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Using Central Receiving and Shipping Points to Manage Transportation

Upon his arrival in Iraq, Colonel Gustave Perna, the commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade, issued an interesting edict to his staff. This 22-year veteran, who had commanded a forward support battalion in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, announced, “Everything I know about logistics is wrong.” His point was that logistics is an ever-changing entity and we had to find new and better ways to complete our logistics missions. He also stressed the importance of effectiveness over efficiency. Efficiency is for garrison logistics, where lives are not necessarily in danger. On the battlefield, effectiveness is crucial to success and to saving lives.

Ineffective Transportation Management

In Iraq, the 4th Sustainment Brigade’s transportation integration cell (TIC), which is the transportation tasking section of the brigade S–3, found that several problems were affecting the way transportation movement requests (TMRs) were completed. First of all, the system was TMR-centric, meaning that the command was spending lots of time tracking how many TMRs were in the system and how long they remained in the system. No thought was given to Soldiers in combat logistics patrols or to the needs of customers. At that time, it took an average of 14.3 days to complete a TMR in the brigade’s area of operations. The system was ineffective. Customers often submitted TMRs to and from locations that we rarely visited. If a customer submitted a TMR from forward operating base (FOB) A to FOB B for one container, they had to wait for other customers to submit TMRs because road travel from FOB B to FOB A was too dangerous to send just one tractor to move a container.

The TIC also found that theater trucks were spending up to 3 weeks in Baghdad delivering their cargoes. They would travel from FOB to FOB locating customers and dropping cargo; one convoy might deliver to six FOBs. This time spent in Baghdad reduced the amount of cargo they could move because it reduced the availability of vehicles for other convoys, and that, in turn, reduced the support they could provide to Soldiers.

We also found that, as a result of the ineffective system, combat units were coming back to pick up cargo bound for them. The 4th Sustainment Brigade’s philosophy was to ensure that the combat units focused forward and that we would get them what they needed.

Solving the Problem

The 4th Sustainment Brigade solved the problem by creating a central receiving and shipping point (CRSP). CRSPs are not a new concept, but they were not being used to their full potential in the theater. In fact, a fragmentary order directed that CRSPs be used, but the order only required their use for class VII (major end items) and containers. Use of CRSPs was not considered for other classes of supply.

The 4th Sustainment Brigade took the concept to the next level by creating two CRSPs, one north and one west of Baghdad. These CRSPs were to act as transfer points for all supplies, including classes I (subsistence), II (clothing and individual equipment), IIIP (packaged petroleum, oils, and lubricants), IV (construction and barrier materials), VI (personal demand items), VII, VIII (medical materiel), IX (repair parts), and X (materials for nonmilitary programs). Class V (ammunition) supplies remained at the ammunition transfer and holding point. These CRSPs would be the central location for all classes of supply; they would not be used for storage, just as transfer locations for cargo. The concept was approved, and the assigned battalions secured the land and began the process of accounting for and transferring the supplies.

The companies required to run the two sites came out of hide and were not necessarily trained in CRSP operations. It took some time for the company commanders and the assigned Soldiers to execute the directed requirements for the operation because no other CRSPs existed to serve as models. The units were required to conduct 24-hour operations, and gathering the required gear to meet that requirement was not easy. The units needed lights, office space, entrance and exit gates, and other facilities and equipment. Once those items were secured, we were in business.

The concept required that the CRSPs become the central point for all cargo in the area. Combat sustainment support battalions within the 4th Sustainment Brigade traveled to local FOBs on a daily basis. To ensure maximum use of backhaul, trucks would pick up cargo bound for destinations other than their home FOBs and take it to the CRSP for transshipment.

Creating the CRSPs

Our first challenge was ensuring that the CRSPs were laid out effectively. We started building the CRSPs at the beginning of the rainy season in Iraq. The northern CRSP was large and situated on relatively high ground. However, the CRSP west of Baghdad was in a dust pit, which made a nice transition to a mud pit at the hint of rain. The units had to move cargo around that CRSP to find dry transfer locations. We needed much help from the engineers and contract help from KBR to raise the ground level and allow drainage.

We then had the challenge of training the companies to operate the CRSPs. In the north, we had a cargo transfer company, which had the right equipment and personnel to complete the mission. To the west of the city, we had a quartermaster supply company. These very motivated Soldiers had to create systems from scratch, and these systems changed daily based on tactics, techniques, and procedures and their growing experience.

