By Capt. Raymond AkersMay 12, 2015
Container management accomplishments in Afghanistan during 2014 are contributed to the synergy of strategic, operational, and tactical level leadership. Those accomplishments include the reduction of over 34,000 containers, the first ever contracted repair facility in Afghanistan, a million dollar monthly reduction in detention costs, and a 95% inventory rate. These accomplishments were made possible through the hard work of strategic partners at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), NATO Support Agency (NSPA), operational level leadership at the 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC), and tactical level leadership from service members and contractors. Theater level logistical planning, as it pertains to container management, is extremely successful when the three levels of leadership work in cooperation with one another.
Container reduction was part of the larger material reduction effort in theater. The number of containers on ground in Afghanistan was the primary metric tracked at every level of command in relation to containers. There were fewer than 56,000 containers in early 2014. The goal was to reduce that number by 34,000, which would leave 22,000 in theater by December. The ESC developed a three member non-doctrinal team within the Support Operations (SPO) Surface Mobility section to manage the mission. We were able to accomplish this goal by leveraging strategic partners and hard work on behalf of the end user.
The largest reduction of containers in theater was done through a scrap metal process led by the Defense Logistics Agency- Disposition Services (DLA-DS). Nearly 40% of those 34,000 containers were disposed of through DLA-DS. This was due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of containers were unserviceable and unrepairable. When containers were identified as excess and unrepairable, container identification numbers were routed and approved for disposal by the strategic partners at SDDC. Once approved, the containers were turned in to DLA-DS to be sold as scrap, and the records scanned into the Integrated Booking System-Container Management Module (IBS-CMM) and removed from the container count in theater. The DLA-DS scrap process was instrumental in meeting the goal of container reduction in 2014.
The second leading method for reducing container numbers was through divestiture. Around 30% of the 34,000 containers were divested through the Foreign Excess Personal Property program (FEPP). This program allowed United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to transfer containers that could be used as storage facilities, barriers, and shelter on bases being transferred to the Government of Afghanistan. This also served as tremendous cost avoidance due to the transportation expense that would have been associated with moving them to other bases in theater. Once the transfer of ownership was completed, the finished packets were sent to SDDC and used to reduce the inventory of containers. The FEPP process was successful in reducing container numbers, providing needed materials for the government of Afghanistan, and reducing the cost and need for transportation of excess containers.
The next leading method of container reduction was more of an administrative reconciliation with the Army Intermodal Distribution Platform Management Office (AIDPMO) at SDDC through an Inventory Adjustment Report (IAR) process. The IAR was used to reduce around 20% of the containers that had not been inventoried in theater for over a year. Many of those containers had already returned to CONUS during the 13 years of war and had never been taken out of the CENTCOM system of record (IBS-CMM). Some containers were redeployed by contractors and NATO partners without our knowledge and simply needed to be purged from the system if they were no longer on the ground. There were also a large number of containers that had several identification numbers on them, which meant that depending on who inventoried the container, it could be in the system several times. We worked with the Global Container Management (GCM) contract lead at SDDC to merge those multiple container numbers into a single container, which reduced the container count in theater. The IAR process allowed us to clean up the system and remove containers that were showing in the system as being on the ground, but could not be physically inventoried.
The smallest percentage of container reduction in theater was contributed to the redeployment and retrograde usage of containers. Slightly fewer than 10% of the containers in theater were used to transport equipment out of theater. Half of those containers deployed to theater with their unit and simply redeployed upon the completion of their tour. The other half was used by the CENTCOM Materiel Recovery Element (CMRE) retro-sort yards and the Army Materiel Command (AMC) ran Retrograde Property Assistance Team (RPAT) yards. We worked closely with AMC and the CMRE to keep serviceable containers on hand for their use in retrograding materials that could be containerized. While redeployment and retrograde did not contribute to a large reduction in the overall container count, it did use the majority of our serviceable containers.
