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An ‘Opportune Lift’ Showcases
Joint Logistics Capabilities

Between 1 and 16 March 2004, the Army and the Marine Corps executed a joint ammunition shipping operation aboard the Military Sealift Command’s large, medium-speed, roll-on-roll-off ship USNS Soderman. This example of joint cooperation came about after the Army Field Support Command (AFSC) at Rock Island, Illinois, agreed to assist the Marine Corps in an “opportune lift” of ammunition that the Marines wanted moved to Europe. An “opportune lift” is defined by the Department of Defense as that portion of lift capability available for use after planned requirements have been met. At the time, AFSC was in the process of preparing to transport equipment and ammunition for Combat Equipment Group-Afloat (CEG–A), which is a subcommand of AFSC. After a series of conversations among personnel at several different commands, AFSC assisted the Marine Corps in transporting Marine ammunition to Italy aboard the Soderman.

This Army-Marine Corps interservice operation built on joint activities that AFSC has conducted in the past several years, particularly during Operation Enduring Freedom. It allowed AFSC to save the Government money while expediting the shipment of ammunition to the Marine Corps in Europe.

AFSC pre-positions ships throughout the world to transport equipment and ammunition to warfighters in the field as part of the Army Pre-positioned Stocks (APS) Program. CEG–A manages operations connected with APS Afloat. The Soderman is assigned to Theater Flotilla Group III, one of AFSC’s groups of pre-positioned vessels.

Ammunition to Europe

On 1 and 2 March, the Soderman was uploaded at Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina with 17 shipping containers of Marine Corps ammunition. These containers held approximately 6,000 155-millimeter artillery projectiles and were stored on the ship alongside Army ammunition. At the port, CEG–A personnel monitored the upload of the containers onto the Soderman.

The Soderman departed Charleston Naval Weapons Station on 3 March and arrived at Talamone, Italy, on 16 March. A contract group of Italian longshoremen offloaded the ship over 2 days. The ammunition then was taken by schooner through the Navacelli Canal to Camp Darby, Italy, for temporary storage with additional ammunition assets coming from elsewhere in Europe. The Marine Corps ammunition and the other stocks eventually will become part of the War Reserve Stocks for Allies program and will be shipped to another host nation. After the Soderman was downloaded and emptied of ammunition, it continued on its mission to upload equipment at Combat Equipment Battalion-Livorno in Italy.

Joint Service Coordination

The mission’s success depended in large part on the expertise and collaborative efforts of individuals who knew how to work within both the Army and Marine Corps logistics systems. Because the mission was outside the normal logistics chain, it required communication and coordination among individuals associated with Army war reserves at AFSC, the Joint Munitions Command, CEG–A, the Army Materiel Command (AMC), and the Marine Corps.

Dave Lakeman, a quality assurance specialist (ammunition surveillance) with AFSC, observed—

How did the Marine Corps know how to coordinate the activities from individuals at all these organizations, much less know the ship was coming? They didn’t. It was individuals who were working war reserves that knew the Marine Corps needed these assets. They used their initiative and said, “Hey, we have an idea. We have a ship coming this way, so let’s see if we can expedite the process and see if it is feasible.”

The director of ammunition operations at Combat Equipment Battalion-Livorno contacted an ammunition officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe, who gained approval for the operation from Marine Corps leaders and War Reserve Stocks for Allies managers. Approval also was obtained from Combat Equipment Group-Europe and Combat Equipment Battalion-Livorno. The Marine ammunition officer also communicated with a logistics management specialist at AMC, who coordinated with the AFSC headquarters to work out the details of the actual shipping.

Under the usual procedures, the Marine Corps ammunition would have been placed on a regular list of items that needed to be shipped to Europe. The Military Sealift Command then would have determined which ships it had available during the requested timeframe to move the ammunition from the United States to Europe. The Military Sealift Command generally has rotating shipments from the United States to Europe designated for certain times of the year. It consolidates ammunition for shipment and distributes it from a designated location in Europe. Executing a joint operation with AFSC produced a huge cost savings for the Marine Corps.

A willingness to assist another service was important to the mission’s success. A precedent for the Soderman operation occurred several years ago, when the Marine Corps assisted AFSC in moving some ammunition out of Norway. The Marine Corps had a ship coming into Norway to take Marine assets out. They consented to take along Army assets that AFSC needed to transport from Norway. The Soderman operation thus was another good example of one service helping out another.

