CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — The 401st Army Field Support Brigade is working to ensure units deployed to the last days of the U.S. mission at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport redeploy home with their equipment.
As equipment was retrograded out of Afghanistan, the 401st has received, stored and secured the equipment in one of the brigade’s lots.
"Our role specifically, in regard to the retrograde of materiel and U.S. forces out of Afghanistan—predominately, we are providing the terrain manpower to receive, store and secure that material retrograding from Afghanistan," said Col. Patrick J. McClelland, who took command of the brigade June 23.
"That effort includes facilitating the deployed units’ return and redeployment of their organic property, as well as accounting for and reconciling theater-owned equipment and materiel," he said.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Chamberlain, who deployed here with the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command to serve as the support operations officer, or SPO, for 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s operational command post, said this was his sixth deployment to the region, including tours here working with the 401st in 2011, when he handled the influx of vehicles and equipment leaving Iraq at the end of Operation New Dawn, and then in 2012 and 2013 when he was part of the initial retrograde of materiel from Afghanistan.
"I have spent many days, weeks and months—years basically—intimately involved ultimately in the lots," he said. "It is the catcher's mitt. From there, everything is dispositioned—either put back into theater stock and the reset program, or it goes to the states."
Retrograde of materiel from HKIA
As U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Aug. 31 end-of-mission deadline approached, the challenge was to retrograde out what 1st TSC had sent into the airport.
"Accountability was one of the most significant things that we were responsible for when the retrograde started," he said.
Chamberlain said before the beginning of Operation Allies Refuge and the end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, the 401st AFSB placed $154 million in theater-provided equipment, or TPE, in the Kabul area.
Chamberlain said the intention was to support the enduring mission of military personnel assigned to the airport and HKIA.
Then, around the middle of August, the mission transitioned from State Department-led to military-led and 1st TSC, which handles all logistics in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, began surging military personnel, equipment and commodities to HKIA as Operation Allies Refuge kicked off.
Part of keeping track of the equipment and commodities coming back was directing the flights out of HKIA to airbases in the region.
According to Chamberlin, airbases in Kuwait received Army equipment.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, along with the teams from the division and XVIII Airborne Corps staff and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, were based at Camps Arifjan and Beuhring in Kuwait.
Materiel belonging to the 24th Marine Expeditionary was directed to another base in Kuwait, and materiel belonging to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command was sent to Saudi Arabia.
"We tracked very carefully everything that went into HKIA and everything that came out," Chamberlain said.
Soldiers of the Army Reserve's Bartonville, Illinois, based 419th Movement Control Battalion segregated all Army and Coalition items that either landed at Ali Al Salem or was shuttled there by its owner, he said.
The 419th then reached out to the different Coalition partners and the Marines to work out how to get commodities and equipment where they belonged.
Army Reserve Warrant Officer Elaine Vargas, the accountability officer for the 401st AFSB’s Army Field Support Battalion-Southwest Asia, said she is watching everything come in from the military operations at HKIA that ended Aug. 30.
"I have not just property from the Army,” Vargas said. “I have identified equipment from Marines, I’ve identified some assets from the embassy—we’re receiving everything."
Chamberlain and his team have worked through this effort with Vargas every day.
"Warrant Officer Vargas was very diligent about tracking and accounting for everything that was received into that yard and everything that left that yard," the lieutenant colonel said.
Vargas and her Soldiers at the Redistribution Property Accountability Team, or REPAT, were helped by the units at HKIA through the professional job they did packing up the equipment.
"The job that they did at HKIA was phenomenal—under duress—to be able to outload that amount of equipment and commodities and send it back and have it placarded and have it accounted for was amazing," he said.
There were even packing lists attached to the containers and pallets, which were all properly packed for shipment, he said.
"When those things arrived, she could look at the netted pallets or containers or whatever and see what unit it belongs to," he said. "Then, all she had to do is reach out to that unit’s rep and get an LNO to come down to the yard, identify their stuff and either take control of it or prepare it for forward movement."
Captain Michael Ellison, who deployed to HKIA with the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based, 3rd Battalion of the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said he and his “Gun Devil” Soldiers conducted an inventory and inspection of his battalion’s gear in the lot.
"We did our own due diligence," the Woodlawn, California, native said. "We got everything back, and I think everything we're doing here is to make sure we get back home with everything we came out with. There have been no issues so far, and everything seems to be in good shape."
Theater-provided equipment processed through the 401st AFSB
In addition to the unit-owned items, the REPAT also received two types of TPE, he said. First, there was the TPE sent to Kabul as part of what was intended to be an enduring mission, and also the TPE, such as tents, cots, camouflage nets and concertina wire that was sent to support Operation Allies Refuge.
"We were able to retrograde 23 pallets worth of theater-provided equipment—all will go back into the APS-5 to the theater stocks for follow-on missions," Chamberlain said.
APS-5 is the Army Prepositioned Stock site managed by the 401st AFSB. The APS-5 has equipment sets to field different types of military units.
The 1st TSC also retrieved 119 aircraft pallets of Meal, Ready-to-Eat and bottled water that were staged at the Al Udeid flight line that was never sent to HKIA.
"A lot of what we do is anticipation," he said. "We did a tremendous amount of work and built stockpiles of commodities and supplies the units requested and what we anticipated they would need if the mission went past Aug. 31."
As the implementation agent in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility of Army Materiel Command, McClelland said his brigade takes the lead in synchronizing and integrating sustainment enterprise capabilities at the tactical and operational point of need to fully support unified land operations.
The Chester, Virginia, native said he was grateful for his team of active duty and reserve-component Soldiers, civilians, and contractors who came together to work this task.
"They have the ability to flex and surge and give it their all each and every day—we got a small but mighty team," he said. "They are proud to have been a part of this operation and will continue to do everything they can each and every day to fully support U.S. service members in the CENTCOM AOR."
McClelland said, "I think the biggest surprise in taking on this job was just seeing the ebb and flow of operations within the CENTCOM AOR."
The colonel said he has deployed in the theater before, but he is always learning.
"This is my sixth time through the AOR and just getting to see where we're at in terms of operational tempo, whether it's materiel flowing out of theater or materiel flowing into theater, ramping up or ramping down: CENTCOM is always moving."