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Extracting Army Forces From
the Field—A Logistician’s Perspective

Field Manual 3–0, Operations, defines retrograde as an “organized movement away from the enemy.” In order to set the conditions for a successful retrograde, Army forces must reduce, or drawdown, their operations and logistics footprints to the maximum extent and as early in the process as feasible. In a stability operation, when Army forces leave a theater, back­fill by a coalition force may not always be possible. In those cases, responsibility for security may transfer to the host nation’s security forces, whether they are army, police, or border security forces. This transfer of security responsibility may take place in an unstable or fragile security environment.

With these considerations in mind, I would like to address the logistics-related tasks Army forces must undertake to conduct a successful drawdown and retrograde. Specifically, I will discuss the following actions from a logistics planner’s viewpoint: avoiding negative images; determining what to retrograde; reducing commodities, vehicles, and weapons systems, both “white” and “green”; cleaning up bases; disposing of personal property; managing contractor-controlled equipment; coordinating transportation, maintenance, and port operations; disposing of barrier materials; and managing containers. The bottom line for the logistician is that the concepts discussed in this article are easy to describe, but they are extremely difficult to implement on the ground.

Avoiding Negative Images

The first and foremost consideration during a military retrograde is the risk of creating negative images. One example of negative images generated by a retrograde operation was the abandoned vehicles and weapon systems left behind in Afghanistan by the Soviet military at the end of their occupation during the late 1980s that continued to litter the countryside.

To avoid such negative images, logistics planners must consider a more resource-intensive retro­grade operation. They must consider expending resources to recover and retrograde equipment and supplies, even in cases where it is not economically prudent to do so, in order to avoid leaving abandoned military equipment and supplies strewn across the countryside that would provide our enemies with a propaganda opportunity.

Determining What to Retrograde

Another critical task is identifying what to retrograde. Notwithstanding the risk of negative images created by abandoned equipment and supplies, the planner must still consider the cost, in resources and manpower, of a complete recovery and retrograde.

To the maximum extent possible, units should consume supplies and not replenish them in the months leading up to the final retrograde, including classes I (subsistence), II (clothing and individual equipment), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), V (ammunition), and IX (repair parts) and bottled water. Leaders must ensure that their units are aggressively reducing stockage levels and allowing normal consumption to draw down the remaining supplies.

When units are maintaining supply support activities (SSAs), careful consideration should be given to consolidating and closing them. Lines may be drawn down to zero balances and excess supplies retrograded during the time leading up to the closing of the SSA. Even as an SSA has its lines reduced to zero balances, using units can still order their supplies and parts through the SSA’s Standard Army Retail Supply System computer, with supplies coming from a central SSA. In such cases, the SSA continues to act as a requisition and turn-in point, accepting non-mission-essential supplies and equipment from customer units for retrograde and receiving supplies pushed from the central SSA to the users. The policy for turn-in of supplies must be liberal—that is, easy to comply with—in order to encourage customer units to bring their excess supply items to the SSA rather than abandon them.

Commanders must be willing to accept some operational risk during the supply drawdown. One such risk is accepting a longer response time in reacting to insurgent activity or host-nation requests for logistics assistance because fewer supplies are on the ground. Lower stockage levels for commodities such as fuel and ammunition may be acceptable, provided those commodities can be pushed quickly in the event of an emergency. To reduce risk, U.S. forces can maintain a centralized logistics base in the vicinity of the port of embarkation that can provide emergency air resupply. The key is to reduce stockage levels to the maximum extent possible and as early as possible before final retrograde.

Reducing “White” Equipment

The next consideration is identifying what equipment may be left behind based on economic considerations. “White” (commercial off-the-shelf) equipment may be managed differently from “green” (specifically designed for military purposes) equipment. Examples of white equipment include computers, televisions, washing machines, and non-tactical vehicles (NTVs). Because white equipment does not have distinct military markings, it can be transferred to the host nation without creating the negative public perception caused by leaving green equipment behind.

Planners must conduct a cost-benefit analysis of white equipment. Should U.S. forces consume their limited transportation assets to retrograde such equipment, which may already be near the end of its life expectancy, to the continental United States (CONUS) or another theater? Or should they transfer it to the host nation? In addition to the costs of repairing, packaging, and transporting white equipment, another factor is its compatibility with U.S. electrical, safety, and environmental standards. In the case of NTVs, assuming the vehicles meet U.S. safety and environmental standards, the cost of retrograde and reset will most likely exceed the vehicles’ fair market value.

