KUWAIT -- For much of the war, the complex logistical process of supplying the warfighters in theater has been behind the scenes. Now, with the push to get people and equipment out of Iraq, the work of surface distribution commands at sea ports is in the spotlight. Images of the war have shifted from combat troops in battle throughout deserts and urban landscapes to convoys of armored vehicles leaving Iraq destined for sea ports in the Persian Gulf.

One such unit that contributes to the heavy lifting of the drawdown is the 1185th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion, a reserve unit from Lancaster, Pa. The 1185th is responsible for operations at the Shuaiba Port in Kuwait.

On a continual basis, thousands of damaged and battle-worn armored vehicles from Iraq arrive to Shuaiba Port to be shipped back to the United States. Troops of the 1185th are responsible for inventorying the equipment, cleaning it, inspecting it and finally loading it on a ship bound for the United States. By the time equipment reaches the port, it has been cleaned and inspected multiple times by troops.

At the port, armored vehicles are inspected one last time by U.S. Navy customs.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McMullen, noncommissioned officer in charge of cargo management for 1185th, said the coordination among different logistics troops is essential for preparing equipment to meet the standards of customs. He said, "the main thing is having everything done right before it gets to the port."

Once they reach the United States, the armored vehicles begin a process known as retrograde. Retrograde is another term for repairing or retiring damaged equipment and reassigning it for use elsewhere in the Army.

The deadline to have troop levels down to 50,000 by Aug. 31, 2010, will influence the operations tempo at Shuaiba Port, according to Lt. Col. Walter Chwastyk, commander of the 1185th. He said that the pace of incoming and outgoing equipment has been consistent, but he added, "today's work in Iraq is tomorrow's work in Kuwait is next week's work at the port."

Usually, port operations are an unseen effort, taking a backseat to the more typical images of combat. However, working on the port is a demanding job that comes with its own hazards. For example, cranes and forklifts are often oversized, as they need the capability to lift armored vehicles onto flatbed trucks and ships. Furthermore, the large amount of commercial shipping traffic on the port can create dangerous working conditions.

"The fact that we're moving large pieces of equipment - in the day, at night, in sandstorms, 24-hours - can make ports lethal," said Maj. Eric Delellis, 1185th operations officer for Shuaiba Port.

Weather is also a challenge, as Kuwait is one of the hottest places on earth.

"High winds and sandstorms are prevalent," said Delellis. In such instances, the port closes, which forces troops to juggle the timing of incoming vessels, cargo that needs to go out, and cargo that is coming in. "It's a real chess match," he added.

In the face of the dangers, safety is paramount, and troops have the training needed to perform their duties safely, said Chwastyk.

Despite all the combined challenges of port operations, the 1185th continues to meet their own goals. For example, Chwastyk said that his troops maintain a 10-day dwell time, which refers to the amount of time vehicles stay at the port before going home. He added that "this can be thankless work" but that troops have upheld high standard of performance "to meet our goals of moving equipment," he said.

The 1185th is a subordinate battalion of the 595th Transportation Brigade headquartered at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The 595th is part of the Surface, Deployment and Distribution Command, and conducts port operations within 1st Theater Sustainment Command's 20-country area of responsibility.

Courtesy of 1st Sustainment Command (Theater). Originally published in the August 4, 2010 issue of "The Desert Voice". Also available at www.dvidshub.net.