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What to Pack: A Guide to Predeployment Equipment Planning

A deploying unit preparing for deployment presents many pitfalls. However, with realistic expectations and proper planning by its property book officer, it can avoid many of them.

Planning a unit’s deployable equipment list (DEL) can be a challenging experience, even for seasoned commanders and property book officers. The process definitely can be intimidating when you consider factors such as an uncertain, constantly changing mission and difficulty in obtaining visibility of existing assets at your deployment site.

If you are involved in preparing your unit for deployment, you will not find a single source of information that covers every step of determining your DEL. The practices used in Iraq and Afghanistan change with every rotation, and they are not found in a field manual or Army regulation. This does not mean that you are left to fend for yourself. Many resources are available, including Department of the Army (DA) directives, Web-based data tools, and informal information networks. The key is to synthesize those bits and pieces of information into a coherent plan that best supports your unit.

Deciding What to Take

According to doctrine, the equipment a unit takes when it deploys is determined by its modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE). An MTOE allocates specific amounts of equipment based on a unit’s designated mission, and the unit theoretically deploys with nearly everything in its motor pool and storage rooms. However, the Global War on Terrorism has drastically changed the way units are employed in battle, and most combat units no longer are matched against a similar foe. Rapid changes in enemy tactics require rapid changes in the way we fight, which, in turn, affects the force structure of units in combat.

To permit quicker force structure changes for deployed units based on immediate feedback from the field, the concept of a DA-approved mission-essential equipment list (MEEL) was introduced. Think of the MEEL as a mini-MTOE designed for a particular type of unit performing a specific mission in a specific location. As with an MTOE, the MEEL usually is developed for the battalion level, although separate companies also should have MEELs. Similar units in neighboring locations may have slightly different MEELs, based on their unique mission requirements. For example, an infantry brigade combat team will have a MEEL that is similar to that of other infantry brigade combat teams, but with slight variations depending on the unit’s mission, the enemy’s disposition, and the terrain on which the unit is operating. The equipment you will deploy with is determined by an analysis of the approved MEEL.

Many unit planners assume that an MTOE plays a significant role in developing a MEEL. Units often make this common mistake in their planning. Actually, the MTOE plays little or no role in the development of a MEEL. Support items linked to a specific weapons platform likely will remain on the MEEL; however, the deployment location and the centralization of the unit at one site may eliminate the need for field support equipment to support dispersed forces, such as field feeding, power generation, or other life-support equipment.

Realigning your unit for deployment also will greatly affect the amount of equipment it takes when it deploys. Although it is obvious that an artillery battalion that has retrained and is deploying as a military police unit will leave much of its MTOE equipment behind, combat support and combat service support units deploying in their traditional roles also may not operate according to their doctrine and therefore will leave a lot of their equipment behind. An aviation unit may consolidate or disperse units based on the availability of facilities and the needs of the ground tactical commander, which, in turn, could change a transportation unit’s focus from long-line distribution to immediate local support. Such local, mission-focused adjustments play a more important role in determining a specific unit’s MEEL than an MTOE that is generally similar to those of other units of the same type.

The Coalition Forces Land Component Command approves MEELs for incoming units at least 90 days before they deploy. For deploying units conducting a relief in place (RIP) with a similar counterpart, the MEEL is based on input from the outgoing unit at the midpoint of its tour. Since the unit in theater has likely stabilized its mission and equipment requirements at that point, the midpoint data provide the best estimate of the incoming unit’s needs. This information is sent to the incoming unit for review and feedback, generally 5 to 6 months before its deployment date.

Your incoming unit receives a worksheet containing a list of the anticipated MEEL authorization levels for specific items, including on-hand quantities of theater-provided equipment (TPE) (specific line items designated by DA as permanent theater assets). Your unit reviews the MEEL level for each item of equipment and makes adjustments as necessary based on the commander’s assessment. Expected mission changes after the RIP may increase or decrease the need for certain items. Once the MEEL level has been reviewed, your unit compares the listed quantities of TPE and reviews any potential equipment shortfalls.

The operational experts who plan equipment requirements must let the logistics planners know what the unit will need. If your unit will not have a certain mission, it should not bring gear that will only sit in a shipping container. Detailed communication between your unit and the outgoing unit will help with planning. However, remember that your unit’s mission may grow, shrink, or change completely compared to that of the unit you are replacing.

Filling Shortages

MEEL shortages may be filled several ways. Your unit may bring its own organizational property, TPE assets may be redirected, or the outgoing unit may be directed to leave organizational property behind as a short-term loan (STL) or long-term transfer (LTT) (formerly called stay-behind equipment). STL is considered a loan—generally for 90 days or less—and is managed with a temporary hand receipt between the two units. LTT is for the duration of one deployment, and the property is laterally transferred from the losing unit to the gaining unit’s TPE property book account. STL and LTT will be returned to the losing component (not necessarily the losing unit) at the end of the designated period if it is no longer needed for future operations.

Several sources are available for determining TPE and LTT in theater. BattleWeb, a commercial asset visibility tool available through Army Knowledge Online’s Logistics page, and the Army Materiel Command Logistics Support Activity’s Logistics Integrated Database (LIDB) are both great for planners who do not have access to Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE). However, from a property book officer’s (PBO’s) perspective, I believe shared asset visibility in PBUSE is the most effective tool. The outgoing PBO should already have asset visibility of the TPE and installation property book section unit identification codes (UICs) he supports and should be able to request the same for the incoming PBO. This saves the hassle of emailing hand receipts and consolidated property listings weekly and allows the incoming PBO to run queries for specific items as often as his command requires.