Planners need to take a hard look at cost versus benefit when it comes to deciding what used white equipment should be retrograded. If the cost to retrograde approaches the equipment’s residual value, then it should be transferred to the host-nation government. Leaders can work with the host nation to coordinate where this equipment can be staged for subsequent transfer. Contracted labor, drawn to the maximum extent from the host nation’s labor pool, can provide security and maintenance services for these systems in staging areas to ensure they are fully mission capable on the date of transfer. The host nation should be responsible for any maintenance after transfer.

Reducing “Green” Equipment

In the case of class V, units should conduct inspections for serviceability. If ammunition is unserviceable, it should be disposed of in place rather than retrograded. If the local defense forces use the same type of ammunition and are considered reliable, transferring serviceable ammunition to them should be considered. Rather than retrograding serviceable ammunition to CONUS, consideration should be given to establishing a theater ammunition holding area or retrograding it to another theater. Finally, as with other classes of supply, the flow of class V into the theater should be turned off as early as possible and ammunition consumed to draw down stockage levels and avoid having to retrograde large quantities.

Class VII (major end items) requires special consideration in retrograde planning. For green equipment, care must be taken to preserve sufficient combat power through the close of the retrograde operation in order to provide adequate force protection. Class VII systems that the planner should consider keeping in theater until the final echelons depart include materials-handling equipment (MHE), transportation assets, and force protection equipment. However, commanders must be willing to take some operational risk in order to draw down the “mountain” of equipment U.S. forces typically have with them, as was the case in Iraq at the close of 2009.

Since wheeled weapon systems, such as mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles and M1151 up-armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, can move on their own, planners should consider retrograding the bulk of their heavier tracked systems earlier in the operation. A reserve of heavy weapon systems, such as Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and howitzers, may be staged in the vicinity of the port of embarkation to mitigate risks. For these systems to be available in an emergency, planners must ensure that adequate heavy equipment transporters are available to move them.

Class VII green equipment can be sorted for retrograde based on whether or not it will return to home station (early retrograde equipment) or enter an Army-managed reset program. The Army Materiel Command (AMC) manages reset programs and may be tasked to accept these selected systems in theater, taking them off the unit’s property book. It is then AMC’s responsibility to retrograde this equipment.

Units can turn in theater-provided equipment to an in-theater, AMC-operated redistribution property accountability team (RPAT) “yard” for disposition. For large units, a mobile RPAT can travel to the unit’s location and take possession of the theater-provided equipment to be turned in on site. AMC is then responsible for maintenance and retrograde.

During this retrograde process, leaders must be flexible concerning the maintenance readiness of equipment being turned in. “As is complete” should be considered as the standard for units turning in equipment to an RPAT yard for retrograde. Class III leaks should be a priority in order to get equipment through U.S. Customs and on to sealift.

MHE is critical to a successful drawdown and retrograde and must be kept forward to the very end of operations in each area. Since keeping this equipment mission capable may be difficult because of a lack of repair parts, units may have to resort to controlled substitution or cannibalization to maintain a minimum quantity of functional MHE. Another option is contracting for MHE, if available.

My firsthand experience is that warfighters are loath to surrender any of their rolling stock and weapon systems. They generally want to keep this equipment until their units redeploy rather than retrograding it to meet a schedule that does not tax available transportation assets.

However, class VII items cannot all be transported on the final day of operations; they must be drawn down over a period of time that available transportation assets can support. Logisticians must advise their leaders of the importance of enforcing a retrograde schedule for class VII that is supportable—which means enforcing timely turn-in of equipment by warfighters. Leaders, with assistance from planners, must set both near-term (monthly) goals and end-state goals for the drawdown of equipment and supplies and then hold subordinate commanders responsible for meeting those goals.

Class IX items represent a challenge for the logistics planner during retrograde operations. It is imperative to draw down supplies. However, as stockage levels are drawn down, systems that become not mission capable (NMC) awaiting parts will remain NMC for longer time periods because of the longer lead­times required to receive repair parts.

Three methods are available to mitigate this problem. First, a transportation priority system can be implemented that allows leaders to place a higher priority on certain repair parts required for critical systems. Second, the maintenance activity can be authorized to maintain a larger amount of shop stock for certain critical systems, such as MHE and transporters. Third, the variety of systems that have the same capability, such as different versions of the MRAP, can be drawn down.

