By 1st Lt. Michael Shear
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq - The responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq has made history by being the largest and most complex drawdown and redistribution of equipment since Vietnam. The 540th Quartermaster Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), is at the tip of the spear of this massive exodus of equipment and supplies.
The mobile redistribution team yard at Victory Base Complex, Iraq, which supports seven different operating locations throughout United States Division-Center area of responsibility, is led by 1st Lt. Joshua Helsel, officer in charge of the MRT yard and a Lake City, Mich., native.
“We are drawing down all of the excess equipment in Iraq, saving the Army over $1,000,000 per week,” said Helsel.
Many units who are leaving country have stockpiles of brand new equipment or supplies which they cannot take home with them. When these redeploying units want to get rid of their excess or scrap, they bring it or send it to the MRT yard. That equipment is received, processed into several categories, and either taken to the proper scrap yards, shipped out to an Army supply depot or offered for free issue to units still on ground.
Once a week, units are allowed to come to the MRT yard and ‘shop till they drop’ for many different items including printer ink cartridges, maintenance parts, lumber, tires and many other mission-essential supplies and equipment. This service allows units to acquire what they need without spending additional money and bringing more equipment and supplies into theater.
“The equipment has a specific place where it goes depending on the type of item it is,” said Staff Sgt. Geronte Hooks, the non-commissioned officer- in- charge of the MRT yard and a Pasadena, Calif. native. “New items can get shipped to California, scrap metal or plastic goes to DRMO, uniforms and wood go to the incinerator, chemicals go to HAZMAT, and major end items go to the RPAT yard.”
The MRT yard sees hundreds or thousands of items every day, depending on the number of units coming and going.
The concept of mobile redistribution teams came about when the Army analyzed the amount of equipment needed for the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Since the beginning Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. has been adding equipment to the Iraq theater of operations. When a timeline was established to remove U.S. forces, the need arose to move an entire country’s worth of equipment.
Three times per week, units on VBC can drop off their unwanted items to the yard for processing. Units who reside on surrounding bases in USD-C are serviced by mobile teams from the operations at VBC and Joint Base Balad, Iraq, who go to smaller locations to pack up equipment and send it back to VBC.
Despite thorough screening, sometimes the MRT yard receives some pretty strange and potentially dangerous materials.
“We have received many items here in the yard like live ammunition, trailer mounted generators, forklifts and water buffalos,” said Hooks.
Other soldiers working in the yard have seen everything from popcorn makers to old anti-aircraft weapons.
Although the soldiers of the 540th Quartermaster Company hold the military occupational specialty 92S, which is shower, laundry and clothing repair, they have quickly and efficiently learned the skill sets necessary to categorize equipment into the Army’s classes of supply, looking up the national stock number, using automated logistical systems, and determining the next destination of the equipment, whether it be Kuwait or a stateside Army depot.
“The most challenging part has been training soldiers with a completely different military occupation specialties to do logistics work at a fast pace,” said Helsel.
Despite the challenges associated with learning a new skill set on a time crunch, most of the soldiers in the MRT yard enjoy the work that they do.
“Working outside my MOS can only expand my knowledge of other aspects of the Army,” said Sgt. Kenneth Foster, day shift NCO at the MRT yard at VBC for the 540th Quartermaster Company, and a native of Lacrosse, Wis.
“It’s great to actually get something new to experience and to see the things the Army uses in our everyday life,” said Spc. Tatisha Whichard, a shower, laundry and clothing repair specialist for the 540th Quatermaster Company, and a Greenville, N.C., native.
“The downsizing of U.S. forces is a pivotal transition,” said Capt. Tyonne Carter, commander of the 540th Quartermaster Company, and native of Columbia, Md. “540th Quartermaster soldiers are leaving their footprint with the MRT mission and our primary shower, laundry and clothing repair mission. Years from now they will be able to share with their children and children’s, children the impact they had during this historical period.”
With the United States’ presence in Iraq drawing to a close, the MRT mission of the 540th Quartermaster Company is making history by retrograding millions of dollars worth of supplies and equipment, and leaving clean and organized bases for the Iraqi people.