Dedicated soldiers keep fuel flowing in Iraq
Apr 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Editorial By Charles E Wilson
SOME of the most compelling television images are coming out of the war in Iraq. It's not just the combat coverage that stands out. Scenes of the logistics effort (the troop resupply process) are incredible.
This is the supply chain at its most fundamental. From a historical standpoint, it resembles the famed Redball Express that fueled the Allied drive across Europe following the D-Day invasion in Normandy. The resemblance is only superficial, though. This is a whole different ballgame.
The supply effort starts at the Kuwaiti port of Shuaiba and extends to the suburbs of Baghdad, about 370 dusty miles to the north. This is roughly three times the distance of US supply lines during the first Gulf War in 1991. It is one of the longest, most exposed supply lines in US military history.
Everything needed to keep the war effort on track is flowing along this seemingly endless supply chain. This includes a daily supply of thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water, as well as ammunition, food, and the other equipment needed to make war. The Third Infantry Division alone consumed a million gallons of diesel each day during the drive to Baghdad.
Getting the fuel and other materiel to the front line is a complex process that is handled by one of the most sophisticated logistics systems in the world. The US military has married the classic military science of troop supply with some of the latest supply chain theories and technologies.
Responsibility for the supply effort falls on the Combat Service Support (CSS) arm of the military. Its fleet includes more than 10,000 five-ton trucks. There also are Oshkosh 2,500-gallon HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) tank trucks and Freightliner tractors pulling 5,000-gallon Heil petroleum trailers.
Every supply shipment is tracked on a computer system modeled on Federal Express. CSS soldiers use computers to monitor the supply needs of every Army unit in the field. Bar codes are an integral part of the tracking process, but Department of Defense also is using high-tech radio frequency emitting identification (RFID) tags.
Fuel shipments destined for the front lines in Iraq are drawn from a storage terminal with about nine million gallons of diesel in rubberized bladders that have been buried. Moving fuel from the terminal in Kuwait directly to the front line is a new strategy.
Typically, the military would use a layered supply effort, consisting of a main supply dump. Satellite facilities would be added closer to the front lines as the military forces advance. This was the process in place when Modern Bulk Transporter profiled the US Army's fuel distribution program in a September 1986 report.
In this war, the petroleum transport drivers are part of an unbroken supply chain. According to news reports, each driver covers 180 to 200 miles a day, which averages 14 hours of driving. At the end of a driving shift, the trailer is handed off in a relay to the next driver in the chain. The first driver gets some rest before heading back to his origination point.
It should be noted that each stage of the transport process takes the trucks through hostile territory. Fuel tanker drivers often are running a gauntlet of Iraqi guerilla fighters and other irregulars operating out of towns and cities along the supply routes. In spite of the danger, the shipments keep moving 24 hours a day.
The supply effort may not get the headlines in this war, but none of the combat achievements would be possible without the logistics support. The active duty, reservist, and National Guard soldiers in the logistics operation have performed, and continue to perform, superbly under some of the most miserable conditions.
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