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837th executes largest retrograde ammunition operation

Feb 14, 2011

By Maj. Gary Whittacre

The 597th Transportation Brigade's 837th Transportation Battalion, stationed in Busan, Republic of Korea, executed its largest retrograde ammunition operation to date from Oct. 25 to Nov. 4 in Chinhae, ROK.

The U.S. Forces Korea War Reserves Stockpile for Allies, Korea, retrograde initiative is a congressionally sponsored program that allows outdated and excess ammunition stored in Korea to be shipped back to the United States, where it will be recycled. Under the accelerated retrograde initiative, the current goal is to send back 136,000 short tons of conventional ammunition over the next five years. The ammunition is no longer needed because of limitations in its useful life and technological upgrades in weapons. Modern logistics concepts and the military synchronized distribution network have also eliminated the need to store such large inventories. The WRSA-K initiative will save millions of dollars on storage, inventory and accounting for ammunition that is no longer needed or useful in the Korean theater.

As the single port manager for the Korean peninsula, the 837th "Kargo Kings" play a lead role in WRSA-K. During their third WRSA-K operation, the 837th had to perform the mission with only one functioning gantry crane while working in winds blowing 30-40 knots.

In spite of these obstacles, the team loaded 1,250 twenty-foot ocean-shipping containers containing more than 19,592 short tons of WRSA-K ammunition destined for U.S. ammunition depots onto the Motor Vessel Black Eagle four days ahead of schedule.

"The Kargo Kings of the 837th and all the participating units have every reason to be proud of their accomplishment of executing this retrograde operation under less than optimal conditions," said Lt. Col Kristian Rogers, commander of the 837th. "The Korean/U.S. battle cry of Katchi Kapsi Da (We Go Together) was truly exhibited throughout this historic operation."

The first phase of the operation began months before the load out. After the cargo documentation section of the 837th received data on containers that had been loaded for shipment, they, along with the terminal operations section developed a pre-stow plan to ensure the ammunition would be loaded and stored on the vessel safely and compatibly. The sections then built a manifest and submitted it to the MV Black Eagle. The November load out was the third time this vessel had been used for a WRSA-K operation, and the company had invested in improvements that made loading the containers onto the vessel easier.

On Oct. 6, long ammunition trains loaded with containers filled with high explosives began to arrive on the pier in a schedule that continued until the load out began Oct. 25.

The 837th spearheaded the operation, conducted with the 6th Ordnance Battalion, 25th Movement Control Battalion and the ROK Port Operations Group. Sixth Ordnance Battalion personnel procured, inspected, spotted, filled and weighed 20-foot ocean shipping containers; the 25th Movement Control Battalion arranged for rail transportation; the 837th ensured containers had working radio frequency identification tags and were staged properly according to weight, compatibility, and consignee by Port Operations Group soldiers; and the ROK Port Operations Group conducted the vessel upload and the movement of the ammunition from various locations across the Korean Peninsula.

During the load out, the 837th held two meetings daily for leaders from all units involved in operations. Mornings began with a joint operational and safety meeting at to discuss after-action comments from the previous day and to review operational plans as well as force protection and medical evacuation procedures. Every afternoon a daily production meeting was held to look at load rates and plan the next day's operations.

"This unit provides soldiers the opportunity to plan, coordinate and execute ammunition missions like WRSA-K," said Staff Sgt. Clifford Kurten, noncommissioned officer in charge of the WRSA-K operation. "Working with our peers, U.S. and Korean, Department of the Army civilians, and Korean Nationals not only helps strengthen the alliance, but also provides the hands-on experience that is vital to execute a mission like this in a safe manner."

The ROK Port Operations Group commander, Col. Yoon, Kook, was fully involved and committed to this operation from the beginning. The 665th Port Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jung, Ik Hwa, was on site while operations were underway, and ROK Port Operations Group soldiers ensured the cargo remained secure, was loaded safely and on time.

U.S. Army Materiel Command's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command executes surface movement of cargo for the Department of Defense as the Army Service Component Command of U.S. Transportation Command. SDDC is a unique Army command delivering world-class, origin-to-destination distribution solutions. Whenever and wherever Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are deployed, SDDC is involved in planning and executing the surface delivery of their equipment and supplies.

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