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Corps Distribution Center Operations in Iraq


Our unit, the 319th Corps Support Battalion, arrived at Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, in February 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom II. In peacetime, the battalion is assigned to the 172d Corps Support Group (CSG), U.S. Army Reserve, headquartered at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. When deployed, the 172d CSG (and thus our battalion) is assigned to the 13th Corps Support Command from Fort Hood, Texas. In Iraq, our battalion was tasked to take over area support functions, including management of general support and direct support class I (subsistence), nondivisional direct support, LSA water production and distribution, and operation of the corps distribution center (CDC) at Balad. Although the previous unit had done a good job in setting up the CDC under very bad conditions, we quickly noticed that improvements could be made in several areas.

Logistics Flow in Northern and Central Iraq

Materials arrive in the CDC from the theater distribution center at Camp Doha, Kuwait, and from the arrival and departure air control group in Balad. The CDC has a reception point, which screens incoming traffic, and three main yards: the multiclass yard, which handles classes II (clothing and individual equipment), IIIP (packaged petroleum), IV (construction materials), VI (personal items), and IX (repair parts); the general support class I yard; and the onward movement yard. The CDC arrival and departure movement control team (MCT) controls traffic and documents the cargo moving through the CDC. All traffic enters the CDC through the reception point and exits through the departure point checkout station.

CDC Reception Point

Cargo processing begins at the CDC reception point. This step is critical to all follow-on processing. The CDC receives sustainment cargo and pushes it forward to the appropriate satellite node. When we arrived in Iraq, the entrance to the CDC was located next to the multiclass yard and convoys were staged in an area outside of the yard. Some convoys had to wait for long periods of time to be processed, often because line haulers arriving in the yard had to wait for others to clear the CDC to download their cargo. Pallets and containers blocked other pallets and containers, while liaison officers from the supported units prioritized what they wanted loaded next. This caused control and security issues because cargo was being downloaded and routed on the spot while other vehicles were forced to wait to come into the yard. The reception team also stages convoys and vehicles, so, at any given time, 100 or more vehicles from three or four countries were staged in the CDC.

Initially, the inbound radio frequency identification (RFID) tag interrogator was perched on top of the CDC control building near the sustainment cargo, a position that could adversely affect the tags on the cargo stored in the area. Multiple pinging of the RFID tags on containers that sit in the arc of an interrogator depletes the tags’ batteries and can cause an information jam in the interrogator system. To prevent these problems from occurring, we relocated the front gate and the inbound interrogator to the front of the staging area so they would operate more efficiently and save tag battery life. We also moved a team of soldiers and a civilian MCT to the new front gate to log in all types of packs, RFID tags, pallet ID numbers, and CONEX (container express) numbers. The moves improved security and control and, most importantly, improved the overall reception operation.

Multiclass Yard

Our multiclass yard is broken down into several different areas. One is the mixed-pallet and frustrated cargo area. It is operated primarily by soldiers from the 51st Maintenance Battalion’s 574th Supply Company from Mannheim, Germany, with augmentation from Halliburton Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). Their job is to receive packs that are mixed or frustrated. Mixed packs are CONEXs or pallets whose contents have multiple Department of Defense Activity Address Codes (DODAACs) and are destined for several different supply support activities (SSAs). Packs that have items with multiple DODAACs but are headed to the same SSA are not considered mixed. Automated logistical specialists (military occupational specialty 92A) break down the mixed pallets and segregate their contents on pallets to be shipped to each of the many logistics nodes served by the CDC. If enough cargo for one location is received in 24 to 48 hours, a “pure” 463L pallet is shipped. Partial pallets are sometimes shipped so critical supplies will reach their destination on time.

Sometimes a pallet is labeled “pure,” but when it is broken down at the receiving SSA, it is found to contain items that belong to another SSA. When that happens, the items must be shipped back to the CDC as retrograde cargo. In effect, cargo is shipped several times by the same transportation units. To avoid this, greater effort should be made to increase the number of pure pallets shipped to the theater.

