At the beginning of our deployment to Iraq, my
platoon, 3d Platoon, 21st Cargo Transfer Company, from Fort
Lewis, Washington, was tasked to provide materials-handling
equipment (MHE) support to the forward redistribution point
(FRP) at Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda near Balad.
The mission of the FRP is to stock serviceable class II (clothing
and individual equipment), IIIP (packaged petroleum, oils,
and lubricants), IV (construction and barrier materials), and
IX (repair parts) materials that are excess to 25 supply support
activities (SSAs). In addition to MHE support, we also palletized
a small amount of class II, IV, and IX supplies for movement
by aircraft to airfields in Iraq.
Shortly after our transfer of authority, the air sustainment
portion of our mission grew rapidly and became our main focus.
The 3d Platoon Soldiers did not realize at first the tremendous
importance of this new priority or the impact it would have
throughout the theater, but we accepted the mission and worked
many hours performing cargo-handler duties.
Air sustainment is the intratheater movement of supplies using
Army or Air Force aircraft, versus transporting them by ground
convoys. Moving cargo by air has two huge advantages over ground
transportation. First, materiel usually arrives at its destination
from 3 to 4 days faster. Second, Soldiers and equipment are
not placed at risk by traveling on the dangerous roads of Iraq
to deliver supplies.
After the 3d Platoon’s rotation to Iraq began in October
2005, the emphasis on air sustainment increased theaterwide.
Fewer than 4,000 pallets were shipped by air throughout Iraq
in October 2005. Each month thereafter saw a notable increase
in the number of pallets flown. During April, May, and June
2006, more than 48,000 pallets were moved by air. The two significant
reasons for this increase were the implementation of the Air
Force’s hub-and-spoke system and the 3d Corps Support
Command’s emphasis on flying supplies—including
many of the retrograde supplies going to Kuwait—whenever
Pallets are transported not only on Air Force
fixed-wing aircraft but also on Army rotary-wing
aircraft, primarily CH–47 Chinook helicopters. These
helicopters enable small forward operating bases that do not
have landing strips to receive sustainment without having to
cross-load supplies from air to ground conveyance. In March
2006, Chinooks delivered 52 pallets from LSA Anaconda. Three
months later, that number had increased to an average of 244
pallets a month.
load a 463L cargo pallet onto a C–130 Hercules
Reducing Customer Wait Time
The shift to flying sustainment instead of sending it by truck has drastically
decreased the customer wait time for supplies ordered in theater. Instead of
waiting for an entire convoy’s worth of outbound cargo to accumulate for
one location, regularly scheduled aircraft move pallets that are staged in the
airfield’s sterile yard.
The FRP further speeds up the delivery of supplies to the warfighter. Serviceable
and unserviceable excess from all over Iraq is sent to the FRP, and items selected
for retention are stocked there. When retention items are ordered by a unit in
Iraq, the unit checks its SSA first and then the FRP. If the item is on hand
at the FRP, it is sent by air directly to the unit. Having the item available
for shipment from Balad instead of Kuwait drastically reduces the transportation
The greatest danger faced by U.S. service members in Iraq today is improvised
explosive devices (IEDs). Convoy mitigation provided by air sustainment is vital
because it keeps Soldiers and materiel out of the reach of IEDs. For 16,000 pallets
that are moved by air, 4,000 trucks of cargo and 800 convoy-protection or convoy-escort
platforms are kept off the road. This keeps at least 5,200 Soldiers and civilians
off the perilous roads of Iraq—a significant reduction in the risk to Soldiers,
Sailors, Airmen, and Marines serving in Iraq. Air sustainment also keeps valuable
equipment from being damaged or destroyed. For these reasons, air sustainment
is a worthwhile endeavor.
secures the load on a 463L pallet. (Below) A soldier
uses a 10,000-pound Atlas forklift to place a 463L
pallet onto a trailer for transport.
The 3d Platoon faced several challenges that made completing the air sustainment
mission more difficult. These included overcoming a theaterwide shortage of 463L
pallets, nets, and straps; getting cargo to the designated location; and obtaining
hazardous materials (HAZMAT) certification.
Air sustainment requires the use of Air Force materials that are in limited supply
throughout the theater, such as 463L pallet and net systems and 5,000-pound cargo
straps. These items also are commonly misused. The 463L pallets often are used
as makeshift flooring, and the cargo straps sometimes are used as troop straps
for high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles or 5-ton trucks. This misuse
further diminishes the already-short supply of these items and hinders the overall
As Coalition Force support to Iraqi Security Forces changes, we must ensure
that cargo is shipped to the right destinations. If we are not getting the
to the right unit at the right location, then the rest of the air sustainment
process means nothing. Misshipped cargo then will have to be moved to the right
location, possibly putting trucks on the road, or the items will be sent back
to LSA Anaconda to be reprocessed. Either way, the customer’s wait time
will be drastically increased, possibly causing him to reorder the item.
The platoon experienced shipping delays early in the operation because it was
unable to obtain HAZMAT certification. To solve this problem, another company
in Logistics Task Force 548 allowed its HAZMAT specialist to move to the support
operations office to provide HAZMAT certification to the FRP and the Joint
Distribution Center, LSA Anaconda’s two
highest-volume pallet producers. This effort made it possible for the platoon
to send more items by air.
Air sustainment is truly a joint operation. Without a close working relationship
with the Air Force, air sustainment cannot be successful. We were told that
the Air Force’s position was “Build it, we’ll fly it.” As
long as I have been working in air sustainment, the Air Force has always made
good on that promise. Several times during our tour, the Air Force sent cargo
experts to the FRP to train us on how to properly build and inspect 463L pallets.
The experts did everything they possibly could to help us get the supplies we
needed to build air pallets. Every week, our support operations transportation
officer met with the other elements involved in air sustainment at the Air Terminal
Operations Center of the 322d Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron to iron
out any issues and ensure smooth-flowing operations. This positive working relationship
enabled our operation to be successful and was a great example of joint service
partnership and “purple” logistics.
Soldiers in the 3d Platoon executed the air sustainment mission for nearly a
year and had the chance to talk to many senior decisionmakers who visited the
FRP to see their work. These Soldiers understood that they were not just building
pallets. They were helping to safeguard the lives of their fellow Soldiers, and
they were getting essential supplies and repair parts to the warfighter as fast
as possible. They took great pride in the fact that their efforts significantly
contributed to Balad leading the theater in cargo sent by air, and they felt
a great sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.
First Lieutenant Brian J. Furber was the Platoon Leader for the 3d Platoon, 21st
Cargo Transfer Company, at LSA Anaconda during his Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment.
He is a graduate of the Officer Candidate School, the Transportation Officer
Basic Course, the Psychological Operations Specialist Course, and the Basic Airborne