How to Leave Iraq

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2007-08-28

If the U.S. decides to pull out of Iraq, its military forces won't exit immediately—they can't. Moving 160,000 troops and tons of equipment is a logistics process that, even if done right, will take two years.

Story Guide:

  • A Huge Logistics Challenge

  • Reversing the Supply Chain

  • Shipping out Equipment

  • The View From the Ground

  • Streamlining the DOD's Systems

  • U.S. Central Command Base Case
  • Also in This Feature:

  • Who's Who, On and Off the Battlefield

  • A Heavy Load: The Nuts and Bolts of a Pullout

  • What Stays and What Goes

  • Next Page: A Huge Logistics Challenge

    On Sept. 15, Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the troops in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to that country, will return to Washington, D.C., to report on how the war is going and whether the extra combat troops President Bush ordered last January have made any difference. The president says he is awaiting their report. For months, he has resisted pressure from Congress to set a date for calling the troops home.

    But, as public support for the war fades, Congress is sure to pressure Bush to end, or at least cap, the role of American combat troops in Iraq. When the U.S. invaded Baghdad in March 2003, military planners expected the fighting to be over in less than five months, according to de-classified documents turned over to the National Security Archive. But 4 1/2 years later, with more than 3,700 American troops killed and 27,000 wounded, the American public is losing patience. Many—among them Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.)—have called for the immediate return of U.S. forces.

    The president has promised to veto any bill that mandates a quick pullout of U.S. troops. But even if Congress somehow manages to override him and get an immediate withdrawal, few people realize just how long "immediate" will take.

    An order to pull out some portion of 160,000 American troops, plus the 9 million tons of equipment and supplies the U.S. has shipped to Iraq—everything from bandages to bullets to Bradley fighting vehicles—is not only a huge logistics challenge, it's also a monumental information management task. The military will need to determine when troops and equipment move, which routes they will take, and what supplies should stay or go.

    And should a pullout be ordered, how well the military's information management systems work will be a significant factor in determining how quickly that mission is accomplished.

    A quick pell-mell pullout with no setbacks could take six months, according to retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank.

    On the other hand, a withdrawal of this magnitude—which, in addition to the logistical challenge, could risk attacks by Al Qaeda or Iraqi sectarian forces trying to make a withdrawal look like a rout—could take two years, says Maj. Gen. Michael Diamond, deputy director of the logistics directorate at U.S. Central Command, the unified combat command in charge of Iraq.

    "[That's] to do it right, to pool equipment and people out of the war theater, and transition to a legitimate, steady state of security, whatever decision is made," he says. "It's not going to happen overnight."

    Indeed, in the first Gulf War in 1991, Operation Desert Storm, preparations and combat lasted six months. But it took roughly 18 months to get troops, equipment and supplies out, Diamond says. That force was larger (there were about a half-million U.S. troops in Desert Storm, more than three times the number in Iraq now), but didn't have to travel as far because they never had to go beyond Kuwait. And, he adds, in any withdrawal, "The enemy always has a vote."

    If Bush orders complete withdrawal, all troops and equipment would go. The exception would be small, consumable items like bandages and antibiotics that are time-consuming to pack and could be used by the Iraqis "in a positive way," says Nash, the retired Army major general. Even portable X-ray machines, although small compared to a 1-ton Humvee or an 8,250-pound howitzer, would come back so their internal technology couldn't be scavenged.

    The military has been working on exit plans for several months. The withdrawal is being managed by U.S. Central Command—one of the Defense Department's 10 multiservice regional units—which is in charge of an area that includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Central Command will work most closely with the U.S. Transportation Command, which orchestrates the movement of troops, heavy equipment and supplies in and out of Iraq; the Defense Logistics Agency, a combat support agency in charge of procuring and recycling; and the individual services.

    Withdrawal plans are being shaped and set through the military's Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES), which connects defense agencies through a secure classified network called SIPRNet. JOPES is a a set of processes for planning and executing military operations that goes back to World War II. Planners would consider, for example, the location and condition of troops, possible exit routes, availability of equipment and supplies, and a wealth of other data. JOPES is supported by a series of databases and applications, some classified, that are fed by 170 outside systems. One system, the Transportation Command's Global Transportation Network, tracks movement of troops and equipment.

