By Claire HeiningerOctober 7, 2010
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Tacked to the wall of a small office at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is a T-shirt with the phrase "Insquequo bos devenio domus" - Latin for "'til the cows come home."
That's the motto for the crew now working in Baghdad to collect and return the massive cadre of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, equipment fielded during seven years of war in Iraq. As the U.S. mission shifts from combat to supporting and advising the Iraqi forces, Army Team C4ISR leaders say their support responsibilities will remain constant until all U.S. troops are safely out of the country.
"There are systems that provide security - surveillance capability, sensor capability for Soldiers - and even as units draw down, that requirement will stay there for some period of time, really until the very end," said Joseph Hollenbeck, director of the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications -Tactical, or PEO C3T, Readiness Management Division.
"So even as we say units are drawing down, that doesn't necessarily mean our PEO C3T systems are coming out at the same rate," Hollenbeck said, citing Counter-Rocket Artillery and Mortar C-RAM, a system that intercepts rockets and mortar rounds. "The key is we've got to continue to support those units in the fight - or in the assistance, whatever their mission is - until we're told no."
The Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States calls for the last American troops to leave the country by the end of 2011. With President Obama declaring an official end to combat operations on Sept. 1, the Baghdad Redistribution Property Accountability Team and other RPATS across Iraq - as well as their C4ISR colleagues in the U.S. - are playing a key part in the drawdown.
Leaders described the withdrawal process as a vast and complex challenge, taking into account not only the needs of the troops who remain, but also those preparing for deployment who need a full complement of refreshed equipment.
"We call it dominoes - if one hits, they all go flying," said Patrick Shaw, chief of the Drawdown Special Project Office stood up by CECOM Life Cycle Management Command to coordinate the effort. He received the T-shirt in the mail after one of his frequent visits to Iraq. "If you pull one out and then you've got nothing to fall on, it just stays up... You constantly have to keep on going around the circle."
Lt. Col. Michael Rodriguez, military deputy for the PEO C3T Readiness Management Division, described it as "almost a linear relationship" as troop levels decline.
"We'll still continue to provide the support that's going to be required, it'll just be a smaller footprint," he said.
With Army leadership mandating end-to-end visibility and accountability for all deployed equipment and personnel, both the DD SPO and PEO C3T have devised sophisticated mechanisms to track the drawdown's progress. The SPO is charged with accepting equipment from units, moving it out of theater and transporting it to a repair facility.
While some of the items are sent directly to Afghanistan to meet an immediate need, the bulk of C4ISR equipment comes home when its unit does, Shaw said.
"It's state-of-the-art equipment and it needs to be refreshed," he said. At "peak" activity times when several Brigade Combat Teams were leaving at once, the reset database buzzed with more than 3,500 pieces of equipment in transit, Shaw said. That has now fallen to about 1,500 at a time, which includes everything from radios to generators to large hubs for satellite communications through the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment One.
As part of the transition from combat to drawdown, equipment is being consolidated at one of six enduring hub locations throughout the country - down from thousands of different posts, Shaw said. There, about 120 people on the SPO team - such as the "cows come home" group in Baghdad - begin a careful and labor-intensive process.
Whether it is small enough to be packaged with 50 others and shipped, or big enough to require its own plane, each piece of gear is electronically tagged and entered in a database, where it can be tracked in near real-time throughout its journey back to a repair depot. One tag is capable of displaying equipment headed for multiple locations in the U.S.
When a commander needs any piece of that equipment for a training module in the U.S., it can't still be "sitting in Iraq or Kuwait or Afghanistan," Shaw said.
"We move it as fast as we can. We're talking about sandstorms, no ships, no airplanes, alternate transportation. There's a variety of issues that come into moving the equipment. But our goal is to make that requirement."
The six hubs are also the points for consolidating people - the main focus of PEO C3T's drawdown efforts, thus far. As of Aug. 1, the most recent numbers available, there were 217 PEO C3T personnel on the ground in Iraq providing support to units, Hollenbeck said. Of those, 78 percent were already located at one of the enduring hub locations.
To accurately track personnel movements, C3T devised a monthly actual personnel count that can be compared with the count in the Synchronized Pre-deployment and Operational Tracker database for maximum accountability. In addition to the current count, Hollenbeck said he is planning for the future by asking PMs to forecast their needs for personnel, equipment and facilities between now and March 2011.
As the U.S. presence evolves in Iraq, there have been some changes in the nature of support provided by C3T, officials said. For example, for some contracted field support representatives with a mission tied to the headquarters of United States Forces-Iraq, "we have seen their work actually increase as USF-I adjusts theater operations," said Lisa Bell, Logistics and Readiness Center liaison to the PEO C3T.
Other FSRs and digital systems engineers are embedded with a unit, so their mission remains the same throughout their service - providing system support and expertise working as a cohesive team with Soldiers.
As Iraqis take control of the standard communications infrastructure, U.S. troops are relying more on tactical communications capabilities fielded by C3T, such as Secret Internet Protocol Router Network/Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNET/NIPRNET Access Points, Bell said. SNAPs are portable satellite terminals that provide Soldiers in small, distant outposts with connectivity to the world with SIPRNET/NIPRNET and voice communications.
"We have the eyes and ears on the ground, along with the PM representatives, that know exactly what they have to do to maintain the drawdown in accordance with the units they're supporting," Hollenbeck said.
(Claire Heininger is an employee of Symbolic Systems Inc., and supports the Army's PEO C3T.)