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Revolutionizing Transportation Support in the Afghanistan Theater

3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Support Operations Mobility Section managed, coordinated, and synchronized all ground and air transportation logistics support in the Afghanistan Theater of Operation during the final phases of Operation Enduring Freedom. These monumental tasks included transportation support for sustainment, retrograde, and base closure, while having supported 55,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Seamen, and Civilians dispersed over 252,000 square miles. Adding to the complexities of the task was Afghanistan's difficult mountainous and desert terrain coupled with it being land locked: Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far northeast. It was the toughest movement task the current Army had seen in decades.

The Army's doctrine for transportation operation provides a solid set of structure, guidelines, and regulations for establishing movement operations in any theater and provides some level of information describing the duties and responsibilities of the various players. Unfortunately, in most instances, doctrine and organizational MTOE (personnel) falls short when providing unit soldiers and leaders the specific tools or detailed guidelines necessary for transportation support. To overcome such deficiencies the Mobility Section had to adapt.

The Mobility Section added additional capabilities and developed innovative procedures to handle sustainment and retrograding of equipment and supplies in the Afghanistan Theater of Operations. It also became the "eyes and ears" for all movement in the Afghanistan Theater and provided in-depth analysis, on a daily basis, to the ESC leadership. Additionally, the latest data enabled the 3d ESC Commanding General to make critical decisions which supported strategic command levels. This critical mission could not have been successful without changes/additions to the Mobility Section and to the doctrine on how to conduct transportation operations in the Afghanistan Theater.

This article will highlight some specific areas in which the 3d Sustainment Command's (EXP) Mobility Section developed methods, changed the organizational structure, and added personnel to overcome the structural shortfalls to accomplish the mission.

Organizational Structure

The 3d ESC Mobility Section has an 18-man team broken down by land, sea, and air led by one personnel in the rank of LTC (see Figure 1). Due to the level of mission requirement, the section had to be reconfigured and augmented with additional personal. A Warrant Officer and an NCOIC from the sea section were sent to Kuwait to provide sea movement coordination and visibility to the 1st Theater Sustainment Command; the rest of the mobility section was in Afghanistan managing land and air transportation operations (see Figure 2). Once in theater the sections were broken into Retrograde/Air, Land, and Container Management. The container management section was configured with one CPT and NCO stripped from the land section and one NCO from the sea section (Container Management covered by CPT Raymond D. Akers at In addition, the air section was augmented with four Joint Operations Planning and Execution Systems (JOPES) contractors, one DA civilian Operation Research Systems Analysts ORSA, one additional Warrant Officer who was "dual hatted" to support the land and retrograde section. Later this warrant officer became the "eyes and ears" of the mobility section by supporting the actual execution of retrograde operations at the tactical level.

JOPES Contractors

Joint Operations Planning and Execution (JOPES) process is not normally a doctrinal mission of an ESC mobility section. However, it became a critical capability in supporting the command's major focal areas of retrograding Theater Provided Equipment (TPE) and redeployment of personnel and equipment. This process focused on the execution of strategic scheduling with strategic partners (TRANSCOM / SDDC, AMC, CDDOC) and close telephone and email coordination to initiate high priority JOPES validation. Additionally, the build-up of skill sets in executing JOPES process became paramount in successfully executing the mission.

Four JOPES contractors were attached to the mobility section to provide the much-needed capability of conducting the multitude of theater movements, specifically theater retrograde and redeployment. The four contractors were broken up into two teams; two worked retrograde of TPE and the other two-worked redeployment of unit personnel and equipment. The contractors validated, screened, and did basic quality control on all movement request packets and entered the PAX and cargo data into the system. They processed approximately between 200-300 packets on a weekly basis consisting of thousands of PAX and equipment. Their expertise on the JOPES systems assisted in direct coordination with our strategic partners and higher with CDDOC, ARCENT, USFOR-A, SDDC, and USTRANSCOM. In addition, their technical knowledge helped quickly identify and fix discrepancies in expediting the movement process. The JOPES contractors were a vital part of the mission and they provided a capability for which the military lacked qualified-experienced military personnel.

However, the negative aspect of having contractors resulted from them quitting or changing jobs; near the end of the deployment the ESC had lost three of the four contractors and was limited to one JOPES contractor. This contractor shortfall resulted in the mobility section realigning the Air Mobility Warrant Officer to augment losses from the JOPES contractors. While this reduced the overall capabilities, the mobility section was able to continue its support mission. Eventually the entire JOPES contract was transitioned to Kuwait to support ESC's departure from Theater.

Operation Research Systems Analysts (ORSA)

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the Army Materiel Command (AMC) tasked the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity (AMSAA) with providing multiple Operation Research Systems Analysts (ORSA) to augment units in the CENTCOM Theater. The 3d ESC Mobility Section was assigned one such individual which greatly enhanced the ESC's overall capability to conduct transportation operations. The ORSA had superb ability in database building and analysis as the group often analyzed data and developed simple products from the most complex information. These products, which were built for several forums throughout the week, helped Senior Leaders in making decisions and enhanced the overall functionality of the retrograde process. One area of significant improvement ORSA brought to the table was to increase overall efficiency in the retrograde process -- at both the tactical and the operational level.

ORSA utilized the Army War Reserve Deployment System (AWRDS), which provided specific equipment data, tracks locations, and maintains visibility of transfer of accountability and complimented by the Radio Frequency Identity Device (RFID) technology that is also employed.