    For the last year, Central Command has kept an online matrix, which combines data from the Global Transportation Network and RFID tags, to track equipment in Iraq and whether it would need to be demilitarized—crushed, burned, torch-cut or otherwise stripped of parts that could be used against the U.S.—when the Americans leave. Diamond says the matrix should help control "the high adventure of reverse logistics."

    To estimate withdrawal times, Central Command has also made "rough, back-of-the-envelope estimates" on gross numbers of people and tonnages of equipment that can go through a particular airport or seaport, Diamond says. These are big numbers—as of May 31, the Transportation Command says it has overseen 4 million passenger trips and moved 9.1 million tons of cargo and 4.5 billion gallons of fuel in or out of Iraq.

    The Defense Logistics Agency, which procures and supplies consumable items like food and fuel and destroys damaged or sensitive equipment to keep it away from enemies, has military and civilian personnel in Iraq now. They are conferring with the four service branches about their projected equipment flow during a drawdown, according to Mary Legeret, an operations officer with the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS), a unit of the Defense Logistics Agency that handles reverse logistics for the military.

    During a war, plans are re-evaluated at least daily. When the exit starts, Diamond says, "Once we've maxed out [a node's] capacity, it causes us to give feedback to the joint chiefs and say we overshot the mark here. On the next go-round, we may need to adjust fire."

    Generally, it takes three weeks to process a brigade combat team—about 5,000 troops and its gear—for home, says Lt. Col. Marvin Benoit of the Transportation Command's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which helps the services coordinate the movement of troops and their heavy equipment. This includes getting everyone and everything through Customs in Kuwait; processing the turn-in paperwork; and running the equipment through the wash racks in Camp Arifjan, the Army base in Kuwait, because the Department of Agriculture doesn't want Iraqi dirt or wildlife coming into the States. Equipment that fails Customs or Department of Agriculture tests gets left behind for the theater support command to marshal through the rest of the process at the port.

    At that rate, moving all 160,000 troops would take nearly two years.

    If a faster exit is needed, the military may go to a crisis plan, which Nash refers to as "cut-and-run in the most pejorative sense of the term." For example, equipment or supplies that can't be hauled home quickly might be demilitarized and buried, says Paul Peters, director of DRMS, but that is "an action of last resort." Diamond says the military won't bury equipment, though he declines to discuss any specific contingency plans.

    The most likely scenario, however, is a gradual reduction of U.S. forces, while keeping some troops in-country to train Iraqi security forces and rebuild water, electrical and other infrastructure systems. In that case, the U.S. military must sort through all of its equipment and supplies, using both human judgment and supply-tracking software (such as the Standard Army Retail Supply System) custom-built by each branch of the service. They will have to figure the cost-benefit of what to take back and how to move it.

    An exit is as delicate an operation as an invasion, notes Maj. Gen. Charles Fletcher, who directs operations and plans for the U.S. Transportation Command. "The Secretary of Defense talks to the services and to us, and he flies in to talk to Petraeus," he says. "The operational impact of the decisions made by the secretary must be fully understood and evaluated by both sides."

    Next Page: Reversing the Supply Chain

    Reversing the Supply Chain

    The "retrograde" process of bringing military equipment back home starts with sorting. Each piece of equipment must be categorized as serviceable, unserviceable or recoverable (meaning damaged but repairable), and then further sorted as scrap, hazardous material or requiring demilitarization. The items must be packed into standard containers, with radio frequency identification tags attached to the outside. The tags, from Savi Technology, acquired last year by Lockheed Martin, are programmed with codes to identify the items inside, their owner, stock number, final destination and other identifiers.

    As of last November, Central Command operated 223 RFID tag-reader sites and 283 tag-writer sites in and around Iraq, according to a presentation to the Navy by Lt. Col. Patrick Burden, joint product manager in the Army's Automatic Identification Technology unit. Burden says that the same tags used on supplies traveling to Iraq can be reused for material on the return trip. But to do it, the tags have to be rewritten in-theater with new destination codes.

