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Analyzing the Lessons
of OIF Distribution
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Analyzing the Lessons
of OIF Distribution

The Army’s combat service support (CSS) units performed miracle after miracle during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The greatest of these miracles occurred in distribution, where the pace of keeping up with combat units pushing north would have crushed a lesser logistics force. Ironically, the majority of the distribution challenges encountered in OIF were the very same ones faced in Operation Desert Storm (ODS) 12 years earlier. Apparently some of the lessons learned from ODS were merely lessons experienced.

Because of its uncompromising dedication to the soldier, the CSS community decided to address some of the distribution challenges in hopes of preventing them from occurring again. To this end, Thomas J. Edwards, Deputy to the Commanding General of the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) at Fort Lee, Virginia, created a rock drill team and tasked them with bringing together key logistics leaders from OIF to aggressively address distribution challenges. The team surveyed OIF leaders on distribution issues, challenges, and insights. Once the information was gathered and assimilated, the team invited these same logistics leaders (as well as other subject matter experts) to attend a distribution rock drill at CASCOM hosted by CASCOM’s commander, Major General Terry E. Juskowiak. What follows are some of the issues the rock drill examined and some of the resulting recommendations.

Distribution Doctrine

When it became apparent early in OIF that distribution operations were a battlespace challenge, CASCOM decided to reexamine the Army’s keystone field manual (FM) on distribution to see if the problems were rooted in existing doctrine. In May 2003, CASCOM staffed FM 100–10–1, Theater Distribution, worldwide to see if Army leaders felt the doctrine was relevant to actions taken in OIF and if the FM needed to be revised out of cycle. The responses were lukewarm at best, with most respondents agreeing that some subjects needed to be added eventually (for example, force protection) but that the doctrine was sufficient for now and did not require immediate revision.

However, embedded media continued to report on the Army’s distribution challenges. So in October, CASCOM asked specific agencies to indicate if the distribution problem was indeed doctrinal; these agencies included the Army Materiel Command, the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the Army G–4. This time, the response was a little better, but the comments were basically the same as the first staffing: a revision would be needed eventually to add new subjects, but not right now. So the answer to the question, “Do you feel FM 100–10–1 is relevant to today’s operational environment?” was usually “yes.”

Since the feedback was not very helpful and most of the CSS community was preoccupied with OIF at the time of both staffings, CASCOM used the OIF distribution rock drill as a “litmus test” of the need for rewriting distribution doctrine. Doctrine was discussed early in the rock drill, with the following conclusions reached—

• Doctrine is a guide, not dogma. But we still need to understand and accept what may result if we decide to deviate from or ignore doctrine.
• Doctrine provides principles and helps in making intelligent choices and plans, so we need to know, understand, advocate, and practice our doctrine.
• Nothing works without doctrine. Attendees at the rock drill said repeatedly that they knew doctrine existed, but it just was not followed.

Fuel Supply

The biggest success of OIF distribution was class III (B), bulk fuel. There were several reasons for this success. First, class III (B) operations were well rehearsed before OIF began. Second, there was only one unit in charge of theater petroleum distribution: the 49th Quartermaster Group (Petroleum and Water) owned the product and the fuel distribution system. This meant that a middleman did not delay resolution when customers had problems. The group placed a planning cell in Kuwait early to work with the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) staff. The planning cell convinced the CFLCC commander that using the Inland Petroleum Distribution System was the smartest way to distribute fuel. This decision enabled the group to place a company forward to operate the system. Finally, two early preparation tasks—pre-positioning seven truck companies in theater to support the movement of fuel from day 1 of combat operations and establishing a 200,000-gallon fuel

farm at Camp Virginia, Kuwait—ensured that all requests for fuel could be met. The group was able to push fuel forward until receiving units and the system could take no more.

Other keys to success included using a single fuel (JP8, with additives as needed) and having that fuel readily available in Kuwait. Not only did the use of JP8 save lives because it is less combustible than most other fuels (which kept tanker fires to a minimum when tankers were hit by small arms fire), it also eased the strain on scarce fuel transportation assets.

Water and Ice

Soldiers supporting major operations have been drinking bottled water since ODS. Soldiers and commanders expect to drink bottled water when they deploy, even though bottles place an enormous strain on scarce distribution assets. Bottles are easier to store in both wheeled and tracked vehicle compartments, and soldiers are more likely to stay hydrated when they have easy access to water. Bottled water also can be chilled using nonpotable ice purchased from local sources. Chilling is especially critical when outside temperatures reach 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, since experience has shown that soldiers will not drink hot water. Rock drill participants suggested investigating the establishment of doctrine to support the use of bottled water for drinking.

Ice and “reefers” (refrigerated vans) were in short supply during OIF. Although current plans call for leasing reefers to support all deployments, purchase appears to be a more cost-effective option for long-term deployments. During OIF, available reefers were seized quickly by forward units for chilling food products and were not returned to the theater distribution system. Resupply of ice required 20 reefers per day, and convoys needed 7 days to reach units operating in northern Iraq.
Rock drill participants recommended that the Army look at establishing both water and ice as classes of supply. This would provide visibility for water and ice when determining transportation requirements and the need for other resources in early planning.


