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Distribution Operations in MND–North

In May 2007, the 3d Sustainment Brigade from Fort Stewart, Georgia, deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom 07–09 to provide logistics support to Multi-National Division-North (MND–N). The brigade had just completed its transformation to a modular structure before the deployment. The brigade’s support operations office experienced changes under the transformation, including the conversion of the movement control office into a mobility branch and the formation of a new distribution integration branch. This article highlights the distribution integration branch’s mission, explains why the branch was successful, and looks at possible ways to increase effectiveness by reorganizing the branch and the current functions in the support operations office.

The Distribution Integration Branch Mission

The distribution integration branch was responsible for managing the flow of commodities throughout MND–N and had two primary tasks. The first was to manage the throughput of foreign national convoys at Habur Gate—the point of entry for nearly 70 percent of all supplies for MND–N—and Contingency Operating Bases (COBs) Marez, Qayyarah-West (Q-West), and Speicher. The second was to coordinate and synchronize the movement of equipment and other supplies within MND–N.

The focus of the distribution integration branch was to reduce the time it took for the right supplies to travel from their points of origin to their destinations. For MND–N, the sources of those supplies included seaports, fuel refineries, and food distribution warehouses. The destinations included COBs, forward operating bases, patrol bases, and combat outposts throughout northern Iraq. With so many supported organizations and locations, the distribution integration branch realized the need for a formal process to unify subordinate units and commodity managers in an effort to synchronize distribution operations. This process became the distribution management board (DMB).

When the 3d Sustainment Brigade assumed responsibility for logistics operations in MND–N, the average daily backlog of foreign national sustainment trucks was about 520. These trucks drove through Habur Gate to deliver class IIIB (bulk petroleum, oils, and lubricants), class I (subsistence), and various multiclass commodities. COB Q-West received a daily average of 400 foreign national sustainment trucks, and COB Speicher received a daily average of 385 trucks. In addition to sustainment vehicle backlogs, the brigade had 247 open transportation movement requests (TMRs), with 82 of those TMRs past the required delivery date (RDD). However, the distribution integration branch’s biggest challenge rested with the central receiving and shipping points (CRSPs), which were where cargo from the tactical trucks was downloaded and staged for pick-up. At Q-West, the CRSP yard processed a daily average of nearly 500 containers, many of which had been in the yard for 6 months. In all, over 830 containers were spread across 3 CRSP yards in MND–N.

Convoy Support Center Yard Management

Within the first 4 months of the deployment, the distribution integration branch, working in conjunction with the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s subordinate combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs), was able to reduce the daily average of foreign national trucks in the convoy support center (CSC) yards (the staging area for the foreign national drivers) by nearly 32 percent. The first step to achieving this reduction was to institute the queue-processing technique known as “first in, first out” to reduce and stabilize the number of foreign national trucks that had been in the yards for over 120 hours. Approximately 600 of the 1,410 foreign national sustainment trucks in MND–N had been in a single CSC yard for more than 120 hours. Once the backlog was reduced, the branch prioritized commodity shipments based on need and demand instead of time spent in the CSC yards. The chart above shows the reduction over time in the monthly average of foreign national sustainment trucks managed in MND–N.

In anticipation of the Ramadan holiday period, when little or no ground movement would occur, the distribution integration branch developed a Ramadan surge plan in September 2007. The plan mitigated the spikes of foreign national vehicle traffic by holding the vehicles in the CSC yards. Other known events, like the delivery of Thanksgiving and holiday meals, had minimal impact on CSC yard congestion because the branch addressed the problem early. Events like weather and enemy activity could not be specifically planned for, but once again, early mitigation made such events inconsequential.

TMR Management

Of the 82 TMRs that were past RDD on arrival, 26 were more than 20 days past RDD and approximately 30 TMRs were between 5 and 19 days past RDD. By January 2008, the brigade was managing 171 open TMRs, with only 2 over 10 days past RDD and 6 that were between 5 and 10 days past RDD.