    The Army has been performing that task, he says, using portable RFID kits. Each one is a small, hard-shell suitcase containing a Windows laptop, an Iridium satellite modem, a handheld scanner and a military shipping-label printer. The kits run off a vehicle power source or AC power and collect RFID shipment data. With the kit, a supply sergeant in a combat zone can log on to the Army Transportation Coordinator's Automated Information for Movements System II—which controls in-theater movement—and forward RFID shipment data to the satellite network via a radio frequency in-transit visibility system server.

    Military leaders track some truckloads of cargo, especially explosives and other "high interest" items, with a Web-based mapping application called IRRIS, for Intelligent Road/Rail Information Server, which was specially built for the Defense Department by software vendor GeoDecisions.

    The system monitors the location of trucks and train cars that carry transmitters that send signals continuously to orbiting satellites. The data can be blended with, for example, real-time weather, route and terrain maps, and information about the availability of secure holding facilities should trucks with heavy loads of combat equipment have to pull over. IRRIS creates real-time maps of cargo in transit and the problems it may encounter. Should cargo deviate from planned routes, the software can send alerts to the desktops and laptops of in-theater military personnel on the Defense Department's secured SIPRNet.

    IRRIS didn't start as a logistics application; it was created in response to a lack of information about physical infrastructure, such as the size of berths at seaports, during the first Gulf War, according to Brendan Wesdock, director of military solutions at GeoDecisions. He has worked with the Defense Department for eight years on the system.

    IRRIS grew when military field personnel started to ask for graphical depictions of supply routes, to, for example, more quickly understand bottlenecks, Wesdock says. The Defense Logistics Agency's primary logistics software, called Integrated Data Environment, whose data feeds JOPES, is one system that provides that kind of data, but not visually. "You can look at spreadsheets with numbers about problems en route all day long, but if you look at a map, you see the problem right away," he says.

    Though the Defense Department insists that in-transit visibility is better now than it was at the start of the war, problems remain. RFID tags fall off or get ripped off in transit, radio frequencies are sometimes unavailable, and batteries in active programmable tags run out. All of which renders the cargo intermittently invisible to military computer systems. The Transportation Command says it is working on next-generation tags that are programmed to detect tampering and will be replaced en route when they go missing.

    IRRIS, too, had issues early in the war, when the military's secured SIPRNet access in Iraq was provided mainly over satellite, which can be slower than, say, cable for software heavy on graphics. Since then, land lines have been installed at bases, allowing high-bandwidth connections.

    But tracking tags that use satellites, rather than radio frequency signals, to communicate data can provide the military with better data on equipment transit, Wesdock maintains, because the signals can be monitored as often as every 30 seconds. "RFID only tells you where it was, not where it is," he says.

    Keeping all this detailed data current during a withdrawal from Iraq is critical to a smooth exit, according to Legeret. While she doesn't expect RFID tag information to be complete for every item going back, it has to be for anything getting demilitarized, she says. For pedestrian supplies such as furniture, retrograde details don't have to go deep. "I don't need to know it's a chair with arms, just that there are 50 chairs," she says.

    But no one wants to report to his commander that he has lost track of sensitive equipment. "We need to maintain visibility on that. We will always have complete information on that," she says.

    The Transportation Command, meanwhile, studies supply and equipment traffic in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait every day, Fletcher says. Through the command's Global Transportation Network, he looks at all transportation "lanes," whether land, ocean or air, and how efficiently vehicles are moving.

    Upon exit, Fletcher will intensify the scrutiny. For example, he met with Army officials in July to stress that although troops sometimes aren't as careful with data in a rush to get out as they are going in, they'll have to be to ensure that platoons, battalions and brigades keep track of their equipment and remain ready to redeploy if they have to. "I said, 'Precision of this execution is going to be a factor of accuracy of documentation. If you want to translate retrograde into readiness, you've got to invest [in good data] at the front end.'"

    Next Page: Shipping Out Equipment

    Shipping Out Equipment

    Once equipment is cataloged and tagged, it needs to get to a port to be shipped back to some other overseas installation or directly to the States.

    It's about 750 miles from northernmost Iraq down to Kuwait, which offers the biggest seaports where much of the equipment to fight Operation Iraqi Freedom passes through. Convoys are vulnerable as they rumble down that long road through the desert. The trip can take more than three days.

