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Current.Mil-Tech.News: Fort Knox Unit In Afghanistan Packing It Up

Louisville Courier-Journal October 7, 2012 Pg.

1 Logistics command handling troop drawdown By Chris Kenning , The Courier-Journal When the last of the 33,000 U.S. “surge” soldiers pulled out of Afghanistan last month, thousands of tons of equipment — Humvees, bullets, night scopes, generators, radios and building supplies — went with them. The job of moving all of that material out of the mountainous war zone fell largely to the Fort Knox-based 3rd Sustainment Command, a 260-soldier headquarter unit of top military logisticians, who since April have been in charge of keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan fully supplied.

And even after the drawdown, they continue to distribute everything from bullets to beans to bandages to the 68,000 remaining U.S. troops who will stay through 2014. Each day, the Knox-based unit moves 63,000 pounds of mail, 2,400 personnel and 315,000 pounds of cargo by air alone.

They’ve coordinated more than 100,000 truck convoys this year, mostly using Afghan trucking contractors who must navigate tribal tensions and dangerous roads, including the Salang Tunnel, a single-lane, 11,200-foot pass over the Hindu Kush mountains. Getting everything from food to spare parts to liquid helium for surveillance balloons to keep an army fighting is a difficult if largely unheralded task, complicated by challenges ranging from Taliban attacks to Pakistani border closures. “Delivering supplies in Afghanistan is dangerous, as the main supply routes are littered with insurgents and improvised explosive devices,” said Brig. Gen.

Kristin French, commanding general of the Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan, in a recent email interview with The Courier-Journal. While the withdrawal of President Barack Obama’s surge is complete and French’s unit will return in January 2013, the U.S. military logisticians face a monumental task between now and the end of 2014.

By then, most U.S. troops will have left — but not before crating gear, closing bases and moving out 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 shipping containers. Col.

Chris Wicker, who is deployed with French’s unit from Fort Knox, said the material drawdown will continue over time because so much has accrued during a war that on Oct.

7 marked its 11th year. “As the Afghan Army has gotten better and bigger and takes over more areas, we don’t need as much stuff,” he said. “We’ve been taking the stuff we no longer need, sorting it and sending it home — spare tires, engines, repair parts, you name it.” Some of that equipment won’t be missed by soldiers like U.S. Army Pfc. Zach Randle, whose convoy was covered earlier this year by The Associated Press as it stirred up dust in the equipment yard at Kandahar Air Field.

Randle jumped out of his bulky armored vehicle as the convoy’s heavily armed personnel carriers and utility trucks slowed to a halt. “I don’t want to see it again. It’s been through a lot,” Randle told The Associated Press about the 19-ton vehicle that was his ride — and sometimes his bed — during a six-month deployment to Kandahar province. “It protected us, but I’m just in a hurry to turn it in to be closer to going home,” said Randle, who eventually left Afghanistan as part of the drawdown. As of the beginning of September, 208 U.S.

and NATO coalition bases had been closed, 310 have been transferred to the Afghan government and 323 remained open, according to the coalition. Some equipment will be transferred to the Afghan government or shipped to other countries. Recently, Wicker — who has two high school-aged daughters back home at Fort Knox — oversaw the creation of a sprawling, 120-acre staging site and logistics hub in northern Afghanistan, graded and graveled with a new runway, for the removal of equipment that is returned to bases in the United States and abroad. “In some cases it’s not worth the cost of shipping it back,” said Wicker, citing items such as tents, paper products or obsolete supplies.

Working from the far west, near Iran, to the far north near Tajikistan, French’s small unit heads the Joint Sustainment Command, responsible for in-country logistics. It has 5,000 U.S. soldiers, hundreds of government civilians and thousands of contractors at their command to get supplies that come in from various agencies on commercial and military flights and trucks to soldiers. “A logisticians’ day consists of tracking, managing, supplying, driving and maintaining supplies …

in order to ensure the right items get to the right units at the right times,” French said in her emails. “The most challenging part … is to be able to predict what is coming next — to stay one step ahead of the enemy.” This isn’t the 3rd Sustainment Command’s first time supplying an expeditionary army. From June 2008 until August 2009, they ran sustainment and distribution support for all coalition forces in Iraq, providing logistical support for more than 300,000 soldiers and civilians across Iraq. “The process of (returning) equipment is harder in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq because we do not have the ability to drive items into a partner country for final prep and processing like we did with Kuwait.

We need to prepare and process (the equipment) … while we are also fighting a determined and lethal enemy,” French said. The night Randle arrived, his unit was being sent home along with its equipment.

In one area, soldiers unloaded boxes filled with everything from rubber O-rings and speedometers for military vehicles to paper plates and bags of grommets. “It’s like you opened your garage and you hadn’t cleaned it out in a couple years,” Lt. Col. Michelle Letcher, commander of the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, told The Associated Press. “We are busy now.

We came in July and now we are really ready for people to start pushing the stuff through.” Wicker was recently back in the United States, helping train another logistics unit that will take over once the 3rd Sustainment Command heads back to Fort Knox.

Wicker said his unit is training them to get the outbound flow of material as smooth as the inbound flow as the war winds down. “What I like about logistics is it lets the (frontline) soldiers focus on their primary mission,” he said. “I don’t think (many people) realize …

how many parts it takes to keep a modern army operating.” The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Current.Mil-Tech.News: Fort Knox Unit In Afghanistan Packing It Up

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