News: Tiny team’s innovation leads to big savings
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – One of the smallest units at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, has devised a huge cost-cutting improvement that will save U.S. taxpayers nearly $15 million over the next three years.
During its one-year tour here that ends this month, the 21-soldier 558th Movement Control Team based out of Tampa, Fla., conceived and implemented a plan that has reduced the average amount of time civilian Afghan transportation carriers spend on KAF from nearly four days to just more than two days. The reduction in the amount of time spent on KAF equates to less demurrage fees paid for by the U.S. government. Demurrage is a common form of compensation for cargo carriers when their trucks or vessels are delayed; the U.S. government compensates Afghan carriers $140 per day, every day they are on KAF past three days.
“The problem essentially was too many truck drivers were under-informed on where their truck should be,” said unit commander Capt. Anthony Calingo. “Our big push has been to improve the communication between the customers and the drivers and to see the customers take better care of their drivers.”
For example, Calingo said the 558th implemented measures that quickly place commercial trucks into a military convoy when needed. In the past, commercial trucks would sometimes wait for weeks waiting to join a military convoy.
Another common problem was the fact drivers did not always know where to pick up or deposit their loads on KAF. The soldiers in the 558th now quickly direct the drivers to their proper destination from their office at the movement control operations yard.
The new process has already saved the U.S. government an estimated $2 million in demurrage fees just since March. Another $12.5 million will likely be saved during the next two fiscal years, based on estimates provided by the Army Forces U.S. Central Command Finance Office.
The crucial aspect of the whole process was getting the average time a truck spends on KAF to less than three days, as there is no demurrage compensation for a stay on KAF of less than 72 hours.
Calingo, 28, from Congers, N.Y., said he had pondered ideas that would get the average time below three days since he arrived on KAF in September 2011. He finally put his theories to the test while earning a green belt in the Lean Six Sigma program this past spring. Lean Six Sigma is a business management strategy that seeks to improve processes by identifying and removing the causes of defects, errors and delays.
“Capt. Calingo immediately applied the tools he learned in the Six Sigma course to the truck timing problem,” said Six Sigma instructor Tim Fowler. “We are proud of his effort and accomplishments.”
Calingo said that, although he may have conceived some of the ideas surrounding the improvements, unit soldiers including 1st Lt. Diego Andrade, Staff Sgt. Marin Barbas and Sgt. David Guerrero perfected the expedited operations while working at the movement control operations yard.
“I may have had some of the initial ideas, but it was whole unit effort that was able to see these cost savings come to fruition,” Calingo said.
Calingo said the cost savings is only one positive aspect of the new process: A shorter stay on KAF also equals a better quality of life for the hundreds of Afghan drivers who deliver to the airbase each year. Instead of lingering for extended periods in the drivers’ area on KAF, drivers can spend more time at home with their families.
A shorter stay on KAF also promises to help the drivers economically as well, as they will have more driving days each year. (Drivers typically do not benefit from demurrage fees paid to the carrier.)
“It comes down to taking better care of the drivers,” Calingo said. “It may be a very small humanitarian gesture, but we are glad to do anything that improves the lives and situations for the Afghan drivers.”