Another part of the multiclass yard is designated as the “retro” area. This area is run by the 574th Supply Company, augmented by the 302d Cargo Transfer Company, an Army Reserve unit from Fort Eustis, Virginia, and KBR. Retrograde cargo from the satellite SSAs is backhauled to the CDC, where it is determined to be serviceable, unserviceable, or misdirected. In the first few months, a lot of cargo was shipped back and forth among SSAs, the CDC, and the theater distribution center because the retrograde cargo was not properly processed and labeled through the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS). For example, when an unserviceable major assembly was retrograded to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, or the theater distribution center, often the original materiel release order and military shipping label would still be on the container. When this happened, the unserviceable major assembly was shipped back to the CDC. Because about 1,000 major assemblies pass through the CDC each month, we missed some of those that were labeled improperly, and they were sent back to the SSA that had retrograded them 2 weeks earlier.


One thing we did to stop these reshipments was
enforce the procedure for processing retrograde through SARSS. We notified the SSAs that we would no longer receive undocumented or unprocessed retrograde cargo starting 1 July 2004. By the end of July, the quantity of undocumented or unprocessed retrograde cargo had dropped dramatically.

A redistribution warehouse with an active SARSS was set up in Balad in an effort to save time and money. SSAs can ship serviceable or excess stocks there rather than back to the warehouses in Kuwait. “Orphaned” and found-on-installation stocks (items on hand but not on any unit’s hand receipt) can be sent to the redistribution warehouse for processing rather than to the CDC.

The main area of the CDC multiclass yard is devoted to cargo lanes. The 7th Corps Support Group’s 71st Corps Support Battalion from Bamberg, Germany, and the 372d Cargo Transfer Company from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had done a good job setting up six lanes. Each lane is designated for use by certain SSAs or service areas. Now, empty trailers are staged in the lanes, and incoming cargo is transloaded from sustainer trucks to the trailers in the appropriate lane.

Onward Movement Yard

As part of the new CDC operation plan, we stood up a loaded-trailer staging area that we call the CDC onward movement yard. When trailers are fully loaded and documented, they are staged in this yard. This helps the transportation units that are building convoys by allowing them to come in and hook up to the appropriate trailer without having to wait to be uploaded.

Because this new setup works so well, we are now preloading class I. We know that 10 to 20 class I trailers are needed each day, so we try to keep as many of them staged as possible. This has increased the efficiency of the yard even further. Moving cargo directly onto trailers dramatically cuts the time required to process a convoy. Before, it took 6 to 12 hours to process a convoy because CONEXs and pallets had to be moved to make space for new ones coming in. Now, it is just a matter of moving cargo from one trailer to another. Because of the reduced processing time, transportation units spend less time at the CDC and more time on the road. They now can move more cargo without more equipment or personnel. There is less wear and tear on equipment, and, since most of the cargo is never set on the ground, there is less gravel and dirt on the pallets and in the trailers. Cargo is now being handled only once instead of multiple times.


We knew we needed to automate the CDC if we were ever to have an economical operation. The number of misdirected shipments and reshipped commodities was just too high. Operating independently of other logistics nodes was costing us too many resources, so we decided that we could justify the costs associated with improving our communication system.

We now have two Transportation Coordinator’s Automated Information for Movements System II (TC–AIMS II) machines in the CDC that we use to burn tags and print MSLs. We also have a mobile Deployment Asset Visibility System (DAVS) that we use to interrogate RFID tags without a hard connection to the Internet or a power supply. We use it to “look inside” a container to get the consignee information without breaking a lock or seal. When we need to find a certain RFID tag in our large yard, the DAVS scans and captures information on all the tags in a specific area. This is particularly helpful because RFID tags sometimes are placed where they are hard to find and may be overlooked.

Since we arrived in Iraq, we have been able to obtain an Automated Manifest System-Tactical (AMS–TAC) for the CDC. With it, we can receive and ship cargo, burn RFID tags, and maintain in-transit visibility and total asset visibility (ITV and TAV) of the shipped items. Before AMS–TAC, RFID tags or pallet IDs on a mixed pallet often became disassociated with the transportation control numbers (TCNs) on the pallet when we broke it down. This did not mean that the cargo was lost, but tracking it was a problem. Disassociated RFID tags had to be cross-referenced manually with the correct TCNs, which was extremely complicated and time consuming. Those factors, plus the likelihood of human error, rendered the manual effort unproductive.

