The responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq had
a ripple effect on the management of commodities
across the Iraq joint operations area (IJOA).
For class I (subsistence) managers, the drawdown was
not simply the reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq; it meant
supporting a larger footprint with fewer resources and
adjusting to constantly changing demands.
Base closures, redeployments without replacements,
and the transition of theater contracts in and out of the
IJOA also created a chaotic whirlwind of events. The
purpose of this article is to discuss the class I challenges
encountered by the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s general
supplies office, how those challenges were addressed,
the results of actions taken, and potential alternatives to
The brigade had to constantly balance the level of
support during the drawdown. Multiple factors affecting
sustainment required leaders to be aggressive and think
beyond the 96-hour forecast. Adjustments and readjustments
were made to adequately support units in the
The 3d Sustainment Brigade subsistence section
primarily processed orders that supported 22 mobile
kitchen trailer (MKT) accounts, accounted for operational
rations (meals ready-to-eat [MREs], halal meals,
kosher rations, and unitized group rations), and provided
bottled water and ice in U.S. Divisions North and
Center (USD–N/C). The mission seemed easy enough:
to support personnel with an accurate quantity of
bottled water and operational rations.
Proper execution determined the success of the
mission. Planning factors, such as the availability of
transportation assets, the frequency of movements to
and from forward operating bases (FOBs), and even the
performance work statement agreed on by the contractor
and the Government, were pieces of the puzzle
that could not be ignored. Therefore, if one piece was
missing from the sustainment puzzle, the mission would
inevitably fail. Preparing for the drawdown forced commodity
managers to “step out of the box” and look at
the big picture.
The first challenge encountered was in managing
MREs. It seemed that, with the existence of dining facilities
and MKT accounts, MREs were no longer being
used. The 3d Sustainment Brigade processed an average
of 150 sets of food orders each week for the MKTs that
In order to accurately predict MRE use, we in the
class I section used historical data to identify trends. We
formulated a monthly stock objective for the FOBs that
we supported across USD–N/C. The previous month’s
daily average issue was used to determine a stockage
objective based on 25 days of supply. Each month, we
analyzed the MRE consumption rate at the FOBs and
determined a new stockage objective.
For example, FOBs with large headcounts that averaged
a daily consumption of no more than five cases of
MREs in 1 month were assigned a stockage objective
of 125 cases. However, one concern was justifying a
stockage objective of 125 cases of MREs on a FOB
that supported a combined headcount of more than
20,000 military and civilian personnel. The headcount
was too large for this stockage objective. With one case
of MREs holding 12 individual meals, it takes 1,000
cases per day to support 4,000 personnel if each person
eats 3 MRES. The analysis we conducted indicated that because MREs were not the primary meal source,
storing MREs based on headcount did not make sense.
A large number of MREs could be needed in case of an
emergency; however, it was not practical or efficient to
store a large number of cases that in most circumstances
would not be needed.
Basing the stockage objective on history was a
method, but it was not the only factor. The time and
distance from Joint Base Balad to direct support hubs
and spokes, the average time required to receive MREs
directly from the prime vendor in Kuwait, and the
frequency of ground and air transportation were all factors
in determining a stockage objective. Nevertheless,
no perfect equation could determine the final stockage
objective, so adjustments were made monthly.
The Effects of Communication Gaps
Other factors greatly affected the way MREs were
managed in our area of operations. Factors such as the
total number of MREs available across USD–N/C,
expiration dates, and money lost because of degradation
caused by lack of use and the extreme temperatures in
Iraq affected decisions on the management of the meals.
Throughout the deployment, the method used to forecast
MRE requirements was effective approximately 80
percent of the time. It seemed as if once every quarter,
there was an MRE “crisis,” where the sustainment brigade
forecast showed green status for at least 96 hours
but the FOB would actually be at a red or even black
status. These occurrences were not due to a lack of
MREs or of transportation assets to move them but to a
lack of communication from the unit of issue. It seemed
that many units had no MRE issue plan and no thought
of future MRE consumption, which caused a complete
absence of predictability.
What caused a crisis for battalion commanders,
support operations officers, and commodity managers
could have been prevented by maintaining open channels
of communication, ranging from asking the higher
command for advice and guidance to giving the brigade
a warning of the planned issue of an unusually high
amount of MREs.
One alternative we explored was getting the meal
cycles of units that were not on an A–A–A cycle. Initially,
we assumed that everyone in Iraq received three
hot meals a day. However, this was not necessarily the
case for units that routinely conducted missions outside
of their FOBs.
The idea of having the units we supported provide us
with their meal cycles seemed reasonable, but it was
quickly discarded when units began using historical
data to project future requirements. This comfortable
routine killed the meal cycle concept, which units perceived
as an additional obligation. Though continuous
improvement was a goal, the idea of fixing something
that was not broken prevented the implementation of a
plan that would minimize unfavorable incidents affecting
As FOB closures in Iraq accelerated, the meal cycle
for the decreasing U.S. footprint gradually changed.