Significant Cost Savings

The Soderman joint shipping operation saved the Marine Corps approximately $1.2 million. The Marine Corps also saved about $500,000 in handling and storage fees because the Army already had requisitioned and paid for the ship.

The Marines also will benefit from another cost saving when their ammunition is shipped to its final destination. Just as the opportune lift from the United States resulted in transportation cost savings, attaching the Marine Corps ammunition to the ammunition shipment going from Italy to its final destination will produce a second cost saving.

Much effort is devoted to consolidating cargo shipments when possible. AFSC and AMC personnel contact transportation personnel at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia, who then provide
information to the Military Sealift Command on the shipment. AFSC and AMC ask the two transportation commands if another shipper already is scheduled to transport a shipment at the same time they want to move assets.

Moving ammunition presents special challenges. According to Paul Gebhardtsbauer, an AMC logistics management specialist—

For general cargo, the bill for shipping is split and you pay for the space used. But ammunition presents a hazard not found in most other commodities. When ammunition is shipped, it is always shipped from places where the risk that’s presented is minimum to those people involved in the operation. The ship can’t go and dock anywhere except another port that is currently licensed to accept the munitions.

Logistics Transformation

The Soderman operation was an example of successful joint service coordination and cooperation. It also provided a snapshot of the current state of joint global logistics support within AFSC and throughout the Army and the Department of Defense. The process involved in bringing together all of the elements to make this operation successful was complex and somewhat fortuitous.

The future path in military logistics support has been described in recent Army Transformation documents and joint doctrine. These sources include Joint Vision 2020; the 2003 Army Transformation Roadmap; Joint Publication 4–0, Logistics; and leading reports in commercial publications. They describe the evolution of many new ideas in logistics, including Focused Logistics, a global logistics command, the Global Combat Support System, and information fusion that will link Defense logisticians throughout the world to a joint logistics common operating picture.

The ability to “focus” logistics packages and anticipate needs will lead to a more methodical and precise delivery of equipment, materials, and ammunition to warfighters in the field and will prove vital in supporting a campaign-quality Army with a joint and expeditionary mindset. Patrick Monahan, a strategic planning officer at AFSC, notes, “Supporting the joint and expeditionary mindset requires a change of perspective—anticipating the foxhole requirements, satisfying them and not trying to make the industrial base make the foxhole accommodate us. We’re trying to satisfy all their requirements by changing here.”

Achieving a joint logistics common operating picture depends on information fusion—connecting logisticians to each other in support of the regional combatant commanders. When a joint common operating picture allows the global support structure to be synchronized with the regional combatant commanders, operations like the Soderman mission will be easier to identify and anticipate. A network enterprise with collaborative information systems will make such a coordination effort more automated and more visible. Logisticians will be able to see, anticipate, leverage, and synchronize information and make decisions accordingly. As logistics connectivity becomes routine, operations like the Soderman operation will become more methodical and less the result of chance happenings.

Currently, logistics modernization is linking many systems on the distribution side, and the Joint Forces Command is putting collaborative information in
databases for joint services. As Deborah Newman, a strategic planning officer at AFSC, describes it—

It is not just a matter of moving around blocks on an organizational structure. It is taking systems that exist today and taking the seams out of those systems. And it’s putting available information into collaborative information systems that provide the tools that you need to have the visibility all the way from factory to foxhole to see things, anticipate things, do the necessary coordination, and in a more automated manner than what we’re doing today. But the types of things that we have accomplished with the Soderman operation are going to be done under a global logistics command. You’re still going to have people, and you’re still going to have coordination.

While Army logistics is in the midst of rapid transformation, AFSC continues to provide the best possible Department of Defense and interagency support.

Jonathan D. Marcus is a Department of the Army public affairs intern with the Army Field Support Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. He previously served as an Army public affairs noncommissioned officer with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and the 34th Support Group/Area II Public Affairs Office in South Korea. He holds a B.A. degree in justice from American University and a J.D. from
Vermont Law School.

The author thanks Dave Lakeman, Marla Tedesco, Patrick Monahan, and Deborah Newman of the Army Field Support Command, Linda Knowles of Combat Equipment Battalion-Livorno, and Paul Gebhardtsbauer of the Army Materiel Command for their help in developing this article.