WASHINGTON -- Distributing fuel was perhaps the most challenging job for the 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade as it served as the logistics headquarters in Afghanistan last year, its commander recently said.
In its six-month deployment from May to November, the unit distributed more than 380 million gallons of fuel throughout Afghanistan -- which is landlocked and roughly the size of Texas.
As part of the mission, it re-postured fuel distribution and storage assets across the mountainous country to improve resupply operations through the air and on the ground, said Col. Michael Lalor, the sustainment brigade commander. He spoke about his brigade's efforts in Afghanistan during a press conference Feb. 14 at the Pentagon.
"It's not easy to [transport] fuel. You have to get it to the right place at the right time, you have to make sure it's of the right quality, and you have to make sure you have storage on one end and distribution capability on the other end," he said. "That's what always kept me up at night."
Instead of only using fuel tankers, his brigade also used expeditionary fuel equipment, such as deployable bags and hose systems, as part of aerial resupply missions to remote, austere areas.
The brigade even helped bring in combat vehicles and other equipment to support the Army's first Security Force Assistance Brigade, which is expected to arrive in Afghanistan this spring.
The SFAB, one of six planned brigades, is specifically built to train, advise and assist the Afghans.
"We refocused on building capacity and depth in our sustainment equipment to reach units in the field," Lalor said. "This was important because the mission in Afghanistan continues to evolve and during our [deployment] the length and expanse of the U.S. and coalition advising mission increased -- we adjusted to meet that demand."
The 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade has since replaced Lalor's brigade and continues those operations.
Midway through the brigade's deployment, in August, President Donald Trump ordered changes that affected operations in Afghanistan. As a result of those changes, there would no longer be a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Instead, withdrawal from Afghanistan would be conditions-based. This meant troops would remain in place until conditions improved and Afghan security forces could maintain security on their own.
The sustainment brigade's mission also expanded to an advise role to support Afghan logisticians.
"We taught and coached the Afghan security forces, improving areas that included supply and fuel accountability, enabling them to run their own operations more effectively," Lalor said.
After three separate deployments to Afghanistan, the colonel said he has seen firsthand a progression of the Afghan military. In his first tour in 2003, his unit helped build the Afghan army. On his second tour in 2013-14, his unit transitioned control of day-to-day warfighting to the Afghan security forces. Last year, his brigade worked to improve the professionalism and proficiency of their logistics corps.
"You see the growth," he said. "They're not in emergency mode as much in their resupply now. They're more steady-state. But they have a ways to go and I think they would acknowledge that as well."
While the sustainment brigade's efforts in Afghanistan may have been largely unnoticed, Lalor said that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The colonel likens the job of logisticians to offensive linemen in American football.
"We are often unrecognized, doing the tough and unsung work," he said. "No one notices us until we make a timely mistake, and our 'quarterback' is sacked and separated from the ball at the wrong time.
"That's when we get attention, the wrong type of attention, and it is for all to see. During this tour, our leaders stood clean and upright in the pocket, surveyed the field, and kept moving the mission in Afghanistan forward."