    When the troops are ordered home and the tanks start rolling, stevedores and soldiers will gather at a designated pier—sometimes the size of six football fields-to guide cargo aboard one of the military's 19 medium-speed roll-on/roll-off vessels, nicknamed "RoRos." At about one football field wide and nine long, RoRos are among the biggest ships in the U.S. fleet. Each one can carry 2,000 Abrams tanks.

    The stevedores will consult a printout or a handheld device showing diagrams of exactly where each tank should go—which deck and which spot on the deck, each tank facing out for quicker unloading. Logisticians have created this plan over several weeks using ICODES, a computer-aided-design application from contractor CDM Technologies that is programmed with the RoRo layout and data about the cargo. The dimensions and weight of each piece, as well as the priority for later unloading, are provided by the military unit that owns the equipment. If the ship will carry different kinds of ammunition that can't sit next to each other for safety reasons, the software factors that in, too.

    On command, a soldier will drive the tank onto the ship at about 15 m.p.h. As stevedores or soldiers chain it to the deck, the driver will hop a shuttle bus back to the pier staging area to grab another tank.

    Loading one tank on a RoRo takes four to eight minutes, and this RoRo can be loaded fully in 2 1/2 to four days.

    But the planning for a load like this takes six to eight months, Benoit says. That's to get an available ship to port, create the stow plan, get the equipment to the pier and schedule people to do the work.

    "We would just send ships and keep loading them and sending them back," he says. The work will go on around the clock.

    How equipment travels will also have an impact on the withdrawal timetable. Suppose 125 containers of extra tracks for the M-1 Abrams tank now sit damaged at a base near Mosul, 200 miles north of Baghdad. Those tracks could be transported across the desert, probably in a convoy, perhaps to Kuwait's Shuwaikh seaport about 650 miles away. There the containers could be stowed on a U.S. ship, such as a RoRo, and sailed to a nearby base, or the whole 12,000 miles back to the States. Or, the tank tracks could be trucked to Baghdad and flown out. They could also be demilitarized, with the resulting scrap sold to locals.

    Sending home those tank treads would take two to three days by air but cost $17.5 million. Sailing those same boxes on ships would be 98% cheaper—$364,000—but transit takes up to one month.

    It will be up to the Transportation Command to present the options. Each military branch decides what to do, balancing its needs with political and battlefield realities and how much taxpayer money to spend, Fletcher says. Like a corporation considering whether to green-light a project, the command, he says, is "working that business case analysis."

    Every day, in a windowless room inside a low, white-trimmed brick building at Scott Air Force Base, surrounded by cornfields and suburban housing tracts near Shiloh, Ill., the Transportation Command takes the pulse of a war on the other side of the world.

    Soldiers here, dressed in boots and camouflage or olive green, supervise computers. They divide their attention between the monitors scanned by men and women sitting at clusters of desks, the televisions on the walls broadcasting news from CNN and MSNBC, and a large screen.

    Many of the military's major I.T. systems, including the command's Global Transportation Network, used by the military and companies working with the Defense Department, feed into this room.

    "If a bridge is knocked out in Iraq, and [there's] food on those vehicles going to dining, we chart the status of every dining facility in we can develop [alternate routes] so the user never sees the problem," Fletcher says.

    Next Page: The View From the GroundGround">

    The View From the Ground

    But to really understand the magnitude of the task, you have to spend time with Mary Legeret.

    In July, Legeret packed fatigues, received personal body armor and left Fort Bliss, Texas, for a fourth stint in Iraq. She's a civilian who's worked for 26 years for the DRMS, the Defense Logistics Agency unit that handles reverse logistics for the military.

    This tour, Legeret's mission specifies that she get a grasp on how much equipment will hit the DRMS facilities in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan once exit starts. From Baghdad's Green Zone, she will fly 110 miles north to Camp Anaconda, known as "Mortaritaville" for the frequent mortar fire there. She will walk around storage facilities to inventory the yards, counting trucks and tanks, broken items and backup parts.

    She'll also meet with others from DRMS working on the retrograde process as well as with leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines through Petraeus' Multi-National Force-Iraq, to talk over their preliminary plans for disposing of unusable equipment.

