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Transitioning a Base From Coalition to U.S. Control

Changes in the Iraqi operational environment prompted the renegotiation of security agreements between the Iraqi Government and coalition forces. The outcome of these negotiations led to the redeployment of more than 17 coalition national forces positioned throughout Iraq. Although most of the countries supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom redeployed without the need for replacement, some departures inevitably created a security or political void that had to be filled by U.S. military forces. The transition of control from coalition to U.S. forces and the associated shifts to new geographic locations triggered a cyclic process of requirements identification, mission analysis, course-of-action development, and continual refinement in the logistics community.

This article examines the planning and execution behind two examples of transition from coalition to U.S. control: the transition of the Korean-occupied Zaytun base in northern Iraq to the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment and the British-occupied Basra base in southern Iraq to the 10th Mountain Division during the period from October 2008 through March 2009. It also explores the major events leading to the transition of Zaytun and Basra, including the establishment of a joint planning team, building of planning estimates, synchronization of the plan through to its execution, and purchase of coalition equipment. The lessons learned from this experience can be applied in the Afghanistan campaign and in future operations that involve coalition partners.

However, even with the most disciplined approach to planning for a major transfer of control, it is impossible to foresee every possible constraint, limitation, or risk that will be encountered during the period leading up to the actual transition. Flexibility, teamwork, and communication will always be essential for a smooth transition and successful operation.

Joint Planning Team and Synchronization


Depending on the size and complexity of a force transition, it may be beneficial to initiate a logistics-focused joint planning team (JPT) to coordinate staff estimates and manage activities ranging from pur­chasing coalition equipment under the relevant acquisition and cross-servicing agreements (ACSAs) to establishing new service contracts. The composition of the team can vary depending on a number of factors, but the intent will remain the same: achieving a synergistic approach to the transition that is based on a clear understanding of the commander’s intent and that is supported by planning estimates that tie requirements to capabilities. Our experience in the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC–I) C–4 with the Koreans at Zaytun and the British at Basra differed because the Basra operation was more complex. The following lessons are primarily based on the planning effort as­sociated with the Basra transition.

The JPT for the Basra transition was relatively large and included representatives, action officers, and planners from the MNC–I and 10th Mountain Di­vision C–4/G–4, C–3/G–3 air sections, legal offices, C–8/G–8, and C–7 (engi­neers); the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP); Joint Con­tracting Command Iraq (JCC–I); U.S. Air Force; 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Com­mand (ESC) support operations office; coalition forces; ACSA staff; and others, such as classes III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) and V (ammunition) subject-matter experts, depending on the focus areas covered. The intent was to build synergy into the planning process and collectively cover each key area leading to the transition.

The JPT primarily relied on video-teleconference capabilities to coordinate with British forces in Basra; however, sub-working groups used the Microsoft Breeze tool on the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) to further develop and refine the transition plan in a small-group setting. (Microsoft Breeze is a voice-capable collaborative program that allows users to share PowerPoint presentations.) Multiple site surveys were conducted to improve coordination and, when applicable, meet with contractors and other support elements to address concerns in real time.

Planning Estimates

Once the commander’s intent is clearly defined, solid planning estimates in support of the operation build the foundation for a successful transition. In planning for the transition of U.S. forces into Basra, the key areas of sustain, move, equip, arm, fix, and fuel became the cornerstones for tying requirements to capabilities. Requirements were overlaid on these key areas, and capabilities were developed and executed based on what was needed for mission success. For example, the ESC positioned a forward logistics element, which contained a small maintenance support team and a movement control team, to operate a multiclass breakpoint for supplies pushed from a nearby supply support activity. A number of base life-support contracts also were developed and awarded to cover base operating requirements and support of logistics support areas.

