In 2014, the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade had $1.2 million in credit reversed because they did not order one-for-one replacements for UH-1 Huey helicopter engines. The reason replacement engines were not ordered is that Hueys were modernized in favor of UH-60 Blackhawks 15 years prior.
Under a new initiative led by Army Materiel Command (AMC), Soldiers can turn in old equipment more easily at Modernization Displacement and Repair Sites (MDRS). In Samatha Tyler’s February 2021 article, “Initiative unencumbers units, supports Army modernization,” published in Army.mil, Gen. Ed Daly said “This is one of the most important things AMC will do to support Army readiness in the next five years.” AMC’s divestiture team lead added that aging legacy equipment is like a boat anchor, weighing the Army down.
As it stands, the mission of most MDRS sites will be limited to major end items. This places the burden to process the turn-in of legacy repair parts on supply sustainment activities (SSA). It is the functional equivalent of AMC taking the boat anchor and leaving units to deal with the associated chain. The chain is bespoke to the anchor, meaning it is only useful when the links are stored at the national level for redistribution or with the unit using the anchor.
Fleet modernization increases the workload for SSAs due to the need to turn in legacy inventory and receive spare parts for the new fleet. Dependency on the steady-state SSA reverse logistics pipeline is a high-risk enterprise-level management decision.
The Army can minimize the burden placed upon SSAs by reserving the reverse logistics process for materiel listed on a unit’s overaged repairable items list and items with authorized serviceable credit. During fleet modernization, most of the repair parts units have on hand to service legacy equipment will not be authorized for serviceable credit. Therefore, the logistics enterprise should implement a process that has the objective of maximizing turn-in velocity.
A proven way to maximize unit compliance and turn-in velocity when collecting legacy repair parts is to integrate materiel examiners and identifiers (MEIs) from Sierra Army Depot in California, installation Qualified Recycling Programs, and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)-Distribution Services.
The role of Sierra Army Depot MEIs is to collect serviceable repair parts for reutilization by the Army. During three collection exercises at Fort Hood from 2016-2018, MEIs packed and shipped 11 containers of aviation repair parts worth $19.5 million and an additional 50 containers of tracked and wheeled vehicle parts. The presence of Sierra’s experts at Fort Hood was a win-win for their organization because they optimized how the containers were packed, enabling faster processing at their facility in Herlong, California. Additionally, they were able to minimize unserviceable and obsolete materiel that was shipped.
Qualified Recycling Programs (QRP) can accept unserviceable materiel that does not require demilitarization. Fort Hood’s QRP participated in two of the three exercises on Fort Hood and collected enough scrap metal to fill 2-Olympic sized swimming pools, equaling 638,000 pounds of scrap metal, returning $58,760 to Fort Hood’s Mor-ale Welfare and Recreation program.
From a network design perspective, MEIs and installation recycling programs save labor by reducing inspection times and eliminating paperwork requirements for the SSA’s reverse logistics process. The three Fort Hood exercises saved a minimum of $2 million in labor costs.
DLA-Disposition Services, the DOD’s demilitarization experts, is an integral part of the MDRS team because they are authorized to redistribute serviceable repair parts which the Army no longer requires to other government agencies. Preparing turn-in documentation is not a trivial task, by eliminating this requirement, a team of experts at MDRS sites can remove a significant burden from units and increase turn-in velocity.
Integrating Sierra Army Depot, QRPs, and DLA-Disposition Services at MDRS sites aligns with the Army’s ‘People First’ main effort and reduces risk to deployed units by reducing supply lines. During a 2017-2018 Operation Atlantic Resolve rotation, an aviation battalion transported 2,273 lines of repair parts that were readiness drivers for aircraft no longer in their fleet from Fort Hood to Germany in 18 containers. While the deployment to Europe wasted money, it could have cost lives in combat as improvised explosive devices killed 2,640 U.S. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2011 and 2020. Reducing the practice of relocating obsolete or unnecessary parts shortens the supply line and eliminates the need to transport equipment through hostile territory.
Finally, in addition to the human risk noted, the Army has a fiscal responsibility to the American taxpayer and a duty to the Soldiers and their families to focus upon legacy repair parts in the MDRS mission.
Capt. Michael S. Smith is the chief of data fusion for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Field Support Unit. He received a Master of Engineering in Supply Chain Management from MIT in 2020 and a Bachelor’s of Science in Systems Engineering from West Point in 2011. This article is based on the author’s experience commanding the 62nd Quartermaster Company and leading Fort Hood’s 2016 and 2017 Unit Equipping and Reuse Working Group-Expanded events.
This article was published in the July-Sept 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.