By Jonathan Stack
FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Army Col. Mike Bird is about to move a mountain.
And he won't be doing it alone. Bird, the commander of Defense Logistics Agency — Central Command will have help from members of his own team, a DLA support team and participants from several agency primary-level field activities. But that doesn't make the task of helping the military services draw down a mountain of equipment and supplies accumulated during six years of operations in Iraq any less daunting.
As the Department of Defense's combat logistics support agency, DLA is responsible for providing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, other federal agencies, and joint and allied forces with a variety of logistics, acquisition and technical services. These services include procuring and distributing nearly five million separate line items such as rations, medical supplies and equipment, clothing and textiles, repair parts for land, sea and air weapons systems and platforms, fuel and energy services. DLA is also responsible for reutilizing and disposing excess property received from the military services, to include disposing of hazardous waste and material.
As the regional command responsible for DLA activities in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, DLA-Central is also the agency's face to the combatant commander and his staff, and participates in strategic-level planning for the operations in the region. Bird has made planning for the drawdown a priority since he assumed command this summer.
"This is much more than moving a mountain. It surpasses any logistical challenge we have undertaken to date, all while we are still fighting two wars. It is critical that we ensure the warfighter is being sustained while we retrograde, refit and redistribute to the war effort," Bird said.
"The drawdown is, in essence, the return of all U.S. forces back to their home stations and closing out the military presence that is within the country of Iraq," said Donald Bruce, DLA's Joint Logistics Operations Center lead planner for drawdown, retrograde and reset. "Bringing back troops means bringing back all supplies."
Bruce said he believes the greatest challenge will be maintaining the agency's flexibility in an environment where there's still much uncertainty.
Since exact requirements are unknown, Bruce said, the agency needs to focus on how to get the information from the military services and how DLA's processes are set up to be flexible and respond to demands as they are generated.
Bruce said the drawdown will impact all DLA's primary-level field activities to some extent, with the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service shouldering the brunt of the workload. DRMS disposes of excess property received from the military services. The inventory changes daily and includes thousands of items such as air conditioners, vehicles, clothing and computers.
"Coordination and flexibility are keys in any complex operation," said Twila Gonzales, DRMS director. "An inflexible plan will snap under pressure, and an uncoordinated plan will fail. We will do what we already do, but with surges of higher volume anticipated," Gonzales said.
The reutilization service already handles the military services' excess property in Iraq, including disposal of battle-damaged equipment and demilitarization of applicable surplus items. DRMS also has an extensive program in place to remove scrap from both the small forward-operating bases and the larger more established bases. Gonzales said her team is also handling a portion of hazardous waste and materials disposal.
DRMS has employees working all across Iraq, not just at its four fixed Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices. Small teams are stationed at forward locations working with combat units and garrison leaders to prepare for unit movements and potential closures or handovers of facilities.
"We're not just working with or for the military units in Iraq, we are working right alongside them," she said. "Our mobilized reservists are doing great work on those teams."
Earlier this year, members of a DRMS disposal remediation team working at a large forward-operating base in Iraq managed removal of more than 3 million pounds of scrap from the base in just 30 days.
Gonzales said everything DRMS is doing to aid the responsible drawdown is focused on benefiting warfighters and preserving American national-security interests.
"Good management of excess equipment in this case helps protect our fighting forces from the danger that an adversary will be able to use some of our own equipment against us," Gonzales said. "Good stewardship over excess property serves both the warfighter and taxpayers."
DLA's distribution depot in Kuwait — Defense Distribution Depot Kuwait, Southwest Asia — and its other depots in the continental United States are expected to play a "reverse logistics" role in the drawdown in Iraq and the buildup in Afghanistan.
As service components in Iraq start leaving the country, Bruce said, the military services will look at their supplies and equipment and decide whether to take items with them or leave them behind.
"In some cases, the services might decide they don't need those consumable materials in Iraq because they're drawing down the force. But due to the buildup, the materials might be needed in Afghanistan," Bruce said. "Rather than transporting material all the way back to the continental U.S., they may choose to store that material at Defense Distribution Depot Kuwait and save transportation cost."
Bruce said much usable material will be shipped from Iraq to Defense Distribution Depot Kuwait while some of it will come back to DLA's depots near military units' home stations. These depots, mainly colocated with the military services' repair depots, act as receiving and temporary storage locations.
If a Humvee comes back to an Army repair depot, it will be received by the DLA depot and stored until the Army is ready to put it on the maintenance line and begin the rebuild, Bruce said.
"There's a big impact there for DLA because there's a lot of equipment that has to come back and be repaired before it can be provided to units to prepare for the next fight," he said.
In addition, Bruce said, there will be an impact on the amount of repair parts DLA is currently supplying to support rebuilding the equipment coming back and going into the depot system.
"The fact that this equipment has been used in the desert for so long means the military services might have to replace a lot of parts that they normally wouldn't have to replace on a weapon system with the same usage hours," Bruce said. "We have to work closely with the services to make sure we're on top of that and we know what those demands are so we're prepared to support them."
DLA's supply centers and Defense Energy Support Center are expected to see a surge in business as the military services' requirements evolve.
"We were sustaining the force in Iraq, and those demands are going to decrease over time and demands in Afghanistan are going to increase," he said.
For example, the Defense Energy Support Center has to monitor and draw down the bulk fuel it has been providing in Iraq and Kuwait to ensure that supply levels match demand and the agency doesn't build up excess supply when demand is increasing in Afghanistan.
DLA employs 25,000 civilian and military personnel, with Fiscal Year 2009 business revenues of almost $38 billion. For more information about DLA, go to www.dla.mil.