from Mostarac's retrosort yard, did go home, however, to be reinserted into the Army's inventory for training or the next war, it had to be accounted for and processed.

Unit equipment turned in was received by 401st Army Field Support Brigade, or AFSB, for accountability and processing. Deedy Neal served with the 401st AFSB in Afghanistan as a wholesale responsible officer at the Bagram Redistribution Property Accountability Team yard. Neal's work in Afghanistan had her in-processing equipment from unit turn-ins, and accounting for that equipment. The same unit prepares the gear for shipment home to the United States.

"The equipment that was brought in was handled carefully," Neal said. "It was cleaned off, brushed off, blown off, especially with the communications stuff. It was blown off with an air compressor then bubble-wrapped and put in a kicker box. That way it was not knocking together. So nothing got broken going back to the sources of repair."

"The reason it's important for all the equipment to be accounted for is because it saved the taxpayers money," she said. "It put the equipment back into the system so we can have equipment if we need to go to war again. It's important we get the equipment back to the source of repair in a timely manner, so it can be ready for the next situation that occurs."

The equipment going through the yard was cleaned to ensure it passed customs and agricultural inspections when it arrived in port back in the United States.

Sgt. Braden Chalmers, supply sergeant, Delta Company, 1st of the 502nd, 2nd BCT, 101st Airborne Division, had an array of gear to turn in to Neal's Redistribution Property Accountability Team, RPAT yard in August 2014, including electronic countermeasure systems, countermeasure backpacks and mine detection equipment.

He said his unit had closed down Torkham Fire Base, Afghanistan.

"We signed for all the equipment there, packed it up, brought it to Jalalabad Airfield, when we shut down Torkham," he said. "And since the RPAT left JAF, we had to pack it up and bring it here."

Chalmers said he took care of both his own organizational equipment that needed to go back to his unit in the United States, as well as the theater-provided equipment that his unit used while on their deployment.

"To see the property book shrinking as we make trips to BAF - it feels good," he said. "A lot of hard work has been put in here in this country, and we're finally getting out. And that feels good too."

GETTING STUFF HOME

Combat vehicles, equipment taken from installations that were transferred and theater-provided equipment that units have turned in, all had to get home.

During Phase 1 and Phase 2 of ORT, equipment might have gotten out of theater via ground transportation via the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication or later the Northern Distribution Network. But toward the end of Phase 2, said Brig. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy commanding general, 1st TSC, a new way was tried.

Working with U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Central Command, the command did an "accelerated retrograde proof-of-principle," where a "channel flight" was set up between Kuwait and Afghanistan.

The channel flight is a rotation of aircraft would move between Afghanistan and Kuwait, and then equipment could be sorted and cleaned in Kuwait rather than in Afghanistan. Equipment could also be shipped by surface transportation back to the United States from Kuwaiti ports.

"We set up Kuwait as what we call an equipment intermediate staging base, so we could fly it out of Afghanistan and into Kuwait, then hand it off to the other AFSB that we have in Kuwait - the 402nd AFSB -- instead of doing all the processing through the 401st AFSB in Afghanistan; we called it throughput," Gamble said. "We jumped over the 401st and turned it into the 402nd in Kuwait using a channel flight."

"The most reliable line of communication or route from Afghanistan was the ALOC to Kuwait where elements of 402d AFSB helped download, obtain disposition instructions and prepare equipment for onward movement back to the U.S.," said Williams.

During Phase 3 and Phase 4 of ORT, the 402nd AFSB in Kuwait performed "break bulk" operations there on gear that was coming into country from Afghanistan via channel flights, said Lt. Col. Dan Grundvig, brigade operations officer for 401st AFSB, BAF.

In theater, he said, there might not have been enough materiel to fill a box to go to just one place back in the United States.

"They would hold it there till it was full, so that stuff would sit here longer," Grundvig said.

Now, Grundvig said, those same boxes could be filled immediately, with anything that needed to go home, regardless of where the final destination would be.

"This helped us in several areas," Grundvig said. "One, we could do the break bulk - put things in a box and they separate it in Kuwait where they have more time and space and more manpower. And with rolling stock, it didn't have to be customs cleaned like when we sent it to other places. It took about 20 hours to do that. With Kuwait, we could wash it before it goes - but it got the full customs wash in Kuwait."

"Another method of moving equipment out of Kuwait is via sealift. The 595th Transportation Brigade [Surface Deployment & Distribution Command], stationed in Kuwait assisted in the retrograde effort through scheduling transportation for movement of rolling stock [wheeled vehicles] and non-rolling stock [trailers] for movement by commercial sealift," Williams said.

The new method of transportation, combined with shipment across the Northern Distribution Network, is how the United States got most of the gear out of Afghanistan during the final two phases of the drawdown.

Air Force Maj. Christopher Carmichael, commander of 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, and his team at BAF, played a huge role in airlifting cargo out of Afghanistan to Kuwait.

He and his team moved more than 84,000 tons of cargo between January and August 2014, as well as 134,000 passengers.

"We were the busiest aerial port in the Department of Defense," he said.

He said while the number of aircraft coming into BAF was based on need, his team could work seven aircraft at a time on the ground - what he called the "maximum on ground," or MOG.

"We could work seven planes simultaneously," he said. "Their ground time is roughly two hours and 15 minutes. Then the next planes come in."

While Carmichael said that was the capacity of the aerial port squadron, he admitted they hadn't seen that kind of throughput.

"That's a surge, a stretch. We had never worked that simultaneously all day, because the demand signal was not that great," he said.

The biggest challenge to moving things, Carmichael said, was the heat. "When it's so hot, the fuel expands and they could not take as much fuel on the aircraft. So because they were not taking as much fuel, they could not take as much cargo," he said.

Still, Carmichael said his team could clear a cache of 325 MRAP all-terrain vehicles in just 72 hours, about 625 tons of cargo a day, and about 1,300 passengers each day.

"Our aerial port squadron played into the ORT mission by getting the majority of equipment and all the military passengers out of theater. Considering we were landlocked here in Afghanistan, the majority of cargo went out by air," Carmichael said.

Lt. Col. Jamey Haukap, support operations mobility branch chief for 3rd ESC, said 2,400 pieces of rolling stock were left in country at the conclusion of ORT, which will play a part in ORS. Eventually, those will be retrograded, and divested, he said.

As ORT and ODB concluded and ORS continues to support the Afghan Army, the 1st TSC and USFOR-A along with its strategic partners continue to support the warfighter providing logistical support through sustenance, descoping of military facilities, and retrograde operations.

"I applaud the efforts of our "team of teams" in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Fort Bragg and around the world. The work and effort put forth by our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, DoD civilians and contractors who operated under the mission command of the 1st TSC is commendable and we could not have done it without their professionalism and dedication," Williams said.

"I also thank our strategic partners the Army Materiel Command, Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Transportation Command, Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, USCENTCOM J-4, USCENTCOM Deployment Distribution Operations Center, Army G-4, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and others. "Our relationship with these strategic partners was the key to success," said Maj. Gen. Darrell Williams, commander, 1st TSC.