The transition to Basra highlighted one area in particular where developing planning estimates, requirements, and capabilities posed a challenge. That area was airfield operations, which became mired in a political struggle, contract changes, interservice support questions, and an overall difficulty in determining what was truly needed to accomplish the mission. During the British occupation, a fully functioning air­field—complete with air traffic control; crash, fire, and rescue; and aerial port and passenger terminal personnel—was maintained in support of British forces. Early in the planning cycle, the C–3 air section, in coordination with the 10th Mountain Division, provided a decision brief to the MNC–I chief of staff with options for how the U.S. transition into Basra Airfield could be supported.

The chief of staff determined that the air traffic control and base operations functions should be supported by U.S. military personnel through an official request for forces (RFF) and that the remaining requirements, such as aerial-port cargo loading and unloading, should be provided by a contractor. This solution appeared to be both simple and executable. An RFF would be submitted for an air operation battalion to perform air traffic control functions, and KBR would manage the other airfield services under the LOGCAP III contract.

The RFF for the air operation batalion was submitted and, after several months of staffing, was approved by the Secretary of Defense. However the plan to contract out the other airfield services through LOGCAP III began to unravel. Under a national-level policy shift, the LOGCAP contract was converted into LOGCAP IV, which was designed to inject competition among three main service providers. As the statements of work were being redone, a subsequent decision was made to remove LOGCAP IV as a sourcing solution. This change forced another edit to the statements of work as the contracts were shifted to JCC–I for sourcing.

This period of turmoil consumed considerable time and began to affect the ability of U.S. fixed-wing aircraft to bring cargo and supplies to the airfield. When three U.S. aircraft were turned away because of a lack of cargo offload support, it was clear to the JPT and senior leaders that an immediate stopgap solution was required to provide aerial port capability until an enduring JCC–I contract could be established. In an attempt to gain support, two indirect measures were taken. First, an informal request for assistance was submitted to U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT). Second, the airfield planning estimates (the projected number of fixed-wing landings and their estimated cargo) were briefed to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Senior Logistics Round Table.

These two indirect measures, coupled with a number of key engagements with leaders (specifically, a general officer steering committee brief that included the MNC–I chief of staff and the Air Force air component coordination element), led to a decision that a formal RFF would be needed for AFCENT to deploy a contingency response element into Basra and provide temporary military support to operations. This course of action was pursued and ultimately provided the temporary capability needed at the airfield. However, the original planning estimates were called into question on numerous occasions. These estimates, built at the onset of planning, became instrumental in showing senior leaders that, without immediate support, the mission would continue to be degraded until the JCC–I contract was established.

The key lesson learned in the Basra scenario was that planning estimates need to be demanded and captured at the onset of a U.S.-coalition base transition. Having solid estimates allows the JPT to build on the foundation of the commander’s intent, frame the challenge, and resource the proper capabilities to perform the mission. To avoid confusion and duplication of effort, the estimates must be agreed upon at the JPT level and be strongly supported by senior leaders. Once estimates are solidified, backward planning can be used to provide the mile markers and decision points on the road to a successful transition. Should the plan deviate, the estimates will provide the backing for contingency plans, such as an RFF or other temporary stopgap solutions.

Managing Execution

During the planning of the Basra transition, it became increasingly clear that the environment in Iraq was changing and that MNC–I was starting to see the first hints of the approaching terminal stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This placed a greater focus on the fiscal aspects of the transition and on the RFFs submitted to support the operation. Managers of a transition must recognize the impact that the political environment, the stage of a conflict, future plans, and other enablers within the operational environment can have on the timing of the transition. The following are lessons learned about managing transition timing.

RFF. Requests for additional troops and equipment received increasing scrutiny. Cross-leveling was used when possible. For example, the theater fire chief identified and tagged crash, fire, and rescue equipment within Iraq for cross-leveling to Basra. Without these assets, a tremendous amount of time and resources would otherwise have been tied up in negotiations to obtain critical equipment.

The “Golden Rule” of support. Support to operations began with an internal look at what could be accomplished by military forces. If troop labor could not perform the mission, JCC–I contracting was requested, with LOGCAP as the final support alternative. The initial plan for the Basra transition relied on LOGCAP contracts; this was changed when it was identified that LOGCAP did not meet the intent.