The distribution integration and transportation operations branches shifted an existing paradigm governing the use of foreign national vehicles and KBR and military flatbeds. Generally, between COB Q-West and COB Speicher in particular, foreign national convoys were separate from other line-haul convoys. Once the brigade was able to reduce the backlog of foreign national vehicles, the distribution integration and transportation operations branches incorporated KBR flatbeds, military flatbeds, and heavy equipment transporters (HETs) into the convoys to allow for the delivery of the oldest TMRs or the TMRs that had a high priority for delivery. The conglomeration of KBR, military, and foreign national vehicles drove the route between COB Q-West and COB Speicher, one of the primary distribution routes for sustainment from Turkey.

CRSP Yard Management

One of the distribution integration branch’s most significant accomplishments was clearing the CRSP yards. The CRSP yards saw an astounding 90-percent reduction in containers; the number of containers came down from a daily average of 832 to just over 90. How did the distribution integration branch accomplish this?

First, the distribution integration branch worked tirelessly with the subordinate CSSBs in an effort to understand the reporting procedures, verify accuracy of the reports, and determine a systematic method for capturing other relevant data. Then, along with the CSSBs, the branch determined an efficient and practical means of putting the aged commodities on the road and in the air for delivery using various data sources, including TMR reports, asset utilization reports, and CSC and CRSP yard reports that identified the age, type, and amount of cargo in the yard.

Keys to Success


The distribution integration branch was successful because of a few key initiatives, including the creation of the DMB, the establishment of multifunctional battalions, and the readjustment of the foreign national vehicle to convoy protection platform (CPP) ratio.

Creating the DMB. To identify a process to eliminate the bottlenecks within the supply chain, the distribution integration branch looked at the specific transportation configurations of the CSSBs, including the availability of line-haul assets and CPPs. When delivering assets to the CSSBs, the foreign national sustainment convoys were required to include CPPs for security. COB Q-West had the largest bottleneck, which was caused by insufficient CPP capabilities for moving commodities south. The distribution integration branch quickly realized there was a need to cooperate with the transportation operations branch and all subordinate CSSBs and address each battalion’s current taskings on a daily basis.

The mechanism for coordination was the DMB, a daily coordination and synchronization planning group. The DMB, which acted as both a synchronization meeting and an asset allocation board, was conducted through Adobe Breeze, a web-based conferencing program that allows subordinate and supported units to participate from remote locations. The DMB allowed the distribution integration branch to forecast asset availability and eliminate bottlenecks.

During the DMB, subordinate CSSBs were given transportation and escort tasks based on the current and forecasted availability of transportation and CPP assets. Supported units in MND–N could also monitor the DMB to address their transportation and distribution requirements. The DMB allowed the brigade and the battalions to forecast movement requirements 120 hours out, to plan 96 hours out, to allocate transportation assets 72 hours out, and to lock in requirements 48 hours before execution.

Establishing multifunctional battalions. Another key factor in reducing the backlogs of TMRs and sustainment commodities was the establishment of truly multifunctional CSSBs at each of the three major hubs. When the 3d Sustainment Brigade arrived in theater, line-haul assets and CPPs were divided between the CSSBs at two COBs. The CSSB located at COB Q-West was resourced with military and KBR line-haul assets. The CSSB located at COB Speicher was responsible for the HETs and a smaller portion of KBR flatbed assets.

The geographic location of these two units made it difficult to use specific line-haul assets efficiently. For example, when a supported unit located outside of COB Speicher required HET assets, the 927th CSSB, which was allocating HETs, would have to “dead head,” or travel empty, at times in excess of 240 miles, to the load location. This scenario needlessly put Soldiers on the road and cost the sustainment brigade at least 4 days of mission time. By cross-leveling HET assets to COB Q-West, the 3d Sustainment Brigade was able to take advantage of HET assets and drastically reduce the need to reposition empty assets.

