After 13 years of conflict, the combat mission in Afghanistan was coming to an end. The years of fighting amassed large quantities of equipment that needed to be returned to the services or disposed. Although retrograde occurred as early as 2012, the retrograde mission officially started with a four-phase operation in June 2013; Operation Drumbeat. Operation Drumbeat, which began in June 2012 and ended in December 2014, was designed to remove U.S. service members, equipment and vehicles from Afghanistan and transition the U.S. presence from the Operation Enduring Freedom combat mission to Operation Resolute Support. The Army was tasked to retrograde over 15,000 pieces of rolling stock and over 246,000 pieces of non-rolling stock in order to meet the goals set forth in the order. The 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) Support Operations Mobility Section was called upon to close out Phases III and IV of Operation Drumbeat during April 2014 to December 2014. The 3d ESC Mobility Section was able to accomplish this monumental and historic task with the hard work of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) and the assistance of strategic enablers.
The 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), with augmentation from reserve ESCs, had been the senior logistical headquarters in Afghanistan since January 2013. The 1st TSC began retrograding Army equipment under Operation Drumbeat in June 2013. They completed Phase I and Phase II of the four phase operation, retrograding over 7,200 pieces of rolling stock and over 95,000 pieces of non-rolling stock. Additionally, the 1st TSC established Enhanced Options for Cargo Retrograde (EOCR): the use of Kuwait as an Intermediate Staging Base (ISB) and a truncated Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES) process. The 1st TSC used Kuwait to increase retrograde velocity by reducing equipment preparation time in Afghanistan -- there was no deadline for the equipment to depart Kuwait. With the truncated JOPES process, the 1st TSC reduced the time the equipment had to wait for U.S. Air Force aircraft. They reduced the Ready-to-Load Date (RLD) from the 21 days that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) were already operating at down to a period of 14, 10, or 7 days.
In April 2014, the 3d ESC assumed the mission as the senior logistical headquarters in Afghanistan from the 1st TSC. The 3d ESC Mobility Section went to work immediately to ensure success of the retrograde mission. Their first order of business was to visit the 401st AFSB, the workhorse of the Army retrograde mission. The visit allowed the Mobility Team to see the retrograde process first-hand and see where the bottlenecks in the process were occurring. We used this knowledge to assist in refining the process to increase retrograde velocity.
An area where the 3d ESC Mobility Team almost immediately made a huge, but simple, change was with managing the retrograde "buckets" - strategic retrograde quotas established by CENTCOM. The quotas set a minimum amount of equipment that needed to be retrograded using certain modes/nodes. The simple change made by the Mobility Team was the issuing of weekly retrograde guidance to the 401st Army Field Support Brigade. This guidance told the 401st AFSB which mode was the priority for booking that week; it did not limit it as the only mode for booking. This simple change increased the velocity of retrograde by reducing Unit Line Number (ULN) packets returned to the 401st AFSB to near zero. Less ULN packets returned to the AFSB allowed them to complete new ones vice re-working old ones.
Weekly ULN scrubs
One elementary question to one of our JOPES operators, at the beginning of the deployment, led to another quick change for the Mobility Team. We asked, "What is the oldest ULN that is not closed out?" The answer was surprising, September 2013. This lead to a weekly ULN scrub involving all the stakeholders: both AFSBn's, the 401st AFSB, 831st Trans Bn, 595th Trans Bde, Consolidate Shipping Authority (CSA), and the ESC JOPES operators. One of our Mobility Warrants oversaw the weekly scrubs. The scrubs looked at all the ULNs that were in JOPES and reviewed the status with everyone. If there was a discrepancy in the status, the ULN was further researched. The first scrub produced over 100 discrepancies (i.e. 595th Trans Bde CSA waiting on paperwork from the 401st AFSB). The discrepancies were tracked until they were resolved and the equipment was picked up. Within two months, the discrepancies were reduced to just a handful or less per week. The oversight provided by the Mobility Warrant ensured that all ULNs in JOPES had a valid demand signal, thus ensuring equipment was picked up on time.
Seeing the 1st TSC successes of EOCR, the 3d ESC Mobility Team began executing EOCR II in May 2014, shortly after assuming the retrograde mission. We used the "enhanced" options of the Kuwait Channel and truncated JOPES. Both options were used until our departure in December 2014 and were vital to accomplishing the mission.
