By Sgt. Phillip Valentine, 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) PAOMarch 15, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Thousands of shipping containers stand stacked on most U.S. bases in Afghanistan and the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command is working hard to get rid of them.
A standard shipping container is approximately 20 feet long, 8 feet high, weighs 5,000 pounds and made of metal. It is something that can't be hidden or ignored, and it has go.
To date, the 311th ESC is responsible for the reduction of containers in Afghanistan from approximately 110,000 to 99,800. This is a key element in support of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command's retrograde mission in Afghanistan.
"Our mission is to properly account for the containers throughout the Combined/Joint Operations Area-Afghanistan, while at the same time show an overall reduction of containers" said Maj. Todd McKay, a Mesa, Ariz., native. "Our end state is to have fewer containers in Afghanistan than when we started."
Master Sgt. Arthur Fisher from Morehead City, N.C., added, "We also want to mitigate detention charges, which is to reduce the cost of late fees on leased containers."
Reduction is done in several ways. Containers are assessed to see if they are serviceable enough to be seaworthy. Once that determination is made, the fate of the container is decided. Some are sold as scrap and the proceeds go back to the U.S. government. Others are repaired and returned to use, carrying valuable equipment back to the United States. Some are given to the government of Afghanistan to be used for several purposes.
Brig. Gen. Scottie D. Carpenter, who commands the 311th, had high praise for his Soldiers who have strived to help minimize the footprint of containers in Afghanistan.
"They are doing a fantastic job," said Carpenter. "We are still fighting a war, but we know we have to plan to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. They are working hard and I think we've made gains that haven't been seen in the last 10 years."
As the heart of the 311th's container management process, the Container Management Office tracks approximately 600 container control officers operating in theater. They conduct weekly training in classroom and virtual meeting rooms and oversee container tracking throughout Afghanistan.
"We need to get the CCOs proper training," said Fisher. "To give them some sort of comfort zone and not panic about their jobs." Fisher said that they want to pass along information letting the CCOs know that the 311th ESC is here to help.
Training the ever-revolving Soldiers that are given the additional duty of CCO is just one obstacle the 311th faces with container removal. Weather, lack of seaports, gate closures and driver strikes are just some of the problems they face.
"There has been a policy change," said McKay. "Basically, when a carrier delivered a container at your doorstep, you had 14 days to get the stuff inside transported to a government-owned container before they start charging detention costs. Now, you have 41 days of 'free' time once it leaves the ship and that's why we monitor detention costs closely. It's possible to get a container that shows up here that already has detention costs on it."
Training helps CCOs understand these changes and how they can help reduce costs.
The 311th ESC still has months ahead of them and many containers to move, but eventually they will depart country and pass the mission on to another unit.
"We are paving the way and writing the playbook for the next guys that are coming in," said McKay. "They won't have to make the same mistakes that we have made as we put this all together."
While many see a shipping contain as a utilitarian and uninspiring piece of equipment, others see the possibilities within these metal structures.
"They can be used to store items, for schools, hospitals and any other structure that they choose, helping to boost the economic power of Afghanistan," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Firster of Cochranton, Pa., and container management NCO. "We are rebuilding Afghanistan one container at a time."