Readjusting the foreign national vehicle to CPP ratio. The distribution integration branch analyzed the ratio of CPPs to foreign national sustainment trucks at the various COBs. The ratio on the route from Habur Gate south to Marez and Q-West was larger than the ratio from Q-West to the south. The ratio imbalance caused a serious bottleneck at Q-West for onward movement of foreign national vehicles south out of Q-West. The branch first developed a simple algorithm to determine an appropriate ratio of CPPs to foreign national vehicles for southbound movements from Q-West. The algorithm was based on daily inbound foreign national vehicles and the current threat to logistics convoys south of Q-West.

The distribution integration branch determined a feasible ratio that could be supported, cleared the bottlenecks, and moved cargo in a timely and efficient manner. The 3d Sustainment Brigade then drew up a recommendation to the 316th Expeditionary Support Command to adjust the CPP ratio. In 4 months, the distribution integration branch reduced the CSC backlog of foreign national vehicles at Habur Gate, Q-West, and Speicher by nearly 42 percent. With the backlog reduction, the 3d Sustainment Brigade was able to dedicate more CPPs to the movement of TMRs and spearhead the deployment and redeployment of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from MND–N.

Possible Improvements

The distribution integration branch and the mobility branch are described in Field Manual Interim (FMI) 4–93.2, The Sustainment Brigade, as separate sections under the control of the support operations officer. Each of these sections has a major assigned as the officer in charge (OIC).

Based on the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s current support mission, the functions of these two sections overlap. The 3d Sustainment Brigade’s mobility branch currently uses the Battle Command Sustainment Support System, the Transportation Coordinators’ Automated Information for Movements System, and the Movement Tracking System to plan and execute missions with the distribution integration branch and to prioritize specific commodity management and missions. However, FMI 4–93.2 states that these functions are the responsibility of the distribution integration branch. Based on the current staffing structure for the 3d Sustainment Brigade, the mobility branch is best postured to execute this mission.

The difference between the two sections is slight. In many cases, the distribution integration branch and the mobility branch perform each other’s functions. For example, FMI 4–93.2 states that the mobility branch, in conjunction with the distribution integration branch, is responsible for deployment planning, movement, sustainment, reconstitution, and redeployment. In the 3d Sustainment Brigade, these tasks are entirely the responsibility of the distribution integration branch. Again, based on staffing, a task shift to the distribution integration branch could be a viable option.

Since the distribution integration branch and the mobility branch have similar requirements and rely heavily on each other, these sections could quite easily be combined under one major-grade OIC. The distribution integration operations OIC would be in a better position to plan and monitor the execution of distribution operations if the OIC were directly responsible for validating and managing the requirements for surface movement. The integration of the mobility branch under the distribution integration branch would provide a one-stop shop for the subordinate CSSBs and the sustainment brigade’s supply and services branch to coordinate the distribution of classes I, II (individual clothing and equipment), III, and IV (construction and barrier materials).

The success of the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation was first and foremost attributable to its Soldiers. The Soldiers fully understood that modularity would bring challenges and changes. The ability of the support operations office personnel to work together to meet the requirements proved to be the unit’s greatest achievement. This achievement was coupled with the close relationships developed with the battlespace owners, the MND–N G–4, and the 316th Expeditionary Support Command. The open lines of communication between the various commands in MND–N ensured a successful rotation for the 3d Sustainment Brigade.

However, many of the accomplishments would not have been possible if not for the hard work executed by the brigade’s predecessor, the 45th Sustainment Brigade. As sustainment support in MND–N evolved and matured, the 45th Sustainment Brigade adopted functional and applicable processes within distribution that became the foundation for the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s distribution success. By continuing to refine the role and function of the distribution integration branch, the 3d Sustainment Brigade will be postured to fully and professionally support coalition forces anywhere in the world.
ALOG

Major Charlie Ward is the deputy support operatons officer and distribution operations chief for the 3d Sustainment Brigade, which recently redeployed from Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a master’s degree in logistics management from the Air Force Institute of Technology and is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.