WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2012 – The state of military logistics is
healthy and service members are doing amazing things to supply
operations around the world, but the system is strained as a result
of 10 years of war, the Joint Staff's director of logistics said
Twenty pallets of parachute-delivered supplies float down over
Forward Operating Base Baylough in Afghanistan's Zabul province,
June 13, 2010. The supplies were for soldiers assigned to Company D,
1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Brooks L. Bash said military logisticians are, in
many respects, the unsung heroes of America's 21st-century wars. In
the past year alone, they orchestrated the withdrawal of tens of
thousands of American service members and millions of pieces of
equipment from Iraq. They supplied forces fighting in Afghanistan,
even as political considerations closed a key route into the
They did all this while continuing their
“everyday” missions – handling permanent changes of station for tens
of thousands of service members, ensuring training requirements are
met and ensuring that forward-deployed personnel around the world
have what they need to do their missions. They also have supplied
allies and other U.S. government agencies, and they have kicked into
even higher gear to aid people around the world hit by natural
“No other country in the world can do what we're doing,”
Bash said. “We're flying and taking stuff halfway around the
world. The fact that Afghanistan is a landlocked country
adds to the challenge. Simultaneously completing the Iraq
drawdown and then, oh, by the way, doing Haiti, tsunami, and
whatever else pops up, and also supporting the combatant
commanders in their regions with what they're doing every
And logisticians are sustaining the effort.
Other countries can get troops to remote areas of the world,
but they cannot sustain operations in those regions like the
U.S. military can, the general said.
Afghanistan is a
case in point. It is one of the more remote areas on the
planet. It is landlocked. Pakistan closed the border
crossings from the port of Karachi to Afghanistan following
an accident on the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Even though those gates are closed, Bash noted,
American, international and Afghan forces are still getting
what they need. The American logistics effort supplies
91,000 U.S. personnel with the food, ammunition, fuel, spare
parts, armored vehicles and whatever else they need.
“The first thing we did was we planned for it,” the general
said. The Pakistanis had closed the gates to Afghanistan
before, and logisticians planned for the possibility.
Planners looked at alternatives to the Pakistani gates.
They examined supplying troops by air, Bash said, but that
is expensive and can be limited. They developed the Northern
Distribution Network – an effort that connects Baltic and
Caspian Sea ports with Afghanistan through Russia and the
countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.
have shifted about 30 percent of what was coming in through
Pakistan to the northern distribution,” Bash said. “It has
more capability, and then we built up some of our stocks.”
Logisticians built up 60 days worth of stocks in
Afghanistan. “But because of the northern distribution being
open, ... it is having little to no operational impact,” he
This is more expensive, but it is effective,
the general said. About 85 percent of fuel, for example,
comes through the Northern Distribution Network.
Logisticians also are using more airlift, and that causes
problems on its own, the general said.
likewise, built up stocks. “We have acquisition
cross-servicing agreements with them so that, if they do
come up short, then we can help them out through those sorts
of agreements,” Bash said.
So while there are no
shortages, the increased tempo imposes its own price on
“There are areas in logistics – some of
our specialty areas and our equipment and others that need
to be recapitalized and reset,” Bash said. Putting flight
hours on airplanes and helicopters and putting miles on
mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, for example,
takes a toll on the equipment, he explained.
there is a cost to the people in the logistics enterprise as
well, Bash said, but they continue to get the job done.
“I would say our logisticians are the most experienced
in history,” he said. Logistics personnel are the greatest
combat multiplier in the logistics enterprise, he added.
Educating and training those personnel is key to success
in the future, the general said.
“We might decrease
the number of our people, but the people we do have, we need
to make sure they're experienced and trained properly,” he
said. “We can't shortcut ourselves on that piece to save
some money, because it's the people when we talk about
avoiding a hollow force.”
Force structure adjustments
will be necessary in the logistics field, the general said,
and the Defense Department must be careful to preserve what
truly is necessary - first of all, the people needed for the
effort - regardless of the budget situation.
also important, Bash said, to ensure there is not a mismatch
between strategy and resources.
“If you have a
strategy that's larger than your force structure, then
that's a different type of hollowness than we typically
think of as a hollow force,” he said.
necessity is access. The best fighting force in the world is
no good if it cannot get to the scene of a fight and sustain
itself, Bash noted. This means getting the airports,
seaports, railheads and overflight permissions needed. It
also means the combatant commanders, long before any
problems develop, must have the relationships needed to make
it happen when push comes to shove, he said.
multiplier is operational contract support.
this is a maturing and evolving mission area that, 10 years
ago, we had no doctrine for and we didn't think about much,”
The general used Iraq as an example. “Two
years ago, we had 170,000 contractors [in Iraq],” he said.
“They were providing a lot of logistic capabilities.”
Contractors handled food service, fuel, security and the
mission. Bash cited a Congressional Budget Office report
that said the U.S. government saved about 90 cents on the
dollar by using contractors over uniformed personnel.
“How is that possible?” he asked. “Well, you don't have
to recruit. You don't have to train. You don't have to
retain. You don't have pay and allowances. You don't have
retirements. You don't have health care.
170,000 people we would have had in uniform to do the same
job,” he continued. “We were able to quickly expand and
quickly retract.” He called this the epitome of the
“reversibility” that defense leaders increasingly are
talking about in military strategy going forward.
quote variously attributed to Gen. of the Army Dwight D.
Eisenhower and Gen. of the Army Omar Bradley is: “Amateurs
study strategy. Professionals study logistics.” The U.S.
military certainly subscribes to this, Bash said.
bottom line, he added, is that the logistics enterprise
system is healthy and able to do all the country asks of it
now. It needs study and care, however, if it is to remain
the world-class operation for the future, he said.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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