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Relearning Lessons Learned

When I arrived in the Iraqi theater at the end of June 2003, repair parts, uniforms, and many other items were still very scarce. Units were able to maintain readiness only because their mechanics kept equipment operational by what is called “controlled substitution.”

As the focus of the action shifted to sustainment, it would be logical to assume that many of the logistics shortcomings experienced initially had been resolved. Not so. In fact, as the months wore on, the logistics situation worsened.

The inability to cope with a very high operating tempo (OPTEMPO) early in the war, and even for a while after the campaign to end Saddam Hussein’s regime ended successfully, is understandable. But why did we still have the same problems months after major combat operations were declared over? For one, hostilities weren’t over. However, it certainly wasn’t the high rate of fuel consumption or the high burn rate of ammunition that caused the logistics problems to linger. So what were the causes?

The Business of Logistics

The first rule in good business—or, in this case, logistics—is “know your customer.” Theater logisticians knew their forward unit customers’ requirements for classes I (food), III (fuel), and V (ammunition) during intense operations. However, they did not know the requirements nearly as well as they might have with better logistics systems connectivity. In reality, the logisticians were able to push forward barely enough supplies to satisfy the forward units’ immediate needs, and they were even less successful in supplying the requirements of their customers in the rear.

The ideal way to move all classes of supply forward quickly and efficiently is to have all supplies for a single customer loaded into a single package in the continental United States (CONUS). A theater distribution center (TDC) should be used only when serving small customers with low demand rates. When it is necessary to use a TDC—and it will be in a theater with many units and high OPTEMPO—“cross-docking” is the preferred method of operation because it is the most efficient.

Cross-docking refers to configuring input and output flows so all cargo arrives at one area in the TDC, travels through “on-the-move” sorting, and then is loaded in a separate area onto a delivery vehicle assigned to a specific customer’s route. Delivery routes are designed to accommodate the smallest vehicle possible that will support the most customers at frequencies that best sustain those customers. The designers of the route also must consider the availability of vehicles in the fleet.

A good throughput operation requires the U.S. suppliers—the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), Army Materiel Command (AMC), and commercial contractors—to know which units, over a short period of time, have enough demand to fill a container or tri-wall box. To know this, the supplier must know the customer’s characteristics and its Department of Defense Activity Address Code (DODAAC). DLA manages a database on all of its customers and their ordering requirements history. If a theater manager prescribes package configuration rules for a customer, the DLA distribution centers will conform to those rules. Therefore, it is imperative that the DLA database be updated quickly and efficiently to govern the flow of supplies and material into the theater of operations in the right configuration, to the right place.

‘ Déjà Vu All Over Again’

The throughput problems I observed in Iraq were not new to me. In 1997, I served in Kaiserslautern, Germany, as the Army National Guard Assistant Chief of Staff in the 21st Theater Army Area Command (now the 21st Theater Support Command) and concurrently as the Chief of the Commander’s Initiatives Group. The Kaiserslautern TDC, which was operated by the 37th Transportation Command, received approximately 100 full containers a week. The TDC was a cross-dock facility, which meant that containers—usually 40-foot metal containers packed with supplies—came into one side of the facility, were unloaded, and the supplies were transferred by load-handling equipment to the other side of the facility according to the DODAACs on the items.

During a review of all theater distribution processes in the 21st TAACOM, the Commander’s Initiatives Group found that more than half of the supplies received weekly in the TDC were moved on to single customers. Logic dictated that, if the TDC could reconfigure multiple loads into one container for a single customer, those multiple loads could be configured for single customers at an earlier stage. Therefore, after careful review of customer demands over time, the group was able to effect an update of the DODAAC management database at the Defense Distribution Center (DDC) at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

The packing lines at DDC were instructed to place all items for an individual customer into a single container, and the port shipping contractor was told to ship that container directly to the customer. This change in procedures reduced the workload at the TDC by 50 percent and the average in-theater delivery time to high-use
customers from 16 days to 8 days.