In EOCR I, the Kuwait Channel was very effective and was the main reason Phase II goals were met. The Kuwait Channel was responsible for shipping over 800 pieces of rolling stock in a little over a month. For EOCR II, the Kuwait Channel was effective but not like it was during EOCR I. The reason it was not as effective was how it was executed. During EOCR I, the Kuwait Channel was executed as more of a requirements channel where aircraft were dedicated to flying out retrograde equipment. During EOCR II, the Kuwait Channel was executed as more of a normal channel flight where equipment was loaded on a Space-A basis. If Port Hold Times (PHT) grew to a level that was considered high, then additional aircraft would be scheduled to pick up the backlog. These additional aircraft were also the first aircraft to be reallocated for higher priority missions. The Kuwait Channel was used almost exclusively in the month of June; however, it did not produce as much retrograde as during EOCR I. As stated earlier, the Mobility Team continued to use the Kuwait Channel until December 2014. It was effective in providing increased retrograde velocity by decreasing the preparation requirements for the 401st AFSB.
The truncated JOPES options became the favored option of the Mobility Team during EOCR II. During EOCR I several options were explored (14 days, 10 days, and 7 days). Our initial visit with the 401st AFSB led us to use only the RLD-14 option; the other options were very difficult timelines for the 401st AFSB to meet. We initially began using the RLD-14 truncated JOPES option in May to clear the remaining STRYKERs from theater by the end of the month. We then received approval from CENTCOM and TRANSCOM to use the RLD-14 option to clear the Leatherneck Redistribution Property Accountability Team yard by the end of May. Because of these two successful operations, both CENTCOM and TRANSCOM agreed to allow us to use the RLD-14 option as the standard for retrograde from that time forward. The use of this option produced excellent results, as the average time for lift was reduced to around 8 days from RLD, with most being within a few days of RLD. The only issue we experienced with using truncated JOPES was when higher priority missions in the CENTCOM Area of Operations took precedence over our retrograde ULNs.
The use of Commercial Multi-Modal (CMM) was a vital mode in the retrograde mission. The CMM carriers were able to accept the outsized, oversized, and non-mission capable pieces of equipment that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft would not accept. The biggest problem with using CMM was the validation timeline associated with it. The timeline allowed for both the contracting process and the winning commercial carrier to program the piece of equipment for movement. Though slow compared to the other modes, CMM was utilized heavily towards the end of our deployment due to other world-wide requirements for USAF aircraft. Its use produced higher daily retrograde numbers and was key to exceeding our Phase IV goal for rolling stock.
The shipping of Non-Rolling Stock (NRS) seems easy on the surface; just package a bunch of small pieces of equipment into a shipping container and ship it. The execution was not as simple. First, not all NRS's are the same size - a piece of NRS ranged from something the size of a pencil to a boat (12 of them to be exact). The metric used to track NRS retrograde rewarded high piece counts, causing the 401st AFSB contractor to focus on the small stuff. Second, not all NRS's were going to the same place -- there were dozens of destinations for equipment to be shipped to. This caused delays in shipping because the 401st AFSB contractor had to wait until the shipping unit (container, 463L pallet) for that destination was full before it could be processed for transportation. Thus, the shipping of NRS was more complex and had to be approached differently in order to meet our retrograde goals.
463L Pallets vs. Containers and the Kuwait Channel
Prior to our arrival, the 1st TSC conducted a Proof of Principle (PoP) to ship NRS by pallet. The thought was that a 463L Pallet could be loaded quicker than a container, resulting in a quicker shipment. Additionally, the PoP included shipping full plane loads of 463L pallets. These pallets could contain full tri-walls for different destinations. The intermediate shipping location would then sort the 463L pallets and build pure destination containers for onward movement. The PoP allowed the 1st TSC to move a large amount of NRS in a short amount of time. Upon our arrival, the 3d ESC Mobility Team took it a little further by addressing the sorting of the NRS by destination that slowed the retrograde process down. Working with Army Materiel Command, the 401st AFSB contractors were now able to pack non-pure destination tri-walls with NRS. This decreased the amount of time it took to fill tri-walls with NRS and thus decreased the amount of time to build 463L pallets. We also worked with the 1st TSC and the 402nd AFSB in Kuwait to ship these 463L pallets to Kuwait via the Kuwait Channel. This allowed the aircraft heading to Kuwait to maximize all of their pallet positions. Shipping NRS via mixed-destination tri-walls on the Kuwait Channel was the key to meeting the NRS retrograde goals for Operation Drumbeat.
The 3d ESC Mobility Team did not complete the retrograde mission alone. First of all, the 1st TSC laid the groundwork for many of the processes we did. Second, the 401st AFSB contractors and staff did the heavy lifting for the retrograding of equipment. Third, from TRANSCOM to SDDC, from CENTCOM to CDDOC, our strategic partners truly enabled us. The support that was provided allowed us to get the job done. Finally, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and the leaders of XVIII Airborne Corps allowed us to do what we did best. They were our true advocates and spokesmen to get us the support that we needed. It was truly a team effort from across the enterprise that enabled the closing out of the retrograde mission for OEF. SUSTAINING THE LINE!