Cleaning Up Bases

As a part of the retrograde process, logisticians work closely with the engineers who have primary responsibility for base closure and transfer. “Base closure” occurs when U.S. forces relinquish control of the land to the landowner, with no host-nation forces occupying it. “Base transfer” occurs when U.S. forces relinquish control of the base to host-nation forces, who will continue to operate the base. It is prudent to return a base that is fully functional to the host nation’s security forces. In this way, the host-nation forces can immediately conduct operations in support of the U.S. forces, which are concentrating on draw­down and retrograde.

Because of the number of steps and the time involved in closing or transferring a base, planners must adopt a closure or transfer schedule as early as possible, giving the battlespace owner (BSO) time to properly complete the process. The BSO should schedule base closures or transfers over a period of time—several months, for example—rather than conducting all of them at once. This avoids the requirement to surge transportation assets; availability of transportation is always a limiting factor.

Engineers lead the base closure or transfer effort, and logisticians work closely with them to provide support. Base closure or transfer requires the following major steps:

  • Determining legal ownership of the land.
  • Completing an environmental survey of the site.
  • Removing and disposing of solid waste.
  • Closing any hazardous wastewater lagoons.
  • Closing any incinerators.
  • Closing any firing ranges.
  • Conducting an inventory of real property (permanent structures).
  • Conducting an inventory of personal property.
  • Accounting for and removing containers.
  • Removing personal property that will not be transferred to the host-nation government.

The amount of time involved in completing these steps will vary depending on the size of the base and environmental issues. U.S. policy is to turn over a base that meets applicable environmental standards; any environmental remedi­ation takes time and resources. Planners should consider granting “amnesty” to units and individuals during the base cleanup period to encourage tenant units to turn in all excess supplies and equipment that have not been brought to record.

Disposing of Personal Property

Logisticians manage disposition of personal property on bases being closed or transferred. If a base is to be closed, 100 percent of the personal property must be removed. If a base is being transferred to the host nation, leaders must determine what personal property will be transferred to the host nation and what will be retrograded or otherwise disposed of. If the base is being transferred, it is prudent to transfer a sufficient amount of personal property so the host-nation forces can continue to operate the base without interruption.

Typical examples of personal property to be considered for transfer with the base include concrete bunkers, concrete T-walls, other barrier materials, guard towers, troop housing such as tents or containerized housing units, latrines, shower units, generators and power distribution systems, structures and scanners used at entry control points, other portable buildings, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems, fuel tanks, water tanks, water distribution systems, water heaters, and furniture.

In Iraq, it is impractical and uneconomical to move tents that have been “spray foamed” to add insulation, reduce energy consumption, and improve troop living conditions. These tents are converted from personal property to real property when the spray foam is installed and remain with the base upon the base’s transfer to the host nation.

Before conducting a joint inventory with host-nation representatives, the BSO responsible for base transfer must conduct a thorough inventory of the base and verify that all personal property is documented on the BSO’s property book. If not, the BSO must bring all found-on-installation (FOI) property to record.

FOI property represents a huge problem for the BSO responsible for base closure or transfer. In cases of operations that have been conducted for a number of years, as in Iraq, large amounts of unclaimed equipment may need to be brought to record. Leaders must become involved in this issue and ensure that subordinate commanders are bringing FOI to record.

Once this has been completed, leaders then can determine which personal property should be nomi­nated for transfer with the base to the host-nation forces. This property may be labeled as foreign excess personal property (FEPP). The BSO must then submit his list of nominated FEPP through the chain of command and secure approval for its transfer.

Before conducting the initial joint inventory with the host-nation representative before a base transfer, the BSO should retrograde all personal property that has not been approved as FEPP. In the case of expensive, high-demand equipment such as generators, the BSO should conduct any planned exchange (replacing new or nearly new equipment with older substitutes) before conducting the joint inspection.

It is important to not create an expectation in the eyes of host-nation officials conducting the joint inspection that they will be receiving newer equipment that the BSO plans to replace before transfer. Leaders must ensure that host-nation officials understand that any equipment maintenance required after transfer is solely the responsibility of the host nation. If the host-nation entity that will take over the base has little or no knowledge or experience with base maintenance operations, the BSO should offer training on how to maintain the base after transfer.

At this point, all of the equipment identified as excess—that is, equipment no longer needed and not nominated as FEPP—must be either retrograded or disposed of on site. The BSO then will have to undertake a financial liability investigation for property loss to document the FEPP, recognize its loss to the United States, and remove those items from the BSO’s property book. During one deployment, commanders in Iraq were authorized to transfer up to $30 million worth of FEPP to the Government of Iraq for each base being transferred. This process is repeated on each base as the drawdown continues and bases are transferred. Depreciated value, not acquisition value, is used in calculating the value of FEPP.