A major concern that the leadership faced in relation to containers was detention costs of nearly a million dollars a month going into 2014. Through communication with the prior ESC, a lack of training on Integrated Booking System- Container Management Module (IBS-CMM) was believed to be a leading contributor. In an effort to be better prepared, we sent a team to United States Transportation Command (US-TRANSCOM) and SDDC to get two weeks of hands-on training prior to deployment. This training allowed us to see the importance of getting copies of border crossing memos (BCM) and proof of deliveries (POD) back to Global Container Management (GCM) at SDDC to stop detention costs on containers that the carrier's drivers possessed. We also received system level access that allowed us to see when and where carrier containers were being delivered, which allowed us to notify the end user of the importance of emptying the container and notifying the carrier for pickup as soon as possible. Another huge win in the detention battle was learning that there were many contractors cross-loading containers at the ports and using their own containers to move them into theater, allowing us to clear them from the system and prevent the start of detention charges. By the summer of 2014, through hard work on the part of strategic partners at SDDC and tactical level users, we were able to reduce detention costs into the thousand dollar range.
Container repair of government owned containers was a much needed capability for ensuring we could get equipment home without the unnecessary costs associated with using carrier owned containers or air lift capabilities. There were limited repair capabilities being completed by Soldiers and Marines at the larger bases. However, with the drawdown of troops and the increase in serviceable container requirements, a contracted solution needed to be completed. By the summer of 2014, the first ever contracted repair facilities had been established at the two largest bases in Afghanistan. This was accomplished through an Acquisition Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) between the NSPA and the US-TRANSCOM, and managed by the maintenance cell at AIDPMO and the Country Container Authority (CCA) for Afghanistan. The agreement was originally estimated at $8 million for repairing 20,000 containers. However, as the use of air movement increased, the need for repaired containers was reduced to 2,000 with a cost of just over $1 million. The repair facilities allowed us to bring unserviceable containers to a level of repair that allowed them to be used for shipment by sea or air. The peace of mind that came with knowing we had a sufficient number of serviceable, commonly called seaworthy, containers for redeployment and retrograde, allowed us to accelerate the reduction of unserviceable containers and avoid the high costs associated with carrier and air movements.
Container inventories were the key to success for container managers at every level of command. Better visibility of what was on the ground, and sometimes just as importantly, what was not, allowed for better planning in the next phases of the operation. Going into 2014, inventory percentages were nearing the 80% mark, with a goal of reaching 95%. We reached that goal through strong support from the GCM contractors, the drafting of a USFOR-A level container management policy, and empowering the six regional container managers during weekly planning meetings. Another strong contributor to the increase in inventory percentages was made possible through a meeting with DCMA and the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), which streamlined their property accountability process, empowered their subcontractors, and cleared up confusion from outdated policy. Reaching the 95% inventory goal was a true success for container managers at every level of command and with that improved visibility, made the decisions about all other facets of container management easier.
A significant lesson learned in Afghanistan was the fact that the inclusion of contracted container managers at every level of command is vital to successful container management in theater. IBS-CMM is not used in CONUS and is not trained on by Soldiers prior to their rotations. In turn, Soldiers entering theater have no knowledge of the need to manage containers or the training on the system used in CENTCOM. The only true way to fill that gap is through the inclusion of a small team of contractors at every level of command. At the strategic level, SDDC had a team of contractors in the GCM section that managed the IBS-CMM system used by the soldiers and contractors in CENTCOM. They were by far the subject matter experts on the system and were vital to providing continuity and data analysis that was world class. The GCM contractors were cut at the end of fiscal year 2014 and Soldiers are paying the price in theater for that decision still today with the loss of corporate knowledge. At the operational level, there were no contracted teams, which is the primary reason container management has been a challenge for Army leaders over the last decade in Afghanistan. There was a contract at the 1st Theater Sustainment Command until the end of fiscal year 2012 when they were replaced by Soldiers with high turnover rates. At the tactical level, nearly every container yard had some type of LOGCAP subcontracted container managers that were truly the saving grace in container management. Ensuring that future operations have the continuity and expertise on IBS-CMM that contracted personnel bring is the key to container management success.
In conclusion, container management was a success story for Afghanistan in 2014 thanks to communication and planning between the three levels of command. The key to successful container management is accurate visibility of what is present through inventory percentages in the high 90th percentile, reducing detention costs to nearly nothing, and quickly reducing container numbers in theater. This success can only be gained through an effort between service members and contracted IBS-CMM container managers at every level of command. The key to successful retrograde and reduction of containers from theater is the early creation of a contracted container repair capability which ensures fast and low cost transportation and allows for the reduction of unserviceable container numbers. While container management can be chaotic during warfare, it can be managed at a high level of efficiency with the right leadership and contracted management at each level of command.