    "I have to look down the road and think, 'What do we need to put in place now so we're ready when it happens?'" she says. "I'm looking for ground truth on capacity."

    The time-consuming physical collection of "ground truth" is necessary, in part, because electronic truth isn't readily available. DRMS' software for tracking equipment going through retrograde, a custom-built system named Daisy, doesn't automatically share data with the inventory systems of the Army and other branches of the service, says Peters, the DRMS director, although it can be queried from other applications in the Defense Logistics Agency.

    In any case, a revamp of DRMS key software is in the works, according to Peters, with plans to use SAP applications later on. But Daisy won't start to change until 2010 or 2011, Peters says. Electronic interfaces between Daisy's data and inventory systems at the service branches, he adds, "is one feature we're hoping to attain."

    For now, when the Army wants to send a tank to Legeret's group to be demilitarized, for example, soldiers print data about the vehicle—stock number, condition code, demilitarization requirements—from the Standard Army Retail Supply System on to paper form called a 1348, she explains. The 1348 is handed to a DRMS worker, who sits at a PC to enter the information into Daisy.

    Meanwhile, battlefield commanders must begin to allocate some existing troops to reverse-logistics tasks, notes the Transportation Command's Fletcher, including cleaning and entering data into JOPES tracking applications about the gear going back. Others will be assigned to protect convoys trucking stuff out.

    "The soldier out on patrol today is the soldier who will have to repair the vehicle to move," Fletcher explains, "or, if not, we have to put additional [personnel] there to do that."

    Next Page: Streamlining the DoD's Systems's Systems">

    Streamlining the DoD's Systems

    In addition to its other challenges, the military is working in the midst of a years-long mandate to streamline and modernize the Defense Department's stovepiped computer systems, some of which are custom-coded and decades old-yet still important to getting troops and supplies home. Some of this work began in 2003 because of problems getting equipment and supplies into Iraq after the war started. Repair parts and other material piled up because they were inefficiently packed and had to be manually sorted once they arrived. Troops kept reordering because the computers couldn't tell them where the stuff was. The Government Accountability Office, which conducts investigations for Congress, found a $1.2 billion discrepancy between material shipped to the Army and material received by the troops.

    Even today, the GAO says, Defense has 2,980 separate business systems. And some of the business systems the Defense Department uses to support the troops have been labeled "high-risk" by the GAO for several years. As of April 30, they say, more than 54,000 cargo containers in Iraq and Afghanistan were missing. At a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee meeting on July 10, Gen. Norton Schwartz, in charge of the Transportation Command, told senators that the command has two port management systems—one from the Army and one from the Air Force—left over from the days when the services developed their own. They are being merged, Norton said, "so that if Marines arrive or Army arrives or Air Force arrives, we'll be operating essentially the same piece of software."

    Different parts of the Defense Department are working on separate plans for modernizing their business systems. The Marines and the Army, for example, are installing software packages from arch-rivals to make their supply chains more efficient. The Marines chose Oracle's E-Business Suite; the Army, SAP's mySAP suite. Groups across the Defense Department are consolidating servers and databases and creating service-oriented architectures so different systems can communicate more efficiently. All individual projects are supposed to fit into a departmentwide Business Enterprise Architecture, a blueprint that specifies data standards, business rules and operating requirements. The GAO says that architecture is now filtering down to the services. Project completion dates stretch out to 2015 and beyond.

    While all this work happens, intermediate projects that are important to success in Iraq—building interfaces, for example, between the Defense Logistics Agency's Integrated Data Environment and the Transportation Command's Global Transportation Network, so the military can see supplies as they travel from the warehouse in the U.S. to the battlefield and back—continue, although some of the most important integration has yet to be done. Mae De Vincentis, chief information officer for the Defense Logistics Agency, says this particular project is "in its infancy."

    The faster the U.S. tries to move out of Iraq, the more intense the challenge and the more stress put on the Defense Department's planners and systems. In August 2003, Diamond says, he was processing a brigade of the Third Infantry Division out of Camp Arifjan. Orders were to reunite troops with their families as quickly as possible because they'd been away for nine months and were nearing the end of their 12-month tour of duty. (Tours have since been extended to 15 months.) But the troops' hasty departures meant that it took months to sort and process the equipment they left behind. Each piece of ammunition had to be examined by hand, Diamond says, to make sure it was functional before it could be packed and reassigned.

