The responsible drawdown in Iraq is proving to be one of the largest logistical operations in modern military history and is receiving a great deal of attention throughout leadership channels.

The Army Sustainment Command's 2nd Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait bears the lion's share of the responsibilities for retrograde operations once the assets leave Iraq. The battalion's efforts are focused on receiving the assets from Iraq and processing them in Kuwait so they can be retrograded back to the continental United States.

Processing retrograde assets is a complex mission involving multiple synchronized operations, including: receiving convoys coming out of Iraq; offloading and accounting for assets; harvesting material for theater requirements; removing special equipment and performing agricultural cleaning and custom clearance tasks.

Finally, equipment moves to the port and eventually onto ships that will return the assets to CONUS where it will replenish the equipment force structure.

The retrograde mission is one of several missions the 2-401st AFSB has on its plate. Part of Army Sustainment Command's global network, the battalion is also responsible for maintaining part of the Army's prepositioned stocks (APS-5), maintaining theater sustainment stocks for both Iraq and Afghanistan, while supporting foreign military sales and coalition equipment requirements. In addition, the battalion repairs equipment for urgent operational needs.

With scarce resources available to perform all of these competing missions, the battalion seeks ways to lean existing processes and eliminate friction points. The battalion has developed measures to track capacity, volume, throughput, and velocity to synchronize operations and identify problems in the system.

When stumbling blocks are identified, additional resources are dedicated to overcoming them. The Joint Operations Board is the culmination of teambuilding and process improvement initiatives focused on mitigating the friction points identified in the wash rack and customs clearing process. Once they are validated, courses of action are developed and analyzed.

A predominantly contractor workforce brings its own challenges to the equation. Additionally, many support facilities required to complete the mission are not under the control of the battalion. The wash rack facility, managed by Area Support Group-Kuwait, apportions wash points to customers based on
requirements. U.S. Navy personnel, who perform agricultural customs inspections, also have a stake.

The first step taken to mitigate friction points was teambuilding -- putting all the stakeholders into a room to discuss each organization's requirements and procedures. They also compared current metrics, identified overlaps and gaps, and developed an acceptable, cooperative method for communicating and controlling requirements.

The battalion's systems engineer, serving as the process improvement lead, coordinated the team building-initiative and ultimately assisted in the final design and implementation of the Joint Operations Board.

The JOB is a real-time means of communicating the status of all operational wash points and the assets currently occupying those points. It provides a clear picture of which stakeholder currently owns the process for each asset on the wash rack and allows each of them to identify the hand-off points.

This information has been instrumental in drastically reducing idle time.

For example, it used to take an aggregate average of 19 hours to move a vehicle through the wash rack facility; it now takes around 10 hours, almost cutting the time in half. It ultimately provides the framework to continue reducing lost productivity time caused by inefficient communication processes.

This is just one small example of how process improvement initiatives are being used to reduce waste and fine tune the overall retrograde process while improving the battalion's ability to effectively measure the overall health of the retrograde system.

(Ned Bryan is deputy to the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade.)