Conducting a complete and accurate inventory of all of the personal and real property on a base most likely will be beyond the capability of a BSO. The logistics planner should consider organizing and deploying teams of property book and supply subject-matter experts to the bases subject to closure or transfer to assist the BSO with this process. In Iraq, this capability has been contracted. These teams have been a tremendous asset in the base inventory process, speeding up the process and providing accurate and complete inventories.

Managing Contractor Equipment

One potential problem is determining the ownership of equipment controlled by contractors on a base. This equipment may be owned by the contractor, or it may be contractor-managed Government-owned (CMGO) equipment. To prove ownership, the contractor should maintain property books listing equipment owned by the U.S. Government (CMGO) and equipment owned by the contractor. Any contractor-controlled equipment not appearing on the contractor’s property book should be brought to record as FOI property belonging to the U.S. Government.

The logistics planner must also examine base life support service contracts on the bases, such as laundry and security services (a task often over­looked by the BSO.) This is true whether the base is serviced through the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program or individual contracts originally initiated through the purchase request and commitment process. In either case, the BSO must identify all current service contracts, including the unit managing the contract, the scope of services, and the service termination dates.

The BSO must review each contract to determine the method for notice of termination and then provide this notice to the contractors. The purpose of this review is to avoid obligating the U.S. Government to continue to pay for services on a base that the United States no longer controls or uses.

During preparations for closure or transfer, there likely will be a surge of work, to include preparing and uploading equipment that will be retrograded and base cleanup. Logistics planners must ensure that contracts are in place to support this manpower and equipment surge. The BSO must ensure that any solid waste is properly disposed of before closure or transfer. To synchronize the themes and messages of an orderly transfer, the base must appear in a clean and orderly state on the date of closure or transfer in order to avoid negative media attention.

To this end, the BSO must document the final condition of the base by taking photographs of the buildings and grounds just before transfer and even inviting media to the base to take photographs and view its condition. Then, if the host nation does not closely control the base after the transfer and the base’s contents are ransacked by local nationals, U.S. forces can prove that this happened after the transfer and not before.

For force protection reasons, it may be necessary to evacuate contracted labor in phases, and in advance of U.S. forces leaving, so that on the date of transfer or closure, all contractors have already been evacuated. Logistics planners must develop and execute logistics support plans to use military personnel to support the troops remaining on a base to the very last day of U.S. occupation. This will cause logistics support to become very austere (that is, “expeditionary”) in the final stages of U.S. occupation.

Coordinating Transportation

Transportation is clearly the limiting factor for base closure and transfer and retrograde operations. The closures and transfers will take place only as fast as the transporters can retrograde containers and equipment to the ports of embarkation. Planners must ensure that adequate transportation and MHE assets are available through the conclusion of retrograde operations. On the final day of a base’s occupation, U.S. forces must be able to move out in a single lift.

Leaders must require their subordinate commanders to establish and execute aggressive plans, includ­ing monthly and end-state goals, for retrograding excess class VII equipment and supplies as early as possible. Waiting until the last minute to retrograde large amounts of rolling stock and heavy pieces of equipment invites mission failure. Commanders can mitigate some of the operational risk by maintaining rapid reaction forces and a close air support umbrella and by coordinating with host-nation forces to provide at least some of the required force protection.

Even during a drawdown, the maintenance mission must continue. Logistics planners must ensure that adequate maintenance support is available in order to keep equipment mission capable. Self-contained mobile maintenance teams can set up in temporary shelters with their own power supply, tools, bench stock, and shop stock to conduct maintenance operations as required. One serious issue will be the inability to secure repair parts in a timely manner. Controlled substitution and even cannibalization may have to be authorized.

Because the logistics planner may be facing a virtual “mountain” of supplies, vehicles, weapon systems, containers, and other pieces of equipment to retrograde by sealift, developing adequate port facilities will be critical to retrograde success. The planner therefore must identify all potential seaports that can be used and then request use of those ports through the host nation. More than one port for retrograde will improve throughput and reduce operational risk. After negotiations for these ports are complete, planners then must allocate time and resources to improve the ports and staging areas, including security infrastructure, sterile yards, maintenance structures, communications, power generation, wash racks, and loading equipment.