Accounting for Cargo

Our next challenge was tracking and accounting for cargo. Up to 15 convoys arrived nightly, so cargo accountability was difficult. At first, the units were doing all accounting by hand, which required Soldiers to perform daily inventories. Much cargo was “lost” temporarily, and much was misshipped. The support mantra in the 4th Sustainment Brigade is, “Just get it done!” Our Soldiers fully understood that, so they accepted cargo that was not properly labeled just to get it off the trucks and send the trucks on their way; in the process, they inadvertently created a mountain of frustrated cargo. We wanted to maintain their proactive support attitude, but we needed to refine our system to make it effective.

Major Pat Laverenz, one of the brigade battle majors, created an accountability system using Microsoft Access. This system required input by the CRSPs and allowed anyone to track cargo based on TMRs, transportation control numbers, or container numbers. The TIC was able to perform a daily sort to check for incoming and outgoing cargo. Since the system was accessible to everyone, anyone in the TIC or at the CRSPs could answer questions from customers. Corps support battalions (CSBs) that were traveling to a FOB also could check the program and find cargo bound for that FOB. This ensured that we were more effective in managing our transportation assets.

The CRSPs allowed the brigade to “split” the TMRs among CSBs. TMRs were sent to the TIC using the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3) TransLog Web, a web-based information program that ensured that all pertinent information was sent to the tasked units. However, this program did not allow us to split the TMRs to take advantage of our CRSPs, so we asked Major Laverenz to create another program. His program allowed us to import data from the BCS3 TransLog Web and split the TMRs. Everyone had access to this program, so they were aware of cargo as it moved through the system. They could allocate trucks to move the cargo once it was in a CRSP.

Managing Convoys

Before the creation of the CRSPs, filling TMRs averaged 14.3 days from receipt to completion. Most TMRs required less than four vehicles to move the cargo. If we traveled from the destination to the origin, we completed the TMR quickly. But, in most cases, we did not travel that direct route frequently. Therefore, many TMRs sat for weeks as we waited for enough cargo from that FOB to warrant a convoy.

With the CRSPs, we overhauled the system by creating regular routes based almost solely on customer unit sustainment requirements. The brigade “split” the TMR by assigning one unit to bring the cargo to a CRSP and asking another unit to take it to the destination. Since we had trucks making sustainment runs almost every day, cargo on TMRs sat for very short periods. The CRSP’s job was to account for the cargo, put it into the destination lane, and ensure that it was loaded on the next truck going to the destination.

With this hub-and-spoke concept, we were able to decrease the TMR completion days to 6.2 per TMR. In many cases, we would be ready to move a TMR on the same day that we received it. Of course, some movements still required more than 10 trucks. In those situations, we created a convoy that bypassed the CRSPs.

As mentioned above, theater trucks were coming to Baghdad with cargo and spending days driving to delivery locations. Our concept was to have theater trucks deliver cargo to the CRSP, and we would take that cargo anywhere it needed to go in our area of operations. This concept helped to decrease the average number of days that the theater trucks spent in Baghdad from 17 to less than 4. We also asked that theater backhaul operations retrograde cargo whenever they had uncommitted trucks. In this way, we were able to backhaul over 2,000 containers—triple that of the previous year—thereby saving the Department of Defense millions of dollars by returning unserviceable class IX items to the supply system. Returning theater trucks to the system quickly allowed them to move more cargo and increase their support to the warfighter.

Turning In Vehicles

During our tour, the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Peter J. Schoomaker, ordered that all soft-skinned vehicles be returned to the Army. The CRSPs became the central location for that operation. We created a turn-in location in the CRSPs and built ramps. We created office space in the CRSPs for the Army Materiel Command (AMC) to account for the unit turn-ins. Units in Baghdad turned in over 3,000 vehicles. The vehicles were brought to the CRSPs, where AMC used the Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE) system to take them off the unit commanders’ hand receipts. Theater transportation then came to the CRSPs to pick the trucks up and transport them to Kuwait. This made it much easier for the warfighters to rid themselves of the vehicles as quickly as possible and return their focus to the battle.

In all, over 30,000 pieces of cargo moved through our CRSPs in support of fighting units. Over 9,000 pieces of cargo were staged and sent to Kuwait for retrograde. The transit time for this cargo was reduced by more than half, and the system allowed for nearly 100-percent accountability.

Logistics operations change as the mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations change. Logisticians must look beyond old concepts to create more effective systems within their areas of operations. We must ensure that the customers get the support for which they ask and more. The CRSP concept and execution helped the 4th Sustainment Brigade achieve its goal of support to the warfighter.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael D. Melendez is the S–3 of the 4th Sustainment Brigade. During Operation Iraqi Freedom 04–06, he served as the brigade’s transportation integration officer. He has bachelor’s degrees in geology and education from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Airborne Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.