CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – A team of 10 Marines serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan, spent the last year not only supplying more than 2,000 Marines and sailors with everything from boots and beanies to pens and notepads, but began the process of taking care of all the gear acquired during the war.
With less Marines in the region because of the drawdown, their job became a key part during the closing stages in Afghanistan.
“Our biggest task was to take all of our battalions and migrate all their equipment into our units’ property records,” said Staff Sgt. Jhonnatan Chinchilla, supply chief, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward). “We took the main supporting elements and migrated all their gear as well as retrograding all the proper equipment.”
The retrograding process included documenting and identifying more than 800 million pieces of gear.
The items belonged to the various units under I MEF (Fwd.), including 9th Communications Battalion, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, 1st Intelligence Battalion, 1st Radio Battalion, and all the security force advisor training teams.
“When we got out here in January (2012), there were procedures established, but everyone was unfamiliar because the process was still new,” said Chinchilla from Brooklyn, New York.
The Marines were deployed during a vital time in Afghanistan, but the small team stepped up to the challenge.
“We managed a job that normally requires a lot more Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Esquivel, theater provided equipment chief with I MHG (Fwd.).
The workload did not slow down for the Marines. Even with a smaller shop, they had deadlines to meet and gear to inventory before other Marines arrived to take responsibility for the retrograde process.
“We were shorthanded and taking in hundreds of pieces of equipment each week,” said Chinchilla. “Then we would give people the information and take it where it needed to go. At times, we found ourselves working 18-hour days trying to dispose of the gear correctly. That went on for months.”
The drawdown of servicemembers meant the extra gear needed to be accounted for and properly returned to the United States. For the first half of the deployment, the Marines worked tirelessly, tracking down serialized gear from 90 different consolidated memorandum receipts.
“I was responsible for 60 CMRs,” said Esquivel. “The biggest challenge was tracking the constant movement of the gear.”
Chinchilla’s shop impressed him with their ability to keep records on so many pieces of gear from so many different locations.
“I never heard of a supply account having more than 90 CMRs, but we do,” said Chinchilla.
The Marines’ hard work and long days paid off. During their yearlong deployment, they retrograded more than 800 million pieces of equipment.
“We retrograded everything from locator beacons, telephones, radios and vehicles,” said Esquivel, from Los Angeles. “We also retrograded gear that belonged to both the Marine Corps and the Army.”
Esquivel was in charge of all of the items the Marines used that the Army originally purchased. Because it belonged to the Army, it had different procedures and paperwork that he was required to process.
“I turned in more than 400 pieces of (Army) equipment in the last two months,” said Esquivel.
The smaller shop meant many of the Marines needed to fill jobs normally manned by higher ranks. This challenged the team, but each of them rose to the occasion.
“When people needed things, they didn’t come to me, they would go to the lance corporals or the corporals,” said Chinchilla. “The team made my job a lot easier. We had lance corporals and corporals filling sergeant billets. We achieved things that a typical 10-man platoon wouldn’t be able to accomplish. It all starts with the massive amount of knowledge and professionalism of each Marine. The team we have is one of the best supply teams I’ve ever seen.”
With more than 800 million pieces of equipment, the Marines took great care to locate and account for each one. At the end, they turned over their CMR without any losses to their replacements.
Soon, the Marines will return from their deployment. They return having set the foundation for the rest of the retrograde process in Helmand province, and achieved much more than issuing boots and blouses.