With AMS–TAC, the TCNs of items used to build pure pallets are scanned, and, when the tag is burned, the data go to the ITV server in Germany. When a shipper searches global transportation network (GTN) or ITV Web sites for the TCN, the new associated TCN and tag number, or “bumper number,” is displayed.
Automated systems work well under ideal conditions, but we soon learned they do not work well in dusty Iraq in the middle of July. We are not discouraging the use of automation; rather, we are pointing out that automation has its limits, and smart business practices must be used to keep things going when automation fails.
Automation runs on electricity, and it is a day-to-day battle to keep the generators running at the CDC. Dust and heat take a heavy toll on air filters, oil, and hydraulics. Scanners tend to operate for only 20 to 25 minutes when the temperature is above 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

The condition of the pallet or CONEX labels is very important. All packs shipped must have a Department of Defense [DD] Form 1387 (military shipping label [MSL]) and a DD Form 3148–1A (issue release/receipt document [IRRD]), or similar document, on them. (See Army Regulation 710–2–1, Using Unit Supply System Manual Procedures, for more information on labeling.) The MSL contains the TCN, the number of items in the pack, and the consignee. The materiel release order, which is generated by SARSS or another AMS–TAC, contains the document number, national stock number, routing identification number, unit of issue, quantity, commodity, requirement code, and unit price. If the labels have extraneous marks on them, the AMS–TAC scanners have a hard time reading them. Retrograde cargo is processed manually each day, but the barcodes on those labels are needed to automate the documentation.


Because currently published unit DODAACs are used to determine where cargo goes, it would be helpful if the correct DODAACs were included on both the MSLs and the IRRDs. Placing these documents where they can be scanned easily from the ground while the packs or items are sitting on a flatbed trailer also would dramatically improve the ITV and TAV of cargo.

RFID tags get damaged, batteries run down because of extensive pinging, and some tags are not burned properly. Also, when the electricity goes, so does the interrogator. We may go hours or even days before we can fix it ourselves or get someone to fix it. We do not stop our operations during this time. We still record every piece of sustainment cargo passing through the CDC. To prepare for inevitable automation failures, we developed a manual system to track cargo. As cargo comes into the yard, we fill out an improvised form we call a “drop placard.” On it we record all of the necessary ITV data, as well as information ITV cannot capture, such as the name and type of the hauling unit.

Once the cargo is processed into the appropriate lane, the drop placard is taken to the MCT at the front gate, and they produce an inbound report of pertinent data. When a trailer is completely loaded, we tag it with a “pull placard.” This tells the trailer transfer point team or the KBR tractor team to pull that trailer to the CDC onward movement yard. When transportation units arrive to haul the trailers, the departure point MCT uses the pull placard to produce an outbound report of cargo that has left the CDC. We also use the pull placard to record the classes of supply that are loaded on specific trailers. Twice a day, we record, by unit supported, location, and class of supply, what has been received in the CDC; what is staged; and what has left. We currently record each RFID tag and pallet ID number on drop placards and pull placards. We then turn those placards over to the inbound and outbound MCTs to be entered into a spreadsheet.

AMS–TAC is a very handy and capable system, but it is menu driven. This means that it looks for a certain sequence of barcodes. For example, in the receiving mode, the AMS–TAC barcode scanner first seeks the TCN of the unit that shipped the scanned cargo to that location. It then asks for various other barcodes and, eventually, for the document number barcode.

We are developing a process that will use personal data assistants (PDAs) with built-in scanners to read these additional barcodes. We want to use the PDAs to build a quick list of RFID tag and pallet ID numbers, which will increase the accuracy and productivity of our on-site cargo recordkeeping. The PDAs also will read nonstandard barcodes similar to those used by commercial shippers. We often receive packages that have commercial barcodes on them, and it would be helpful to be able to cross-reference those barcodes with standard DOD barcodes.


