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Digital technology transforms logistics in Iraqi Freedom

by Spc. Bill Putnam

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 27, 2003) -- Time and digital technology helped win Operation Iraqi Freedom, even if huge gambles were taken with extended supply lines, said Army generals in charge of logistics at a video teleconference May 19.

The build up to both wars in the Persian Gulf took about six months but there were big differences in getting soldiers to the front line, said Brig Gen. Vincent Boles from Baghdad.

There was virtually no equipment pre-positioned in the Persian Gulf area before Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and moving that equipment there was critical, said Boles, the commander of Army Material Command's Logistics Support Element in Iraq.

Port size and the numbers of ports were probably one of the biggest differences between Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Brig. Gen. Jack Stulz, the deputy commander of the 377th Transportation Support Command.

Kuwait has just one port dedicated to commercial shipping and that limited the number of ships that could be in port, he said.

There are three big ports in Saudi Arabia and that allowed a larger amount of ships to off-load at the same time during Desert Storm, he explained.

The "key" for OIF was the Army Pre-positioned Stocks of vehicles, ammunition and supplies that floated or sat in warehouses before the war, Stulz said.

Those supplies and vehicles were enough to field five brigade-sized units, he said.

Distances in the two wars were very similar but their approach to the building up for those eventual wars was vastly different, Stulz said.

In Saudi Arabia the distance from the port to the frontline was about 600 kilometers while that distance in Kuwait was only about 75 kilometers, Stulz said.

But the distances those supplies had to travel from Kuwait into Iraq extended to about 600 kilometers, he said.

During Operation Desert Storm the Army tried to build mountains of supplies, about 60 days worth, he said.

For Operation Iraqi Freedom there were only about five to seven days of supplies on hand, Stulz said.

"We didn't build mountains, we moved it and smoothed it out much like you do in civilian business," said Stulz, who is an activated Army Reservist, of the build up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The advent of digital technology also helped track what supplies were on a ship, where on that particular ship they were and where the ship was, said Boles.

During Desert Storm, the Army could track what was on the ships bound for Saudi Arabia, but not where a certain container of spare parts was because that technology simply wasn't around then, he said.

But it was new technology in OIF -- that proved the transformation idea -that also helped track where supply convoys were on the ground in Iraq, said Brig. Gen. Jerome Johnson.

The new Blue Force Tracking system that uses Global Positioning Systems proved instrumental to finding out where supplies were, said Johnson the director for plans, operations and logistics readiness for the Army's G-4.

Often times a unit from the 3rd Infantry Division might report a particular location and be gone before a supply convoy could arrive, he said. Commanders could track the movement of that unit and direct the supplies to that new place, he said.

While the tracking system isn't on every vehicle in the Army, the war proved that the system does work and funding to put on every vehicle is being worked out, Johnson said.

What went exceedingly well was the joint effort between the branches of the U.S., Stulz said.

"We took combined equipment to war as one team, in one fight," he said.

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