CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - The colors are cased, the formal transfer of authority is complete, and Soldiers of the 420th Transportation Battalion now prepare for the next challenge during their deployment - transitioning from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to their home station of Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Serving as the only theater movement control battalion in the U.S. Central Command area of operations from Aug. 23, 2018, to April 28, 2019, challenges have been the norm.
"We were responsible for the movement of equipment and personnel throughout theater - minus Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Leopold K. Karanikolas, the battalion commander. "Our job is to move equipment t through the (Trans Arabian Network), and (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries throughout the Middle East to support the warfighter.
"The way to look at us is air traffic controllers on the ground," although they did facilitate the movement of commodities by air as well.
Within the State of Kuwait, the mission is straightforward and doctrinally compatible. But with Soldiers located in four countries, managing overland movement between and through eight, each with their own established rules and procedures?
"It's not doctrine. It's METT-TC dependent (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops, time, and civil considerations). You have to be flexible, and go outside what you know. Be innovative. We didn't allow doctrine to box us into a little corner."
The battalion motto is "Code Breakers," and mission success depended bring the motto to life.
"The truth is there's not really doctrine to deal with this. It's something that we have to determine and prove that process as we go along. Part of that was improving the processes while we were here."
Improvements included expanding the planning window from one day to seven, allowing a more accurate depiction of what would be moving when, and gaining the ability to adjust priority movements when facing unforeseen events like road construction, hostile situations, or the 60-year record flooding in Kuwait.
Improvements included saving U.S. taxpayers about $80 million a year by being frugal with allocated funds and shifting utilization between contracts, as well as from performance based to fixed cost contracts. Short term savings from contract adjustments alone are estimated at over $500 million.
Improvements included upgrading the battalion tactical operations center to implement new Army systems that give full in-transit visibility of trucks as well as another system that better manages transportation movement requests, resulting in the ability to better analyze overall mission performance.
With just over 50 Soldiers in the battalion headquarters, managing 18 different militaries and contracted movement control teams in 13 different locations to accomplish tasks like moving the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team and 3d Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, in and out of Kuwait proved not to be an issue. Each has more than 3,500 Soldiers and thousands of pieces of equipment.
"It's important to know how great our Soldiers are. They are young. They are smart ... flexible ... agile" said Karanikolas. "My Soldiers are a great example of what the Army's going to look like in the future."
Brig. Gen. Clint E. Walker, dual-hatted as the commanding general of the 184th Sustainment Command and deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said that the 420th "made a lasting positive impact on both the mission and those you personally interacted with. Congratulations on a job well done. Families have every reason to be proud."
Looking beyond the journey home, Karanikolas reflected on the unit's time in Kuwait.
"In five years, I think we will look back with satisfaction on the job we did out here. Progress was made, ISIS was defeated, we were part of that. I think we will be able to say we made a difference."