Essentially AWRDS is a supply/property accountability system designed to help with inventory and to track prepositioned stock of Army equipment that has been transferred from the Army Field Support Command (AFSC) to the Army units in contingency.

Upon arrival of the 3d ESC Mobility Section, we quickly saw the significant benefits AWRDS offered, however we identified several issues when it was combined with the transportation system of JOPES. AWRDS and JOPES do not communicate with each other as AWRDS is an unclassified system and JOPES is a classified ("secret level") system. The two systems reported different information when providing the status of equipment movement. In addition, the AWRDS system normally had a reporting delay in the status of equipment location, which had to be recognized in identifying equipment status.

Importantly, at one point equipment was identified as not having been shipped and was sitting in the 401st Army Field Support Brigade AFSB) Redistribution Property Accountability Team yard for several months. To prevent similar issues the mobility section initiated a bi-weekly meeting/scrub every Wednesday and Saturday. Each scrub consisted of one ORSA personnel, one JOPES personnel, one OIC from the Mobility Air Section, and an RPAT manager from the 401st AFSB. Two days prior to each meeting/scrub the ORSA personnel would retrieve data from both the AWRDS and JOPES and find all discrepancies or areas in which the two systems had different statuses of the same equipment. This list was sent out to appropriate personnel and reviewed line by line, following which the information was subsequently updated in each system with the latest and most accurate information. By doing this on a weekly base, the mobility section with the execution by the 401st AFSB reduced the backlog of equipment to be transported out of theater by thousands of pieces. ORSA analysts were a great addition in that they analyzed data and provided assistance in developing solutions to some of the most complex situations. Simply put the ORSA analysts became a vital asset to the 3d ESC Mobility team by being a workforce multiplier.

Tiger Team

After completing the left seat right seat and taking over the reign of the mobility section in Afghanistan. We quickly noticed a lack of visibility of Theater Provided Equipment and its status at the tactical level due to the huge back log of equipment caused by the shutdown of the Pakistan Ground Line of Communications (prior to the 3d ESC arrival into theater).

Hundreds of pieces of equipment awaited transportation out of theater and the wait was often for several months. The tactical organizations were overwhelmed with the increase in equipment turned-in and required assistance from subject matter experts (SMEs) who could assist in identifying quick solutions and creative ways to prepare cargo for shipment. To assist, the 3d ESC mobility section identified a mobility warrant officer and a NCOIC to co-locate at the RPAT locations and assist in pushing retrograde equipment out of theater. The "Tiger Team" was born.

The first issue identified by the "Tiger Team" were hundreds of vehicles which were flagged as shipped on the AWRDS system when they were actually still on the ground at the different RPAT locations in Afghanistan. For whatever reason, these vehicles had not shipped and simply had fallen through the cracks. But, with the vehicles removed from the AWRDS system they would no longer be shipped. The Tiger Team worked hand in hand with the 401st AFSB RPAT managers to place the vehicles back into AWRDS to receive a new Material Release Order (MRO). This allowed for the vehicles to then have a new transportation requirement built and requested, so shipping could begin. The group effort between the 3d ESC and 401st AFSB organizations paid dividends in creating a superb team and making history through expedited, retrograde operations.

Cargo preparation for so called, "ugly babies" was another issues. These items were vehicles and equipment that were identified as very difficult to configure for transportation due to characteristics such as size, weight, configuration, or damaged. Many of these items had to be transported via air due to sensitivity, which in turn had more strict cargo preparation requirement. Figure 3 depicts some of the complexities in cargo preparation and the level of detail in which a vehicle has to be tied down when being transported by a C-17 Aircraft. Due to the stringent cargo preparation standard, many of the "ugly babies" were not touched and were left alone for months.

As the RPAT managers identified and configured vehicles that were much easier to prepare and moved the backlog of "ugly babies" continued to build. The Tiger Team identified the equipment, worked with the 3d ESC Mobility Section, and in coordination with TRANSCOM was able to receive assistance in finding the best method of transporting the "ugly babies". By December of 2014 all those identified had been shipped out.

As the Forward Operating Bases throughout Afghanistan began to close, the 401st AFSB sent out Mobile RPATs to closing FOBs. Their purpose was to assist in the receiving equipment, cargo preparation, and transfer of equipment as far forward as possible to expedite the movement of equipment out of theater. Once again, the 3d ESC Mobility's Tiger Team was sent out to these closing FOBs to provide SME assistance in cargo preparation and identifying the best mode for TPE transportation out of theater. With the 401st AFSB placing the M-RPAT as far forward as possible and augmenting it with the Tiger Team, this significantly reduced the double handling of equipment and reduced transportation timeline by several weeks.


Success requires detailed planning and execution especially when doctrine or MTOEs fail or are obsolete. Solutions require innovation and co-operation across multiple areas and disciplines when fast reliable transportation operations in an austere environment like Afghanistan is required. The structural changes to the mobility section, the utilization of the JOPES system, ORSA personnel, Tiger Team, and an added container management section, all enhanced the mobility team's situational awareness of the full spectrum of logistics operations. In addition, this enabled the team to make sound decisions and provide timely information to the Commanding General. In this rapidly changing battlefield, the 3d Sustainment Command (EXP) Mobility Section continued to improve response time and flexibility of transportation assets through its continuing effort to refine processes and develop new techniques. With meticulous planning and detailed coordination, the section provided uninterrupted movement of personnel, supplies, and equipment to bring end to the final phases of Operation Enduring Freedom.