Know your battle buddies. Understanding what our fellow Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors could bring to the fight was essential to facilitating operations. Air Force Red Horse (civil engineer) personnel provided a tremendous amount of construction support, while the Air Force’s air component coordination element, director of mobility forces, and air mobility liaison officer provided subject-matter expertise on airfield operations.

Retrograde support to coalition forces.
Even a highly capable coalition partner, such as Great Britain, may require retrograde assistance. This should be a planning assumption up front, even if such assistance is not requested in the months leading up to the transition.

Demilitarization of coalition ammunition. Research conducted by the MNC–I C–4 class V officer showed that it would be more cost-effective to demilitarize most of the coalition ammunition rather than prepare it, pack it, and retrograde it out of country. British ammunition was shipped to another location for destruction, which saved time, money, and transportation resources.

The second order effects of new contracts. New contracts require a vetting and badging process for the contract employees. Ensuring that a biometrics team is established and can handle the amount of local contract personnel in the time allotted is fundamental to meeting a contract start date. It is important to note that, unlike LOGCAP, establishing contracts through JCC–I increases the need for contracting officer’s representatives.

Facilities renovation and modification. While their facilities were not necessarily better or worse than the current U.S. “sandbook standard,” our coalition partners in Zaytun and Basra lived and worked under different conditions than U.S. forces. Modifications to areas such as the dining facility and billeting were required to meet requirements for U.S. forces.

Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements

Two significant ACSA requests were planned in conjunction with the departure of the Korean and British forces. The associated plan for transferring each base to U.S. control contained unique aspects in approach, planning, and execution.

In response to the Korean departure from northern Iraq, U.S. forces positioned themselves to fill in the area. Multi-National Division-North (MND–N) coordinated with Korean forces to identify equipment needed to facilitate the U.S. assumption of control of Zaytun. The items requested by MND–N were relatively limited in scope and primarily centered on power generation equipment and miscellaneous tents and shelters. During the planning process leading up to the acquisition of Korean equipment, the term “reverse ACSA” was coined to represent the concept of buying equipment from another country instead of the typical scenario in which the United States sells equipment, supplies, or services to another nation.

After extensive planning and coordination with corps and division ACSA representatives, plus support from U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) and CENTCOM, the final plan developed was relatively simple. First, the Koreans would inform the corps of the dollar amount they originally paid for the items requested. Next, a U.S. team composed predominately of logistics and engineer subject-matter experts would conduct a site survey to inspect the equipment and apply a standard depreciation model to the items; if both parties agreed on the value, they would then proceed with the transaction. Finally, the equipment values would be compiled on a spreadsheet, attached to a standard form CC35 (acquisition request), and placed into the staffing process, with ARCENT as the final approval and funding authority. Executing this basic plan took considerable time, and the redeployment date of the Korean forces ultimately became so constrained that the Koreans opted to donate the equipment without cost.

The assumption of Basra from the British was vastly greater in scale and involved a larger force transfer than replacing the Koreans at Zaytun. The equipment requested for purchase from the British by Multi-National Division-Center (MND–C) was also significantly greater than that of Zaytun and took a different path through the acquisition process. British leaders developed a massive spreadsheet known as the “Compendium” that outlined every item of equipment they would offer for sale. The Compendium included multiple tents in logistics support areas (LSAs), power generation equipment, dining facility equipment, bulk fuel equipment, and other support items.

The planning for this purchase was extensive and drew more scrutiny than the Korean transaction. The British used a special team to arrive at the dollar amounts that factored in depreciation for the Com­pendium. This eliminated the need for a U.S. team to calculate depreciation and negotiate a fi­nal cost. However, the first rendition of the Compendium only provided dollar amounts associated with groups of equipment, such as “Tent LSA–Alpha cost XX dollars.” It did not provide a line-item cost listing for each item (tent, generator, shelter) within the group. This became a point of contention.

