CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait (Feb. 10, 2012) -- In the history of the U.S. military there has never been a requirement to retrograde as much equipment in as short a period of time as there was during Operation New Dawn, when American forces withdrew from Iraq.
In order to accomplish the mission, and with all the new systems being used to transport and track equipment, it was necessary to learn new skill sets and combine them in a logical, effective combination as part of Redistribution Property Assistance Teams, or RPATs, which are teams formed to relieve units of equipment.
In the course of last year's massive retrograde operations, the 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, operating s RPATs at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, and throughout Iraq, found innovative solutions to work out issues with operations in order to make mission.
So with the drawdown of Operation Enduring Freedom soon to start, and the potential for future missions requiring massive re-posturing, 541st CSSB created an RPAT Academy, a learning experience for Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan for that logistics retrograde mission.
The concept of the academy, initially a 10-day training course, was to pass on best practices and processes that those Soldiers would need to successfully conduct logistical operations on a massive scale similar to the Operation New Dawn retrograde.
Subjects of instruction included the fundamental principles and practices required to conduct effective RPAT operations, among them learning property accountability functions, the roles and responsibilities of primary hand receipt holders, Wholesale Responsible Officer, or WRO, training, customer service responsibilities and other related tasks.
"It's 10 days of instruction in best practices gained in Iraq and Kuwait as a baseline," said Maj. Damiko K. Moore, 541st CSSB support operations officer. "It's a question of knowing the process and the procedures. The 1348 (Issue/Release Receipt form) was a big step in that, the accountability piece."
The academy began its first class cycle Jan. 16 with 24 students and a second class of 36 Soldiers from 233rd Transportation Company, 113th Sustainment Brigade, began a couple days later, with graduations Jan. 25 and 27.
"There are multiple TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) out there," said Lt. Col. William Cain, 541st CSSB commander, as he addressed the graduates. "But the property accountability piece is the cornerstone of RPAT operations. You will find yourself in a variety of different situations when you get on ground in OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom). However, property accountability procedures will remain constant, and you will be able to adapt to your situation in order to develop an efficient process at your respective location."
"Right now you may be feeling like a jack of all trades and master of none, but we have provided you the tools and the reach-back capabilities you will need when you run into problems you can't solve. You can reach the experts back here to get the help you need to figure it out," Cain said.
"It is very enlightening," said Staff Sgt. Fay Dantzler, of the company's 4th Platoon, home stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., as she waited for the graduation ceremony to begin in the Camp Virginia Chapel. Like many of her fellow Soldiers, Dantzler's military occupational specialty is an 88-M, truck driver.
"The practical exercises, seeing what comprises an RPAT and what makes it work, was the best part for me as an NCO (nocommissioned officer)," Dantzler said. "To me it brings a lot of opportunity, being a multi-tasker. As an 88-Mike, all we do is drive trucks. Now I'll be accounting for funds and finding missing Army equipment."
Dantzler said the flurry of new acronyms didn't slow the truckers down too much.
"We didn't really know them, so as the class rolled along we picked them up, pretty much by the second day," she said.
"Anytime when you first learn a set of acronyms, it takes a minute to learn what they are," said Spc. James Veen of 3rd Platoon, who is home stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. "There was a lot of information. It's just a good idea to get trained on what we're going to do instead of just getting thrown into it. As 88-Mikes we would just go to the yard, pick up equipment and drive it away. Now we're going to be preparing the equipment for that pick up."
"I'm a convoy commander, so I'm familiar with the yard itself, but not the working aspect. As a convoy commander I actually drove some of those vehicles," said Staff Sgt. Kymberlee Clark of the 2nd Platoon Outlaws, who was recognized as the honor graduate of the class.
"It was great, not knowing anything at all about RPATs and Mobile-RPATs. Now I'm not going to be blindsided," she said.
When asked what surprised her most in learning the operation and seeing it from the logistician's point of view, Clark said, "The amount of equipment I'd be accountable for, the dollar amount. It can run into the millions. The range of property and amount of detail involved in accounting for it was a lot to take in at first."
"Also knowing that the platoons would split up once they reached their destinations, so there was a kind of bittersweet quality to the whole experience," Clark said. "Because when get there we're all going to go to different FOBs (Forward Operating Bases), so it's the last time we're going to be together," she said.
The 233rd graduates were scheduled to fly to Afghanistan within days and will start conducting RPAT operations within a matter of weeks, said 541st CSSB officials.
"It's a team of two, a team of four, a team of eight. It just varies depending on what you're going to be doing. The idea is for us to set up an RPAT, but we'll probably fall in under another unit," said Clark.
"This is a tough business," Col. John S. Laskodi, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade commander, told the graduating class. "Thank you very much for your service to the country, and thank you very much for what you are about to do."
Laskodi urged the 233rd Soldiers to be adaptive when they get to Afghanistan. He recounted the extensive planning that went into preparations for the Iraq retrograde, and how much of that went out the window when the timeline for Operation New Dawn was drastically shortened by events that no one could foresee.
"That drove a lot of things that were never really planned for. And speak up. The best ideas are going to come from you. You are going to set the stage for those who come in after you," Laskodi said.
He reiterated the two guiding principles to which the newly minted RPAT specialists should adhere come what may.
"Accountability: what we have; and visibility: where it is. Don't sacrifice them for the sake of velocity," he said.
There will be a lot people back in Kuwait, and leadership up the Materiel Enterprise chain of command, who will be tracking the progress of the RPAT Academy, its graduates and the lessons learned they send back from the field, Laskodi said. The impact of the whole learning process will only come to the fore in a year or two when Operation Enduring Freedom retrograde operations hit their full stride.
"There are a lot of people who get to read about history, but the people in this room are going to make history," Laskodi said.
"The RPAT Academy has the potential to have a major impact on the drawdown of equipment and Soldiers from OEF, and it's a great opportunity for the 541st to be able to affect Afghan operations from Kuwait," said Maj. Jason Christenson, 541st CSSB executive officer.
Its influence, and the adaptability and perseverance of its graduates, will have a direct, immediate and long-term impact on the retrograde of equipment back to the United States, he said.
The RPAT Academy curriculum is being considered for possible addition to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command curriculum in Logistics and Transportation schools so that the knowledge gained isn't lost as new Soldiers come up through the ranks, said Christenson.
Soldiers of 98th Maintenance Company, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Brigade, home stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and newly arrived in Kuwait, will undergo RPAT Academy training in the first half of February, said 402nd AFSB officials.