By Dr. Emmet (John) Fritch
Faculty Member, Reverse Logistics Management, American Public University
Redeployment of personnel and equipment in the Middle East is cumbersome and often dangerous.
Moving large numbers and varieties of equipment challenged military logistics operations. A force redeployment consisting of over 22,000 personnel and more than 14,000 pieces of equipment illustrates how innovation can address challenges.
Reverse logistics in military operations are governed by Department of Defense procedures that provide guidance on handling equipment, supplies, and personnel. Redeploying these resources in recent years is fundamental to Middle East operations. The U.S. Armed Forces in the Middle East faced the challenging complexity of combining movements, serving multiple locations, and facing logistics issues in combat areas.
Factors Such as Cycling Time Hampered Efficient Reverse Logistics Operations
Efficient reverse logistics operations were hampered by several important factors, including cycling time. One of the lessons learned from the Middle East operations was the value of creative and innovative ideas. Practical application of innovative techniques improved efficiency, reduced cycle times, and improved security.
The challenges facing an infantry division included:
- An extension for deployment time
- The need to share logistics redeployment resources with another division
- A change in the division’s original destination
- A shortage of security resources
- A lack of manpower and equipment caused by dual missions
DOD procedures for redeployment provide little in the way of guidelines for consolidating equipment and assembly operations. For example, the accepted methods did not address moving tactical equipment. An attempt by multiple divisions to coordinate efforts was hampered by inefficiency and poor communications.
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“On-the-fly” methods for resolving issues helped reduce waiting time and resulted in a new way of consolidating equipment. Instead of traditional “centralized” staging locations, the division created several smaller, more agile processing centers known as consolidated tactical assembly areas.
Acknowledging the Dangers of Operating in Combat Zones Helped Personnel Focus
Acknowledging the dangers of operating in combat zones helped personnel to focus on the job. Typical marshaling zones were just administrative functions. However, the “on the fly” method provided the flexibility to meet the equipment needs resulting from localized combat operations.
To conduct operations, equipment had to be handled and moved. Detailed records arriving and departing from each location facilitated the accurate accounting of locations and quantities of material.
Daily video teleconferences among the numerous locations shared schedules of equipment movements. A dedicated escort unit for each convoy strengthened security. The armed escort units allowed for faster and more efficient operations and additional trips resulted in better use of assets.
Personnel redeployments were also affected. Cargo planes transporting equipment were reconfigured to open space for troops to return to major bases. A multi-service control team monitored all movements and coordinated activities among the service branches handling multimodal equipment options and scheduling. Helicopters replaced five-ton trucks in areas with dangerous roads. The control team provided flexibility and rescheduling, according to conditions.
The innovative ideas created in the field permitted the division to redeploy with no lost equipment and with all personnel arriving safely. As a result, confidence in redeployed equipment increased. Additionally, backlogs of items awaiting processing in staging areas were reduced. The actions of field commanders illustrated how creative and innovative thinking in the field can create environments more adaptive to local conditions than by formal doctrine.
This process also illustrated the value of continuous improvement and of isolating specific problems by focusing on their causes and applying brainstorming techniques to provide continuous improvement. In addition, the lessons learned from this redeployment experience should be incorporated into official DOD doctrine.
About the Author
Emmet (John) Fritch is an Associate Professor of Business at American Public University. Dr. Fritch earned his Ph.D. at Northcentral University. He earned a Master of Science degree in technology management from Pepperdine University. Dr. Fritch has over 20 years of experience in global supply chain management.