Forward distribution teams help mitigate some
of the supply distribution problems experienced during early
Operation Iraqi Freedom rotations.
in charge of a forward distribution team (FDT) carries
medical materiel to a waiting aircraft at Al Asad
Air Base in Iraq.
A modular force is a key aspect of the Army Chief of Staff’s
vision and Strategic Planning Guidance for transforming the
Army. The modular force model is based on brigade-sized elements
that are more responsive than division-sized elements and
can perform joint and expeditionary-type missions. Using
modular units, Army planners can tailor force structure,
lift requirements, and create flexible forces with specialized
capabilities based on ever-changing mission requirements.
Throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), medical logisticians
have made significant progress toward meeting the Chief of
Staff’s vision for a modular force.
During the past two rotations, medical logistics units, through the concept
of modular forward distribution teams, have addressed several
major problems that
occurred in OIF I.
OIF I Logistics Shortfalls
In OIF I, medical logistics units supported their customers largely through doctrinal
supply point distribution, in which customers picked up supplies from their designated
source of supply. Medical logisticians quickly realized that this system did
customer requirements or expectations adequately. Extended lines of communication
and enemy threats created unique problems for supply point distribution. Medical
logisticians also did not communicate medical distribution requirements
adequately to the distribution process owners. Therefore, the overall system
was not responsive to customers’ needs.
Medical logisticians realized that some of these problems occurred because Army
medical logistics systems operators were not skilled in using those systems,
even when electronic communication systems were available. Likewise, many medical
logistics Soldiers and leaders were not adequately trained for their mission.
This training shortfall occurred primarily because garrison medical logistics
supply operations, which are supported by medical prime vendors and door-to-door
commercial transportation, are significantly different from deployment operations,
which are characterized by extended lines of communication. Also, medical materiel
requirements during peacetime are relatively low when compared to wartime requirements.
In short, many medical units and customers in OIF I were frustrated with the
medical logistics system because it lacked responsive distribution, adequate
automation support, and adequate Soldier and leader training to meet their needs
Forward Distribution Teams
In OIF II, the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion (Forward) from Miesau, Germany,
quickly addressed these problems by using a nondoctrinal modular concept of
forward distribution teams (FDTs) to move materiel throughout Iraq using 13th
Corps Support Command (COSCOM) trucks. The 226th’s FDTs were stand-alone
entities that had all of the organizational equipment needed to operate outside
of the battalion’s area of operations. They were small, four-Soldier
operations that could deploy rapidly across the battlefield.
New and Improved’ FDTs
In OIF 04–06, the goal of the 32d Medical Logistics Battalion (Forward),
XVIII Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was to improve the FDT
concept and processes that were implemented by the 226th. (The Army adopted a
new rotation-numbering system after OIF I and II.) To medical logisticians and
maintainers, value is more than a box or a part; value also lies in personal
service to the customer. With this in mind, the battalion divided its two-platoon
distribution company into seven modular FDTs. These teams were paired with the
1st COSCOM distribution management teams and tasked to sustain geographic areas
of responsibility in conjunction with the corps support group’s area
of responsibility. Predeployment training conducted at Fort Bragg focused on
the tasks the modular teams would perform independently to support customers.
The size and makeup of the teams were tailored
to the number and type of supported units. Typical FDTs consisted
of a noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), two medical
logistics technicians, and a medical maintenance technician.
These four-Soldier teams supported 60 units (approximately
15,000 Soldiers). To meet mission requirements, the FDTs that
supported level III healthcare facilities (those staffed to
perform resuscitative, surgical, and postoperative care),
large troop concentrations, and multiple outlying forward operating
bases were augmented with additional medical logistics specialists
with military occupational specialty (MOS) 91J and medical
equipment repairers with MOS 91A.
A lieutenant and two FDTs supported the Multinational Division (MND) North Central
and Multinational Force (MNF) Northwest. Another lieutenant and two FDTs supported
the MND Baghdad and the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq. A third
lieutenant and two FDTs supported the MND Southeast and MND Central South. These
lieutenants planned and directed all medical logistics operations and provided
situational awareness to the distribution company commander and the battalion
support operations officer. They participated in corps support group operations
meetings and hospital and medical coordination meetings, conducted mission analyses,
and anticipated and fixed distribution and maintenance problems encountered
in their areas of responsibility. The seventh FDT supported the MNF West in
partnership with the Navy Medical Logistics Detachment.
To address continuing problems with supply point distribution, the 32d Medical
Logistics Battalion used a direct distribution process. The battalion coordinated
with supply sources in Qatar and Germany to have materiel flown directly to
strategic air hubs and FDT locations. The FDTs made sure that materiel was received
and secured, requisitions were closed out, and materiel was prepared for customer
pickup or onward movement by ground. Having the FDTs available to receive and
process materiel forward reduced the 10- to 15-day shipping time to 3 to 6 days.
In 1 month, the use of direct shipments removed approximately 41 truckloads
of cargo and at least 82 Soldiers from the dangerous roads of Iraq.