Automation does not work well without communications. When we arrived in Iraq, we had only a single-channel, ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) that worked some of the time. We had no phone, Internet connection, or handheld radios. Keeping track of critical materials-handling equipment and orchestrating movements and operations in the yards were impossible.

One of our first tasks was to get phones in the multiclass yard and the class I yard. Although this proved to be a challenge, we eventually were able to get a very small aperture terminal (VSAT), which is a small earth station for satellite transmission. With the VSAT, we can receive and transmit CDC-related data to everyone, which is a great boost to our operation.

The CDC is a very busy area. At any given time, we may have 4 or 5 rough-terrain container handlers and 10 to 15 forklifts working in the yards and containers and pallets are being moved around constantly. In such a setting, land-based communication lines do not hold up very well. Even when the land lines are buried, they eventually are cut somehow. One way that we are working around this problem is by using the Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface (CAISI). This system gives us the ability to run a wireless network to the various operations nodes in the CDC yard. Currently, we are trying to get a CAISI client module for the ammunition supply point (ASP). However, since we have already assigned the nine Internet Protocol (IP) addresses allocated to us by the VSAT system administrators, we currently do not have an IP for the ASP CAISI.

CDC Soldiers

The soldiers in the CDC come from both the Active and Reserve components and have various military occupational specialties. Most of them had no specific training for this operation before their deployment because no one has ever done what we are doing here. Our processes are new. We have improvised by creating forms and using some equipment for purposes other than those intended in the original design. We operate in all kinds of weather on an installation that is one of the most frequently attacked installations in the theater. Everything is dirty, usually hot, and often broken. In many ways, ours is a thankless job, but our soldiers get the job done, and they do it better each day.

CDC Wish List

Based on our deployment experiences so far, we have compiled a “wish list” of things we think would improve our operations. Here are some of the items on that list—
• Some of the packs that come into the CDC look like travel trunks that have been riding around on a train for awhile—they have labels all over them. There should be one global label with barcodes that can be read by any scanner. An alternative would be scanners that can read any barcode. Both labels and scanners should be constructed so they will survive in hot, dusty, and windy environments.

• Everyone understands and plays by the same
logistics rules, so all major logistics nodes should have the same types and quantities of equipment such as materials-handling equipment and communications sets and outfits.

• A single collection point for the immediate area would enhance the overall logistics operation. Currently, transporters have to stop at several outlying logistics nodes, which delays shipments and frustrates cargo. Units sometimes refuse to download cargo because it is not theirs or they do not want it. These deliveries needlessly put the drivers and their trucks at risk.

• Transportation organizations with different equipment create logistics constraints. Civilian tractors and trailers do not work well with their military counterparts. We need more consistency of equipment and organizational structures.

The CDC has come a long way since the 319th Corps Support Battalion arrived at LSA Anaconda. Four separate Army units, a team of marines, and at least three contractors operate military and civilian equipment in the CDC. Together, we have processed more than 15,350,000 pieces of cargo weighing over 800,000 tons (or 1,400 to 1,500 truckloads each week) while five divisions and many nondivisional units were deploying and redeploying. Most cargo, frustrated or not, is cleared out of the CDC in 12 to 36 hours. Because we serve over 160,000 military and civilian personnel, we are sometimes the object of both gratitude and scorn. Although we are operating at about 98-percent accuracy (measured by the amount of cargo processed versus documented misdirected shipments attributed to the CDC team), we expect the negatives to decrease and our systems to improve even more as we acquire better facilities. Our focus now is to achieve 100-percent accuracy, and do it faster, cheaper, and safer than ever before. ALOG

Captain Bret D. Jones, USAR, is the Transportation Officer in the Support Operations Office of the 319th Corps Support Battalion, 172d Corps Support Group, which is currently deployed to Balad, Iraq. He has a bachelor’s degree in air transportation/airport management from Northeast Louisiana University. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.

Lieutenant Colonel Emmett C. Schuster, USAR, is the Commander of the 319th Corps Support Battalion, 172d Corps Support Group, which is currently deployed to Balad, Iraq. He has a bachelor’s degree in entomology from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Kansas. He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.