DODAAC Management

During the time I was in the Iraqi theater, there was little, if any, DODAAC management. Arriving containers were loaded with items for multiple DODAACs, and many of the tri-wall boxes had items for multiple customers. This placed a tremendous burden on the small and understrength supply units that operated the various supply support activities (SSAs) and the TDC at Camp Doha. Every container and many of the tri-wall boxes had to be opened and sorted before their contents could be forwarded to the requisitioning units. After a while, the frustration that resulted from the inability to keep pace with the volume caused them to ignore the ultimate customer and simply add the items to their customers’ authorized stockage lists (ASLs) to meet myriad dues-out. Supply personnel assumed that items had been in transit so long that the original requester had satisfied the requirement in some other way.

Management of DODAACs must be put at the top of any list of corrective actions to be taken as a result of lessons learned in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Only through good management can throughput to customers be maximized and the weighty burden on support units in the theater, and ultimately the customers, be relieved. We must reexamine how DODAACs are managed. The automated processes for handling DODAACs at the AMC Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, must be changed to enable on-the-fly, quick-response changes in “ship-to” addresses. As late as October 2003, the DODAAC file at LOGSA had home or mobilization station locations listed as the ship-to addresses for many units that were in theater.
Installations and theater commands can and should maintain control of the “bill-to” address, but the ship-to address is the ultimate responsibility of the unit commanders. A Web-based system (easily changed to a batch mode system if there is no Internet connectivity) that allows the commander to quickly change the ship-to address for his unit is critical to good throughput management. A unit’s DODAAC should be as permanent as its unit identification code or
derivative unit identification code.

In-Transit Visibility

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, containers arrived in theater with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags carefully mounted and full of data on what was inside the containers. However, no one was at the port to forward the containers to their correct destinations when they came off the commercial vessel, so all that labeling work was a wasted effort.

This issue isn’t new; it is simply a continuing saga of a new idea with no sponsor. Adding technology without first implementing the right organizational and doctrinal changes only means that we know more quickly that we’re in trouble—and we have no way to fix it. The Army has failed to institutionalize RFID technologies even though we have had those technologies for over 15 years. The Logistics Transformation Task Force, commissioned in May 2002 by Army Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki and headed by Major General N. Ross Thompson III, commander of the Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, recognized this shortcoming and recommended that responsibility for standardizing RFID technologies be given to the movement control community. To date, nothing has happened to resolve this ownership issue.

The Army is planning the future logistics organizations that will deliver support to the warfighter during the first 30 days. Now is the time to embed the right structure in the resulting organizations to support in-transit visibility and provide the technology our units need to obtain information on the sustainment flow. When we are preparing for operations, distribution teams must deploy to critical distribution centers and ground, air, and sea ports to install readers in sufficient quantities and locations so logisticians can “see” in-transit assets that have RFID tags or barcode labels attached.

Joint policies, procedures, and regulations must be changed to require the correct labeling of all Department of Defense assets to support RFID tracking. Thus, when units and supplies move through the logistics nodes, the data will feed to the Global Transportation Network (GTN) database, where they can be accessed by those who need unit and asset visibility, regardless of their location. Once the data are in the GTN database, linking them to trains, trucks, planes, or ships is a data-linking process rather than a major input operation.

Our current systems already have pieces of this solution, but there still is no established method to ensure that data are updated at critical points while supplies are in transit. Doctrine that assigns responsibility for developing such a method to movement control elements would correct this deficiency.

A final thought: Soldiers often have simple solutions to some of these seemingly overwhelming challenges. We must harvest their ideas before they become stale. Progress in technology is often measured in micro steps forward, not in blinding leaps. Therefore, we must garner these advances, apply them where needed, and institutionalize the changes. It matters little who gets the credit—the bottom line is doing the best that we can for our soldiers. ALOG

Colonel Glenn W. Walker, ARNG AGR, serves as the G–4 for the Army National Guard in Arlington, Virginia. He has master’s degrees in business administration from Moravian College in Pennsylvania and in national resources strategies from the National Defense University. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Industrial
College of the Armed Forces.