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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign


Chapter 12
Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

 

Field Services

Napoleon’s observation that “an army marches on its stomach” was as true in the first decade of the 21st century as it was in the pre-industrial era of the 19th century. Delivering clean water and healthy food to units in Iraq were only two of the many field services provided to Coalition soldiers. In the spring and summer of 2003 feeding and providing water to US and Coalition forces did not go as well as expected. Brigadier General Scott West, the CJTF-7 CJ4, stated that soon after he arrived in Iraq in late July 2003:

The most broken and contentious logistics function on this battlefield was feeding the troops. . . . This became a top priority for the staff of CJTF-7. Coupled with the feeding problem was the provisioning of bottled water and a cooling capability for the water. Soldiers will not and should not drink hot water. In the 130-degree heat of an Iraqi summer, cooling water was an imperative.93

Beginning in May 2003 the military’s requirement for meals, ready to eat (MREs) and unitized group rations (UGRs) exceeded in-theater supplies. US commercial producers could not ramp up production fast enough to meet demand. To help alleviate the shortage of MREs and UGRs, producers placed them directly from the manufacturing plant into containers for immediate shipment. Many of the containers, however, were filled with just one type of meal, either all breakfasts, all lunches, or all dinners, and were delivered to units on the front lines unsorted. One report about OIF in this early period noted, “It was not unheard of during OIF for Soldiers to eat breakfast UGRs for all three meals for several days in a row. . . . OPTEMPO also led to instances of Soldiers subsisting solely on MREs for more than 21 days, which violated the Surgeon General’s policy on MRE consumption.”94

Some of the concerns regarding food and water, known as Class I supplies, were echoed by Lieutenant Colonel Harry Tunnell IV of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade. Tunnell’s unit parachuted into northern Iraq early in OIF. Tunnell noted that by day 66 of the deployment in Iraq, his Soldiers were still eating cold chow. Though lack of food was never an issue, the type of food presented a dilemma for the unit. “There are health issues because when you eat MREs for quite a while, there is a limited menu,” Tunnell said. “Soldiers actually refuse to eat the right amount of food because the menu is so repetitive . . . that makes it tough on the health of the force, I think. It goes beyond a matter of convenience there because Soldiers aren’t getting the right calories to perform the heavy work they have to do.”95 Military history is replete with far, far worse cases of inadequate sustenance. Thus complaints about overabundance of particular types of rations can be viewed as a somewhat backhanded compliment to the Army’s logistics system.

Providing drinkable water to Soldiers in the intense heat of summer in Iraq was equally difficult. The problem was obvious: delivering enough potable water and ice to keep Soldiers hydrated in temperatures that reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit. An additional issue was the provision of clean bulk water for use in showers, laundry, cooking, and general cleaning. Bulk water was normally provided by reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPUs) or from local water sources, delivered by pipe within bases, or trucked to units operating away from fixed locations. Further exacerbating the challenge of delivering all types of water was a general deficit in the types and sizes of military water trucks, a problem Soldiers often addressed by arranging for local contractor support.96

Since Operation DESERT STORM, the US military has provided bottled water for its Soldiers to drink, relying less on delivering potable water in large tankers and making potable water on site by means of water purification units. For Soldiers, using bottled water made sense. Bottles are easier to store in combat vehicles and easier for Soldiers to carry into combat. Bottled water can be kept cooler much easier than bulk tankers, because ice can be used from nonpotable water purchased locally. Despite its advantages, bottled water added another burden to the transportation system.

Delivering water, however, was just the first obstacle. In the Iraqi summer, it was critical that the water be cooled. Soldiers operating in extreme heat have trouble drinking hot water despite the obvious necessity of doing so. The United States initially lacked enough refrigerated vans or reefers to deliver and cool water in the summer of 2003. Logisticians also found that many units took control of these precious assets when they arrived at base camps and did not return them to the ice and water distribution role.97 Local purchases of water from Kuwaiti and Iraqi vendors alleviated some of the problem. Small units also lacked the cargo handling equipment to download and store large pallets of bottled water, or to store bulk water delivered by water tankers in short supply.98

To fix these and other problems with water and food distribution in the summer of 2003, food service personnel from the CJTF-7 logistics section began riding on ration convoys from Kuwait to the northern and western distribution hubs in Iraq to discover the sources of the problems. They found frequent double handling, lost convoys, broken refrigeration units, and “frustrated” cargo. After a variety of procedural changes that included an improvement of visibility of Class I while in transit, the CJTF-7 ration and water distribution program was functioning more smoothly by November 2003.99


Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations





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