Keep on Truckin’
They say an army moves on its stomach, but it needs all sorts of things – fuel, ammunition, communications equipment – besides food to keep on going.
Mail, for instance.
U.S. Army Major Coleen Carr says the military has a goal to get troops’ mail from the U.S. to Afghanistan or Iraq within seven to 10 days. “We couldn’t survive without strategic airlift,” says Carr, a human resources planner at the Theater Sustainment Command level.
In fact, to get the mail out to the troops at forward operating bases and other remote locations, “we actually have our own small feet of helicopters that only do mail airlift in Afghanistan,” she says.
Mail isn’t the only thing that moves by air in Afghanistan, says Army Maj. Yon Kimble, a logistics expert and former deputy director of logistics for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge was the road infrastructure there because “there is really hardly any,” she told an Army bloggers roundtable recently. The weather especially in winter exacerbates the problem making it hard to move goods during the snowy months. “So our time to conduct any type of mission is pretty limited, she says. While airlift can take up the slack in the winter months, weather poses yet another problem for flying, especially to Special Operations troops like Army Rangers and Navy SEALs posted in remote locations.
Carr and Kimble were among six field grade or intermediate officers attending the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas who spoke with the bloggers. They included five Army majors and one Navy lieutenant commander. The CGSC is a graduate school for mid-grade officers (Army, Air Force and Marine Corps majors and Navy and Coast Guard lieutenant commanders).
The naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. David Collis – also assigned to logistics work for Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – said “everybody would prefer to move things by air because its faster and [with] a lot less issues than on the ground.”
Those issues included providing security to truck convoys – sometimes from local police or military. Because Afghanistan is a land-locked country, everything has to be trucked in over often dangerous roads from Pakistan, like the one that runs through the wild and wooly Federally Administered Tribal Areas – a Taliban stronghold.
After dealing with the threat of attack in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s poor quality roads present additional challenges – especially in winter.
In Iraq, Collis said, pilferage was a problem until the U.S. military started providing security to supply truck convoys. Once when transporting containerized housing units from one base to another, Collis said the Iraqi drivers were stopped at a checkpoint where Iraqi police had broken into the trucks and were handing out beds and furniture to “local Iraqis that were selling them. It was kind of like a free-for-all auction.” Collis said U.S. troops broke up the impromptu bazaar and started escorting the convoys of Iraqi trucks after that. The Iraqi truck drivers asked the Special Operations troops to escort them home, too, so “they didn’t have to stop at the checkpoints, and they didn’t get shaken down” by Iraqi police.
The six staff college students said the take-away from their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan varied. For some it was learning the importance of cooperating with the other services, or learned to adapt to the very different culture and infrastructure of a combat zone. Major Carr, the human resources expert, said for her the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan came in handy responding to the earthquake in Haiti.
“I know it may sound a little odd,” she says, but the lessons learned in the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan “we were able to put into practice in Haiti, which was a very austere environment.”
Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Haiti, International Relief, Lessons Learned, National Security and Defense, Special Operations. Tags: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, counter terrorism, Defense, helicopter, Iraq, military aviation, Special Operations.