During the early planning stages and initial deployment of forces to OIF, very few vendors were manufacturing meals, ready to eat (MREs), and unitized group rations (UGRs). Manufacturers had difficulty ramping up to meet the Army’s needs from a cold industrial base. MREs were drawn from all sources, including West Point, to try to meet the need.

To compensate for the long customer wait time in providing rations, manufacturers began taking UGRs directly from the assembly lines and packing them in ISO containers for immediate shipment overseas. This practice created problems in the theater, because a single container often would be filled with just one type of UGR (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) but not all three. It was not unheard of during OIF for soldiers to eat breakfast UGRs for all three meals for several days in a row because of the high operating tempo (OPTEMPO). OPTEMPO also led to instances of soldiers subsisting solely on MREs for more than 21 days, which violated the Surgeon General’s policy on MRE consumption.

Class I (subsistence) products should be packaged for the convenience and use of the soldier. For example, meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be packaged together so soldiers are not forced to eat just one type of meal. Feeding standards also need to be enforced. If MREs are the only meal being served for 21 consecutive days, they must be supplemented with ultra-heat-treated dairy products and pouch bread.

Medical Supplies

At least 10 percent of all soldiers require some type of prescription medication. During deployments, the prescription policy at mobilization stations calls for deploying a soldier with 90 days of supply (DOS) of his medicine and recording his prescription information to facilitate refills. However, because of the high OPTEMPO of OIF, problems arose when a soldier had almost exhausted his 90 DOS and needed his prescription refilled. With limited assets and the force moving so quickly, getting refills ordered and shipped to soldiers was a distribution nightmare. Host nation supplies could not be used because the Department of Defense (DOD) General Counsel prohibits the Army Medical Command from using fluids and drugs that are not on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of approved medicines. So units had to reach back to major medical facilities outside of the theater, which added to customer wait time. To counter this refill problem, mobilization stations began deploying soldiers with an additional 90 DOS, bringing each soldier’s total to 180 DOS.

A prescription drug reorder and delivery policy should be developed to ensure that soldiers receive their medications in a timely manner. This policy should allow for dynamic delivery that can follow the soldier as he moves throughout the battlefield. The development of a joint, integrated, modular-capable medical logistics organization would allow for an early-entry capability for medical assets. This would allow the medical community to tailor its medical distribution system to the environment in which it is operating and ensure that medications are delivered in a time-definite distribution system.

Repair Parts

Class IX has always been a problem, and it will continue to be a problem as long as parts are needed. The OIF request for forces and time-phased force deployment data (TPFDD) did not include a theater general support (GS) company to establish a class IX GS base. The Doha, Kuwait, Area Support Group (ASG) class IX warehouse was designed to support rotational units and not the increased number of OIF units that began to draw on its stocks. As units moved to their base camps and began ordering parts, it quickly became apparent that the ASG could not support the volume requested and that the GS class IX base was not adequate to conduct operations. Units began sending expeditors to assist in sorting through the ever-increasing volume of receipts. This method was adopted by most units at each major logistics node.

Because of movement priorities and the shortage of available transportation assets, transportation allocations for class IX supply were inadequate. The priority of movement during the opening phases of OIF was class I, bottled water, and class V (ammunition). As OIF progressed, units began to task-organize to support different operations. This created significant problems within the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS) and with the flow of requisitions to retasked units. Once units became more stable in assigned areas of operations and established connectivity, requisitions increased dramatically.

Connecting logisticians is the key to solving the class IX distribution problem. We need to develop a simple process that supports task-organizing at the tactical level within SARSS. We should reevaluate stockage levels at strategic, operational, and tactical locations and reevaluate the personnel and equipment structure within supply support activities.

Intransit Visibility

Radio frequency identification (RFID) automatic identification technology (AIT) is the near-term answer to letting the logistician see that logistics support is in transit. However, units deploying from the continental United States for OIF were not resourced with RFID equipment. Many of the theater CSS units came from the Reserve components (RC) and were not familiar with RFID technology. Even units deploying from Germany encountered problems because they were not resourced with equipment to support their mission at both home station and their deployed location. RFID interrogators were set up significantly later than operation startup dates. A U.S. Central Command directive was needed to direct the use of RF tags and interrogators.

The CSS community needs to establish ownership and responsibility for RFID at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. RFID technology should be used during peacetime operations so soldiers are comfortable with the equipment. RF tags should be used during combat training center training scenarios and during installation and deployment operations.

Force Protection

Unlike their infantry brethren, CSS soldiers have a dual mission on the battlefield: they must perform their CSS mission, but they also have a responsibility for base defense. However, the force protection mission has continued to pull CSS soldiers out of their support roles. These competing requirements must be examined to determine the appropriate mix of personnel in CSS units so those units can perform both missions effectively. CSS soldiers need to break the CSS cultural paradigm of “support only” and train as warriors first. This means incorporating tactics, techniques, and procedures and emerging lessons learned into predeployment training, updating CSS mission training plans to incorporate squad- and platoon-level tactical training, and developing theater-specific validation training and Strategic, Tactical, and Ready for Action in Combat training for CSS.