During the planning process, key fiscal and legal challenges began to surface. First, it was determined that the total dollar amount per item could not exceed $500,000. This posed a problem because the British had not provided a line-item cost listing. Second, it was determined that a “major end item” could not be purchased under ACSA, which led to a debate over what constituted a major end item. Finally, justification of the need for the equipment was challenged by MNC–I C–8, primarily because a large volume of items were requested for purchase without a supporting plan showing detailed requirements.

To overcome these challenges, the MNC–I C–4 deliberated with the XVIII Airborne Corps staff judge advocate (SJA), ARCENT, and CENTCOM to arrive at a consensus. The British were asked to reexamine the original Compendium listing and arrive at line-item cost listings in order to validate that no single item exceeded the $500,000 price cap. Through negotiation and senior-level engagement, the British complied with the request and provided the detailed information. The result was that each item was valued under $500,000. The corps SJA provided legal guidance and a written deposition that the items requested did not meet the criteria of a major end item. Finally, justification for the equipment became increasingly clear over time. Without this equipment, MND–C’s transition to Basra would have been significantly hampered, resulting in either a slow transfer or a transfer at a potentially higher cost.

The process developed for this acquisition activity varied slightly from the Korean model in that the finalized package would be staffed through the Joint Facilities Acquisition Review Board process and up to ARCENT for final approval in the form of a Super Coalition Acquisition Review Board package. Along with a completed CC35, a division letter of justification was required in the final package.

Achieving a Successful Reverse ACSA

Although the ACSA requests for Korean and British equipment varied in scope, cost, and process, certain elements remained true for both scenarios. The following six rules for a successful reverse ACSA were captured during the planning:

1. Start the planning early. Equipment identification, inspection, pricing, and documentation will consume considerable time and manpower.

2. Involve the staff at all levels. Having division and corps legal representatives, C–8/G–8 personnel, and logisticians involved from the onset of planning will increase situational awareness and pay dividends as the process unfolds.

3. Utilize ARCENT and CENTCOM. These two commands will not only provide guidance, they ultimately will control the funding. Questions and concerns need to be resolved at the onset of the process, and keeping them informed of the plan will help ensure a smooth transition. As with rule 2, involve them early and keep them aware as situations change.

4. ACSA does not equal a “going-out-of-business sale.” Too many times, the term “garage sale” or “fire sale” was used in conjunction with our plans to purchase coalition equipment. Having a solid plan that accounts for requirements and briefing it to key leaders will minimize the perception that a unit wants to buy every item offered.

5. A “good deal” does not equate to need. This rule ties to rule 4. Simply because equipment is being offered at a minimal price does not mean that it is truly needed for the mission. Each echelon must share fiscal responsibility, and every attempt should be made to cross-level U.S. assets to fill a requirement.

6. Solicit outside agency support. Depending on the type, amount, and location of the equipment to be purchased, assistance may be needed from theater property book personnel to properly inventory, catalog, and bring to record the items requested. These personnel must be included in the plan to properly synchronize the effort.

Planning and executing the logistics of a coalition forces drawdown and subsequent transfer of the operational environment to U.S. control is both an art and a science. The mission blends the essential ingredients of clear intent, mission analysis, rock-solid estimates, and course-of-action development and timely execution with the constraints of time, money, and resources at the tactical through strategic levels. The logistician finds himself switching hats between city planner, mediator, recordkeeper, facilitator, and decisionmaker. Pushing and pulling information though the gauntlet of contracting agencies, legal dispositions, fiscal battles, and bureaucratic staffing often transcends service and government lines. The ultimate lesson learned is to keep your eyes on the prize and hold on for a bumpy ride!

Major Brian Lesiak is the executive officer of the 7th Transportation Battalion, 82d Sustainment Brigade, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is a “blue to green” transfer to the Ordnance Corps who served as the Multi-National Corps-Iraq C–4 Future Plans Officer. He has a B.A. degree in criminal justice from Kent State University and an M.A. degree in business/organizational management from the University of Phoenix and is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College.

 
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