Contracted dining facilities transitioned into Armyrun
MKTs to accommodate the decrease of resources.
Consequently, MREs were reincorporated into the meal
plan, allowing for precise predictability.
Iraqi Transportation Network
One inevitable change that had a significant impact
on our operation was a reduction in convoy escort
teams that provided security for the logistics movements
to our supported areas. The decrease of convoy
escort teams meant a reduction in the number of trucks
that would be on the road. What may have seemed like
a minor change had second and third order effects on
how units conducted logistics missions.
One way the class I section mitigated the effects of
convoy reduction was by using a local movement contract
known as the Iraqi Transportation Network (ITN).
We used ITN to move bottled water to our supported
areas in USD–N/C. The benefit of using ITN to move
commodities was that convoy escort teams were not
required to escort the movements. ITN had a
6-day movement window to deliver its cargo.
It became the primary resource for moving
bottled water, even though the contingency
plan was to use regularly scheduled sustainment
convoys to support the units in our area
The 6-day movement window forced an
increase in the amount of bottled water moved
at one time. The theater used a 10-day stockage
objective that allowed flexible operations in periods
of restricted movement. Increasing the amount moved
through ITN ensured that there was room for managing
contingencies without degrading support to units.
Within 2 months of beginning to use ITN, we were
transporting more than 150,000 cases of bottled water
weekly to supported units.
Prime Vendor Change
As preparations for drawdown were underway, the
Iraq theater was also preparing to transition from one
subsistence prime vendor, Agility, to a new prime
vendor, Anham. We had to guarantee that our customers
had all the transition details. Constant communication
with the new prime vendor was imperative in understanding
changes in the concept of support.
One massive change was the way Anham planned to
distribute class I in theater. Agility had supported the
theater from warehouses located in Turkey and Kuwait.
Locations in northern Iraq from Habur Gate to Contingency
Operating Base Speicher primarily received class
I arriving from an Agility warehouse in Turkey. Locations
from Joint Base Balad south to Tactical Assembly
Area Virginia received class I from Kuwait. Anham
inherited a huge mission, and it planned to support the
IJOA from only one warehouse in Kuwait.
This new distribution plan caused some concern
about the time it would take to move class I from south
to north without the goods degrading. Would fresh fruits
and vegetables survive the move from the south? Anham
conducted two test runs to the north that originated
in Kuwait. The results of the test runs were positive,
with the movement to Contingency Operating Base
Speicher averaging 4 days.
We researched the shelf life of frequently ordered
fresh fruits and vegetables and the temperature that
each item required to sustain that shelf life. The 4- to
5-day movement from Kuwait to northern Iraq cut into
the shelf life, but it was manageable. The transition of
distribution operations from Turkey to Kuwait began in
the middle of September and ended in the last week of
As the Anham contract began to take shape in the
IJOA, operations appeared seamless. Required delivery
dates were met. Any problems that Anham seemed to
encounter did not affect operations. However, that soon
changed with the first complaint about the receipt of
spoiled fruits and vegetables in the north. Images of rotten
tomatoes, cauliflower growing bacteria spores, and
nectarines covered in mold set off a red alert to all of
the units Anham supported.
Would this be the norm for fresh fruits and vegetables
coming from Kuwait to the north? That question had to
be answered, especially since Anham guaranteed that
the support it provided to the units would be equal to
that of Agility. The answer certainly had to be no. Commodity
managers in the 3d Sustainment Brigade had to
simultaneously find a way to resolve the problems with
Anham and restore the confidence of supported units.
The time it took to release the fruits and vegetables
from the warehouse, the time allotted to load vehicles,
the delivery time, and the time each truck remained in
the movement control team yard before moving
forward were closely monitored. Ten days,
beginning from the release at the warehouse
to consumption, was the standard set for fresh
fruits and vegetables to maintain freshness.
These measures forced the contractor to take
responsibility for any mishaps that inconvenienced
the units in USD–N/C and caused
potential delays in class I deliveries. The
gradual transition between contractors allowed
mistakes to be made and lessons to be learned as FOBs
began to receive class I from the new prime vendor.
The drawdown had an enormous effect on class I
operations throughout Iraq. Commodity managers were
forced to discontinue routine operations and develop
ideas to continue to support units on the ground while
the gradual reduction of forces and resources was
underway. This was not as simple as supporting the
shrinking number of personnel with fewer class I rations;
it meant factoring in the closures of bases and
dining facilities, the reduction of convoy escort teams,
and the impact of those events on operations. The drawdown
had a domino effect on all support operations.
So what does it take to provide class I support to personnel
spread across hundreds of miles of land, ranging
from the northern Iraq border at Harbur Gate down
to Victory Base Complex and the surrounding areas
in Baghdad? The answer is simple: patience, analysis,
and constant communication. At times, operations
were conducted routinely, and at other times, problems
seemed to be at every turn. The solution was to continue
what we did well and improve on what we did not while
striving to provide excellent customer service to the
units we supported.