    Indeed, nobody expects the exit from Iraq to be easy.

    But Col. Jeffrey Mintzlaff, chief of the Transportation Command's J-3 contingency division, which handles movements for the Central, European and Southern commands, is optimistic, even though he has said the Defense Department hasn't gone far enough. He has proposed that the command merge with the Defense Logistics Agency and get authority over the services. "If DoD really wants to transform its distribution processes, it will take more than collaboration," he wrote in a paper for the Naval War College in 2005.

    Standing in his office outside the command's operations center two years later, reminded of the paper, he smiles. Lines of authority are still being worked out, he says, but the Transportation Command is being brought into decisions earlier and can make better business cases when telling the services how something should move. Where troops in the field, worried that supplies would never arrive, used to order four of something-"one for themselves, one [just in case], and two for Mom and Dad, we're now down to two."

    But those numbers won't matter once the president calls the troops home. Fletcher, who oversees Mintzlaff's division and several others, says he has "a strong personal desire in's the hope of all America to provide freedom for the people there." But, he adds, "We'll execute whatever hand we're dealt to do the job we have to do."—With additional reporting by Doug Bartholomew

    Next Page: U.S. Central Command Base Case.S. Central Command Base Case">

    U.S. Central Command Base Case

    7115 S. Boundary Blvd., MacDill AFB, FL 33621-5101

    (813) 827-5894

    Unified combat command in charge of area that includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait

    Chief Information Officer:
    U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark S. Bowman

    Financials in Fiscal Year 2007:
    The Central Command is funded by the Defense Department, whose base budget was around $434 billion excluding special appropriations.

    To coordinate the exit of U.S. troops, equipment and supplies from Iraq on whatever deadline the president sets.

    Baseline Goals:

    Coordinate exit of U.S. troops from Iraq (currently 160,000) with no injuries or casualties.

    Supervise transport or disposal of at least 9 million tons of equipment and supplies.

    Account for 54,000 missing cargo containers (as of May 31) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Increase logistical options by expanding the time given to cargo movement planning from 10-20 days to 50-60 days.

    Next Page: Who's Who, On and Off the Battlefield's Who, On and Off the Battlefield">

    Who's Who, On and Off the Battlefield

    Player Roster


    GEN. David Petraeus
    Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq
    Appointed in February by President Bush, Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, U. S. Ambassador to Iraq, will return to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15 to report to Congress on the state of the war.

    Donald Rumsfeld
    Former Secretary of Defense
    Before he stepped down in November 2006, Rumsfeld pushed to get the Department of Defense to approach its business-including its information-technology assets-the way a corporation would. He declared war on the Pentagon's bureaucracy the day before the Sept. 11 attacks.

    MAJ. GEN. Charles Fletcher
    Director of Operations and Plans, U.S. Transportation Command
    Fletcher says the Transportation Command, in charge of moving troops, equipment and supplies, "will execute whatever hand we're dealt [in terms of an exit plan] to do the job we have to do."

    MAJ. GEN. Michael Diamond
    Deputy Director, U.S. Central Command J-4 Logistics Directorate
    Diamond's command oversees U.S. troops in 26 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He believes a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, done right, could take two years.

    COL. Jeffrey Mintzlaff
    Chief of the Transportation Command's J-3 contingency division
    The military is making progress but has work to do to make its supply chain more efficient, Mintzlaff says. He heads the contingency division, which plans and directs all air and surface movements for the Central, Southern and European commands.

    Mary Legeret
    Iraq Operations Officer, Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS)
    A civilian on her fourth tour of Iraq, Legeret, who works with the unit that recycles and disposes of military equipment, is investigating how much equipment will hit the DRMS facilities in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan once the exit starts.

    LT. COL. Marvin Benoit
    Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, U.S. Transportation Command
    Benoit helps the services plan how cargo ships get packed to and from Iraq, using a custom-built application called ICODES and the brawn of sailors and stevedores.

    LT. COL. Patrick Burden
    Army Automatic Identification Technology unit
    Burden and his unit are working on RFID projects for the Army to more closely track equipment and supplies in transit through the war zone.