Planners may look to using contractors, including local national contractors, for maintenance of the staged equipment, port security, and port operations. Because of the bottleneck U.S. forces will face at the seaports because of a lack of sufficient transportation assets and port facilities, it may take several months or even years to retrograde all of the selected equipment and supplies back to CONUS for reset and redistribution.

Disposing of Barrier Materials

Disposition of class IV construction and barrier materials is a special problem in the retrograde process. These materials include precast concrete bunkers, T-walls, and other barrier materials. The cost of handling and transporting these items will far exceed their fair-market value; sufficient transportation assets most likely will not be available to retrograde them; and because of import restrictions, these items probably will have to remain in country. The most practical course of action is to turn these items over to the host nation, leaving them in their current locations or as close by as possible.

As an alternative, technology does exist to crush precast concrete. The rebar found inside can be recycled, and the crushed concrete can be used for roadways and other construction applications. The machinery for crushing the precast concrete can be moved from base to base to complete this mission. Such an effort will take a significant amount of time and expense and will have to be undertaken and completed by contractors after the departure of U.S. forces.

Using local national labor to the maximum extent possible for this task will provide jobs and have a positive impact on the local economy. However, this will only be feasible if the security situation allows it. Considering the cost of manufacturing these structures, host-nation leaders may want to stage or store them for possible future use in force protection.

Managing Containers

No discussion of retrograde operations would be complete without addressing containers. Container management takes considerable manpower and resources. As bases close and transfer, the BSO will have to deal with all of the containers in his battlespace. The BSO must have procedures in place, along with adequate trained manpower, to accomplish the following tasks:

Identify all containers on each base. Enter this information into the container management system to determine status and ownership (military owned, leased from contractor, contractor owned). Ensure that leased containers have priority for retrograde to avoid or reduce penalties.

For containers with no discernable owner, open them and inventory the contents. Sort, package, and retrograde all serviceable supply items for return to the Army supply system. Turn in all unserviceable items to the designated Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service site. In Iraq, mobile redistribution teams (MRTs) visit bases to assist the BSOs with this massive job. The teams include specialists in the areas of supply, maintenance, and transportation. When combined with an offer of “amnesty,” the MRT is an extremely effective tool for policing up and turning in excess supplies, equipment, and containers.

Inspect each container to determine its condition, including whether or not it is seaworthy. Teams trained in accordance with the International Convention for Safe Containers carry out this manpower-intensive task. In the case of a container that is not seaworthy, the inspectors determine if it can be repaired. If it cannot be repaired, it is a candidate for local disposition when no longer required for military use. If the container can be repaired economically, it must be retrograded to a container repair point. This repair mission may be accomplished using local national contracted support.

Empty, serviceable containers must be retrograded to an empty container control point for further use. These tasks are usually managed by the BSO’s container control officer. Containers require intensive management. As with rolling stock, the BSO may not be motivated to go out into his battlespace and identify and inventory all of the containers found there. The more containers the BSO finds, the more work he creates for the Soldiers—because all of this materiel must be inventoried, sorted, packaged, and disposed of. This is why employment of MRTs is so important.
The BSO must verify that all tenant units on the base have adequate numbers of serviceable containers to retrograde their equipment. The logistics planner must ensure that each BSO is granted the authority to require all tenant units on the base to fully participate in the container management program. This authority is necessary to avoid gaps in coverage on the base and to ensure that all containers are inventoried and inspected.

Equipment and supply retrograde must be synchronized to personnel flow. Logistics planners must ensure that logistics units and teams are adequately manned to support ongoing logistics services during the drawdown, including maintenance assistance teams, container repair teams, mobile redistribution teams, property accountability teams, transporters, and U.S. Customs inspection teams.

Planners and leaders must be flexible in how they use this manpower. One approach is to move these teams based on the base closure or transfer schedule. Planners should consider using local na­tional contract support to surge all of these services.

The bottom line is that, in order to ensure that the maximum amount of Army materiel is preserved and retrograded, transportation assets are not overwhelmed in the final phase of the retrograde, and U.S. forces project to the world a responsible and orderly retrograde, leaders at all levels must aggressively execute the drawdown of materiel in an orderly and disciplined manner and as early in the process as possible.

Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Steinke, MNARNG, was the assistant chief of staff, G−4, of the 34th Infantry Division, during his deployment to Iraq. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the Support Operations Course, and the Command and General Staff Officer Course. An attorney in private practice, he holds a B.S. degree in education from Bemidji State University, a master of management and administration degree from Metropolitan State University, and a juris doctor degree from William Mitchell College of Law.

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