U.S. Forces Korea's War Reserves Stockpile for Allies, Korea (WRSA–K), retrograde initiative is a congressionally sponsored program that allows outdated and excess ammunition stored in Korea to be shipped back to the United States to be recycled.
The WRSA–K initiative is expected to save millions of dollars in storage, inventory, and ammunition accounting costs. Under the accelerated retrograde initiative, the current goal is to send back 136,000 tons of conventional ammunition over the next 5 years. The ammunition slated for retrograde is no longer needed because of limitations in its shelf life and technological upgrades to weapons. Modern logistics concepts and the military's synchronized distribution network also have eliminated the need to store such large inventories abroad.
The Role of the 837th Transportation Battalion
As the single port manager for the Korean peninsula, the 837th Transportation Battalion, 597th Transportation Brigade, of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, stationed in Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK), plays a lead role in WRSA–K. The battalion executed its largest ammunition retrograde operation to date from 25 October to 4 November in Chinhae, ROK, as part of the WRSA–K initiative.
The first phase of the operation began months before, when the 837th's cargo documentation section received data on containers that had been loaded for shipment. The cargo documentation section, along with the terminal operations section, developed a pre-stow plan to ensure that ammunition would be loaded and stored on the vessel safely and compatibly. The sections then built a manifest and submitted it to the MV [motor vessel] Black Eagle.
On 6 October, long ammunition trains loaded with containers filled with high explosives began to arrive on the dock in a schedule that continued until the load out began on 25 October.
The October load out was the third time the Black Eagle had been used for a WRSA–K operation, and Red River Holdings LLC had invested in improvements that made loading the containers onto the vessel easier. However, during this operation, the 837th Battalion “Kargo Kings” had to perform the mission with only one functioning gantry crane while working in winds ranging from 30 to 40 knots. In spite of this obstacle, the team loaded onto the Black Eagle 1,250 20-foot shipping containers filled with more than 19,592 tons of WRSA–K ammunition destined for U.S. ammunition depots 4 days ahead of schedule.
“The Kargo Kings of the 837th and all the participating units have every reason to be proud of their accomplishment of executing this retrograde operation under less than optimal conditions,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kristian Rogers, commander of the 837th Transportation Battalion. “The Korean-U.S. battle cry of 'Katchi Kapsi Da' (We Go Together) was truly exhibited throughout this historic operation.”
Each Unit Doing Its Part
The 837th Transportation Battalion spearheaded the operation, which was conducted with the 6th Ordnance Battalion, the 25th Movement Control Battalion, and the ROK Port Operations Group. During the load out, the 837th Transportation Battalion held two meetings daily for leaders from all units involved in the operation.
Mornings began with a joint operations and safety meeting, where after-action comments from the previous day were discussed and operation plans, force protection, and medical evacuation procedures were reviewed. Every afternoon, a daily production meeting was held to look at load rates and plan the next day's mission.
The 6th Ordnance Battalion personnel procured, inspected, spotted, filled, and weighed 20-foot shipping containers for ocean transport. The 25th Movement Control Battalion arranged for rail transportation. The 837th Transportation Battalion ensured that containers had working radio frequency identification tags and were staged properly according to weight, compatibility, and consignee by the port operations group soldiers. The ROK Port Operations Group uploaded the vessel and moved ammunition from various locations around the Korean peninsula.
The commander of the ROK Port Operations Group was fully involved and committed to this operation from the beginning. The 665th Port Battalion commander was on site while operations were underway, and ROK Port Operations Group soldiers ensured the cargo was secured and loaded safely and on time.
“This unit [the 837th Transportation Battalion] provides Soldiers the opportunity to plan, coordinate, and execute ammunition missions like [the] WRSA–K [initiative],” said Staff Sergeant Clifford Kurten, noncommissioned officer in charge of the WRSA–K operation. “Working with our peers, U.S. and Korean, Department of the Army civilians, and Korean nationals not only helps strengthen the alliance, but also provides the hands-on experience that is vital to execute a mission like this in a safe manner.”