Proper resourcing of CSS units with night-vision goggles (NVGs), precision lightweight GPS [global positioning system] receivers (PLGRs), and individual body armor (IBA) enhances CSS soldiers’ survivability on the modern battlefield. Currently, CSS soldiers have to share NVGs, and they have an inadequate supply of PLGRs. In OIF, soldiers bought commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) GPSs because there was a shortage of PLGRs on the tables of organization and equipment (TOEs) of CSS units and because the COTS GPSs were easier to use and carry. The allocation of IBA also was far short of what the CSS community actually needed to outfit all soldiers.

We need to fix basis of issue plans and CSS unit TOEs to include security and force protection equipment. We need to leverage emerging technology in force protection (such as unmanned aerial vehicles, jammers, passive armor, and blast mine protection). Communication systems will continue to be the backbone of force protection. The integration of vehicle tracking through AIT systems (Force XXI Battle Command Battalion/Brigade and Below and Blue ForceTracking) will continue to be a vital link for commanders to enhance their situational awareness.

Mortuary Affairs

Mortuary teams need to be deployed early to handle the remains of those killed in action. In OIF, mortuary affairs (MA) units arrived in theater just 1 day before units crossed the line of departure and had no equipment. The Army’s MA force structure consisted of one Active component (AC) and two RC MA companies. Both RC units are based in Puerto Rico and were staffed at just 40 percent. Both were activated and deployed to form one functioning company. The Army needs to develop an MA structure that supports current and future operations.

The most serious potential problem facing MA teams is handling contaminated remains. Chemically contaminated remains are processed in a fashion similar to that used for equipment, with bleach and water. However, DOD has no approved process for decontaminating remains contaminated with a biological agent. The Army needs to develop a process and the capability to handle biologically contaminated remains. It currently is investigating the use of radiation to decontaminate such remains.

Theater Distribution Center
Initially, OIF materiel flowing into Kuwait was routed through the central receiving and storage point (CRSP), a peacetime, contractor-run operation that handled materiel for rotational brigades and tenants in Kuwait. As the volume of materiel flowing into Kuwait increased and the demand exceeded contracted requirements, the CRSP’s capacity was exceeded and a backlog of materiel developed at the aerial port of debarkation. An interim solution was needed, so a theater distribution center (TDC) was created at Doha.

The TDC, a nondoctrinal ad hoc organization, became the linchpin of the 377th Theater Support Command’s operations. The decision to stand up the TDC was a response to the absence, at that point, of the planned GS supply activity that would have handled at least some of the TDC’s functions. The TDC was under-resourced and consequently manned by ad hoc work details drawn from surrounding GS units. The GS supply units arrived in the theater significantly after the date originally planned, and the facilities designated for them were used for other purposes. Once the TDC became operational, the CRSP began transferring a substantial portion of its backlog to the TDC. Over the next few weeks, the TDC worked off the backlog, even without a GS unit in place to run the TDC.

The joint community needs to decide if a TDC is really necessary. This organization should be a joint responsibility. As part of the joint community, the Army needs to examine and, if necessary, develop doctrine to support the TDC within the theater joint logistics command architecture.

The quality of training at all levels was a major challenge during OIF. For example, many operators of materials-handling equipment (MHE) were untrained when they arrived in theater. They performed adequately under ideal conditions; but during inclement weather, on rough terrain, in mission-oriented protective posture 4 gear, or in full load-bearing equipment, they performed less than adequately. Kalmar forklifts would have been a great asset to units, but they were not used to their full potential because of an insufficient number of trained operators.

Drivers are not cross-trained on automatic and manual transmissions. The majority of Army vehicles have automatic transmissions, so not all soldiers were able to drive vehicles with a clutch, which slowed down or even stopped some logistics missions.

Training AC units with RC units on a regular basis was a common issue throughout the rock drill, as was the need to integrate echelons-above-corps and
echelons-above-division units into combat training center rotations. Training should focus on individual training, not just deployment training. The issue of funding levels for training AC and RC units was discussed, with everyone agreeing that RC units need more money to conduct relevant and realistic training.

Specialized training also is needed. Convoy defense and march discipline continue to be inadequate. Units had little live-fire training before deployment. Medical units need more training in patient tracking and class VIII resupply. Logisticians need training in supporting civil affairs units and missions and in letting contracts in a theater of operations.

Our armed forces won in Iraq, and sometimes winning dulls the feeling of urgency needed to quickly correct challenges arising during the victory. The CSS community cannot afford to let such complacency occur. We must improve Army and joint distribution capabilities and make steady progress at fixing deficiencies so, in the next war, miracles are not needed to provide our soldiers with all they need.

Suzi Thurmond is a logistics management specialist in the Doctrine Branch, Joint and Multinational Concepts and Doctrine Division, Directorate of Combat Developments for Combat Service Support, at the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. She has a B.S. degree in business and economics from Christopher Newport University in Virginia and is a graduate of the Army Force Management Course. She entered Government service through the Transportation Intern Program at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Analyzing the Lessons
of OIF Distribution
Jump to top of page