    Next Page: A Heavy Load: The Nuts and Bolts of a Pullout: The Nuts and Bolts of a Pullout">

    A Heavy Load: The Nuts and Bolts of a Pullout


    Each piece of equipment must be categorized as serviceable, unserviceable or recoverable and then further sorted as scrap, hazardous material or requiring demilitarization.

    The Challenge:
    Getting to each and every piece of equipment and crate of supplies while conducting daily war activities. The Transportation Command has offered to supply additional personnel if needed.


    The items must be packed into standard shipping containers, with radio frequency identification tags attached to the outside.

    How It's Done:
    The tags, from Savi Technology, acquired last year by Lockheed Martin, are programmed with codes to identify the items inside, their owner, stock number, final destination and other identifiers.

    The same tags used on supplies traveling to Iraq can be reused for material on the return trip, but they have to be rewritten in-theater with new destination codes.

    The Challenge:
    RFID tags fall off or get ripped off in transit, radio frequencies are sometimes unavailable and batteries in active, programmable tags run out. All of which renders the cargo intermittently invisible to military computer systems.

    And Bringing Home the Soldiers

    How It's Done:
    Though there are 160,000 troops deployed now, the Transportation Command has overseen 4 million passenger round trips—which include deployments, redeployments and troops otherwise moving in and out of the war zone. Commercial airlines will fly many of the troops home and the Transportation Command maintains those schedules, with input on the number of people to be moved provided by the service branches. The systems for coordinating troop redeployment are classified; some are part of JOPES. The Transportation Command would provide daily movement statistics, as well as analysis of problems en route and workloads at the ports, to the joint commands and supporting entities. Wounded troops are tracked in a Transportation Command application called Transcom Regulating and Command and Control Evacuation System, or TRAC2ES.

    The Challenge:
    Military branches and the Transportation Command must create "time-phased force and deployment data" plans, which means, in part, they consider contingencies when scheduling the exit of their troops: Who will provide physical protection to troops moving to air and sea ports? How many noncombat troops will stay behind to maintain infrastructure for the last troops in? Most troops will arrive in the U.S. ahead of their equipment, which will take weeks or months to return by ship.

    Next Page: What Stays And What Goes Goes">

    What Stays And What Goes

    The military cares about return on investment, too. But calculating which items to take home and which to leave behind involves more than just cost.

    Even before they see official exit orders, military planners are weighing what to take. They must consider the time, manpower and risk of transporting each vehicle, piece of artillery and critical spare parts, as well as whether the item contains any technology the U.S. wouldn't want in enemy hands.

    While U.S. troops might leave behind any number of supplies, from bags of concrete to used tents, some items would never be left in Iraq.

    A tank, for example, would never remain, even it were beyond repair. To leave a disabled tank invites enemies to dissect it for clues about U.S. communications systems and weaponry, or about how effective their own bombs and firepower have been, according to Maj. Gen. Charles Fletcher, who directs operations and plans for the U.S. Transportation Command. "We would not want that vehicle carcass in the hands of someone in the business of attacking our vehicles," he says.

    The question then becomes whether to haul the hulk to the U.S. or another American military base to be cannibalized for spare parts or, like 200,000 other items last year, be demilitarized, with the remains sold as scrap. This year, Middle Eastern companies have bought at least $11 million worth of iron, steel, copper, glass, plastic, rubber and other materials extracted from old U.S. military equipment. So far this year, more than 20 million pounds of scrap have been removed from Iraq, up from 3 million pounds in all of 2006.

    Rules of thumb for when to scrap damaged equipment, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, include breaking down the item for its precious metals when it costs less than $15,000 to buy a new one, and turning it into scrap when the cost to replace is less than $25,000.

    Each branch of the service decides about its own equipment and sends its disposition decisions to the Transportation Command. The command then costs out a mode or combination of modes of transport, considering the item's size, weight and classification, as well as where it is and where it needs to go. The command sends the options back to the service branch, which picks one so the command can begin to plan movement.

    "We have rate structures not unlike FedEx," Fletcher explains. "If we know an awful lot is going to move, we muster resources and create volume efficiencies."—K.S.N.