If your unit needs equipment that is not on its property book and is not available for transfer from the outgoing unit, you must submit an operational needs statement though theater command, control, and communications channels to the DA G–3. If approved, DA will either procure or relocate the equipment to fill your unit’s needs.

If the redeploying unit has organizational property in theater that will fill a MEEL shortage for your unit, either unit can submit an LTT nomination request through theater command, control, and communications channels for DA G–3 approval. This should be done with the agreement of both your unit and the redeploying unit. DA will review available TPE assets and the actual need. If the transfer is approved, DA will direct the transfer of the equipment to theater property books.

Good communication between you and your counterpart in the redeploying unit also will save you when problems arise. I developed a professional and personal relationship with the redeploying unit’s PBO about 6 months before I arrived in country, which really helped smooth negotiations between units. Remember that the redeploying unit knows the theater, knows the mission, and knows what it takes to fight and win. Conversely, your unit may have other priorities from its higher headquarters, the opportunity to study the situation from an external perspective, and its own internal methods of operating. If your unit commanders are communicating effectively with their counterparts, all parties should have a good idea of the equipment available and potential shortfalls.

If everything works perfectly (and it won’t), once the MEEL is approved, you should be able to match your equipment on hand against MEEL authorizations, subtract available TPE or approved LTT, and have a complete list of equipment to deploy as well as a listing of left-behind equipment (LBE) to remain at home station. LBE will be transferred to the rear-detachment derivative UIC under property book identification code (PBIC) “X” and type authorization code (TAC) “G.” The PBIC “X” and TAC “G” combination alerts DA asset managers of the presence of LBE, which can be redirected to fill operational needs elsewhere in the Army or turned in for maintenance, rebuild, or overhaul while the unit is deployed.

MEEL approval often comes too late for the first units that deploy. It is timed for the arrival of most of the division, but the advance units may end up making assumptions and best guesses while the MEEL is being finalized. When my brigade deployed, we received the approved MEEL during railhead operations and had to leave at the port more than 100 wheeled vehicles that did not make the cut. The process has improved since then; it moved much faster as we prepared for redeployment and transition with the unit that would be replacing us.

Accounting for Property

Once you have developed the list of organization property to deploy and commanders submit their DEL to the transportation planners, you must conduct the 100-percent predeployment inventory required by the November 2005 interim changes to Army Regulation 710–2, Supply Policy Below the National Level. The PBO also must begin splitting the property book hand receipts into deploying equipment and LBE.

Your PBO should be one of the first people on the ground to confirm and assess possible new shortages of TPE and LTT. He also should work with his redeploying
counterpart to start setting up the transfer of property between incoming and outgoing units. Serious accountability problems will occur unless competent personnel handle the property split and ensure that the process is properly synchronized.

Splitting the Hand Receipt

A major pitfall in maintaining asset accountability during a deployment is the timing of container stuffing and hand receipt splits. In retrospect, I feel I set my deadline too soon, since I was in the advance party and left a month earlier than most of the units. In several instances, property was on the forward hand receipt and scheduled to deploy, but there was not enough space for it. Some company sub-hand receipt holders also changed their loadouts without informing the commander or primary hand receipt holder. The result was a series of lateral transfers from rear to forward hand receipts to correct imbalances caused by property that was left in the rear but retained on deployed hand receipts or items that were packed at the last minute without the rear-detachment hand receipt holder’s knowledge.

Ultimately, it is the commander’s responsibility to ensure that everything he signs for on the forward hand receipt is actually there, but the hand receipt split also must be synchronized to coincide with packing containers. I was fortunate enough to have a retired chief warrant officer (W–3) as my civilian property technician to conduct the hand receipt split and allow my noncommissioned officer in charge and me to deploy early. When planning the PBO shop’s personnel deployment sequence, the PBO must carefully weigh the capabilities of personnel, the benefits of early arrival in theater, and the possibility of problems with splitting the property book hand receipts.

Most of the difficulties that my unit experienced resulted from deploying equipment changes made after the hand receipt split, not from the actual process of splitting the hand receipt. On our next deployment, I plan to schedule the split late enough to have the units complete a Department of Defense Form 1750, Packing List, for each MILVAN (military-owned, demountable containers), which should be completed with line item number, national stock number, nomenclature, serial number, and quantity for all property book items. This will help ensure that the commander’s hand receipt is based on the equipment that is in the containers and not on the commander’s planned list of deploying equipment. Additional training at the unit level should also reduce the likelihood of personnel making last-minute equipment changes without informing the hand receipt holder.

Even if you have deployed to the same theater before, the learning curve will still be steep. Policies and procedures change often; what worked last time may no longer be effective. Communicate constantly with your counterparts in theater, but also make sure you are aware of changes in your organization’s plans. With an open mind, extensive research, and a little foresight, you will have a smooth transition on your next deployment.

Chief Warrant Officer (W–2) Gregory W. Besaw is the Brigade Property Book Officer for the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistics management from American Military University.