Support Operations Section
The need soon became apparent for a modular ele-ment that could be plugged into
the corps’ distribution process to coordinate FDT operations and synchronize
the movement of medical materiel with other classes of supply. The 32d Medical
Logistics Battalion reorganized its headquarters detachment to create a modular
plug that was dubbed the support operations (SPO) section. The functional layout
of the reorganized battalion headquarters shown on page 9 includes the mission-dictated
SPO section and FDTs. Note the coordinated communication between the FDTs and
the SPO, distribution operations, and direct support unit (DSU) operations sections.
The SPO section is staffed by a major with area of concentration (AOC) 70K, medical
logistician; a first lieutenant with AOC 70B, health services administrative
assistant; a sergeant first class with MOS 25U, signal support systems specialist;
a sergeant first class and a staff sergeant with MOS 91J, medical logistics specialist;
and a sergeant with MOS 92Y, unit supply specialist. The SPO section operates
out of 1st COSCOM’s Corps Distribu-tion Command and represents medical
logistics on a joint distribution board that synchronizes, prioritizes, and solves
movement issues across Iraq. Including a SPO section in the headquarters is
not a new concept; it is a part of the design of the future multifunctional
medical battalion. However, because it was embedded in 1st COSCOM’s Corps
Distribution Command and employed in wartime without a programmed force structure
or fielding, the SPO section was unique.
Locating the SPO section in 1st COSCOM’s Corps Distribution Command and
the FDTs in the corps support groups makes it possible to provide coordinated
customer assistance and timely distribution of medical logistics. Together,
these units maintain tactical visibility of main supply routes, attend meetings
of the joint movements board, exchange information with commodity command and
COSCOM customer liaison officers, coordinate ground and air movements, expedite
critical movements for mass casualty events and other urgent medical needs, and
monitor materiel in the truck lanes at the joint distribution center. The SPO
section facilitates resolution of issues raised by customers and the FDTs and
coordinates support to upcoming operations.
process medical supplies at Camp Liberty, Iraq (above).
Below, a Soldier repairs a dental compressor.
The FDTs facilitate medical materiel movement and area medical maintenance support.
The teams provide the critical link among COSCOM materiel movers and the corps
support groups, distribution op-erations, and customers. To do this, the team
mem-bers have become knowledgeable of the systems used by cus-tomers, such
as the Combat Automated Support Server-Medical (CASS–M), Theater Army
Medical Management Information System (TAMMIS), and TAMMIS Customer Assistance
Module (TCAM). They also are familiar with the logistics distribution process
and have an understanding of customer re-quirements so that they can best support
them. FDTs have proven effective in troubleshooting problems on site with automation,
materiel movement, and forward medical maintenance support.
The FDT NCOIC oversees training and assists customers in the use of logistics
automation, such as TAMMIS and TCAM, and works to resolve medical logistics
problems. FDT Soldiers also
help customers with
technological challenges such as firewalls and problems encountered when using
Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) and navigating Internet Protocol, or
IP, addresses. They also assist with maintaining intransit visibility and using
the Defense Automatic Addressing System Center Inquiry system to track inbound
class VIII shipments and validate input of customer information into the DSU’s
warehouse. The Soldiers on the FDTs also provide customers technical guidance
on installing logistics system components, setting up customer files, sending
orders electronically, receiving status reports, processing receipts, reconciling
orders, locating product substitutions, researching products, updating catalogs,
processing excess supplies, and issuing and turning in materiel.
Medical maintenance technicians are critical members of the modular team. They
provide medical maintenance expertise to customers in the FDT’s area of
responsibility, assist with the use of the Unit Level Logistics System-Medical
(ULLS–M), and repair forward medical equipment. They also coordinate with
DSU operations to obtain opera-tional readiness float equipment and facilitate
the retrograde of equipment and components for repair. Their forward presence
and their ability to assist with repair of critical equipment, such as the computerized
tomography (CT) scanners and medical oxygen generators, in remote areas of
Iraq are a true success story.
Within 30 days of implementation of the modular FDT initiative, the forward maintenance
technicians repaired more than 145 items of equipment and provided on-site assistance
to 62 customers. The FDTs were able to repair equipment on site rather than evacuate
it to another location, which saved a significant amount of time.
The 32d Medical Logistics Battalion found that a modular medical logistics force
could provide more coordinated support and enhanced customer service. The tailored
structure of the FDTs not only enabled operational flexibility but also matched
available medical logistics capabilities with the customers’ automation,
materiel, and maintenance requirements to provide fast and accurate service and
Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell E. Brew is the Commander of the 32d Medical Logistics
Battalion (Forward) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which is currently deployed
to Iraq. He holds a B.S. degree in business from the State University of New
York at Buffalo, an M.S. degree from the University of Southern California,
an M.B.A. degree from George Washington University, and an M.H.A. degree from
Baylor University and is a Fellow in the Ameri-can College of Healthcare Executives.
He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, the Logistics
Executive Development Course, the Joint Medical Planner’s Course, the
Army Force Management Course, the Medical Logistics Management Course, and the
Army Medical Department Basic and Advanced Courses.
Captain Jason M. Fairbanks is the Commander of B Company, 32d Medical Logistics
Battalion (Forward), at Fort Bragg, which is currently deployed in Iraq. He has
a B.S. degree is wildlife biology from the University of Montana. He is a graduate
of Army Medical Department Officer Basic Course, the Medical Logistics Management
Course, and the Infantry Captains Career Course.