By Beth Reece
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 24, 2009 - As 17,000 soldiers and Marines ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama prepare to deploy this spring and summer, logisticians already are orchestrating the shipment of such critical supplies as food and lumber. The Defense Logistics Agency here has been working with U.S. Central Command's Deployment Distribution Operations Center in Kuwait since January to support the troop increase requested last year by U.S. Forces Afghanistan Commander Gen. David D. McKiernan, Navy Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, director of DLA's Logistics Operations and Readiness Directorate, said.
The operations center merges experts from U.S. Transportation Command, Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Army Materiel Command, DLA and service components. Together, they plan the most efficient and timely movement of supplies to troops.
"We're planning for increased demands of food subsistence, building supplies, spare parts and packaged petroleum products in Afghanistan," Heinrich said. "All of our supply centers are deeply involved with the CDDOC and working closely with DLA support teams in Kuwait."
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia is partnering with the operations center to ensure collapsible housing units are sent where needed.
"The [distribution center in Kuwait] is playing a role in metering the flow — some by air, some by ship — and getting them to where they need to be to meet warfighters' requirements," Heinrich said. "The fact that they're doing that and have visibility, and we know who to talk to there, has been very beneficial to DLA.
Heinrich, who headed the operations center during a voluntary five-month deployment last year, said the arrangement is working because the right people are working together in the right ways. "Our response to warfighters is greater because DLA and its strategic partners have put boots on the ground over there, which allows us to fuse our information and be persistent," he said.
The operations center is the first of its kind to be used in wartime, Heinrich said. It was established in 2004 at Centcom's request, with the goal of achieving shorter delivery times and lower costs.
The admiral said he believes the center already has made big improvements. The center lets DLA members see how the supplies they procure are actually sent to customers, he said, which challenges them to evaluate agency processes and occasionally make adjustments that speed delivery.
For example, he said, small changes at the Defense Distribution Depot Kuwait, Southwest Asia, shortened the time it takes to prepare pallets for shipment.
"DDKS produces about 60 pallets each day for air delivery, and when you send a pallet via air, there's an expectation that it's going to get there fast," Heinrich said. Pallets built at the depot were being weighed and measured on the airfield, then offered for bid to commercial carriers.
"But the CDDOC started looking at the process and asked, 'What if we did all this at DDKS?'" he said. "'Can we improve the process?'"
Two months later, the depot had installed the Air Mobility Command's Global Air Transportation Execution System, which gives visibility of pallets awaiting shipment.
"So we were able to report those air pallets as soon as they were built at DDKS to the people who offer them to commercial carriers," Heinrich said. "What took about seven and a half days now takes about two days."
Partnerships generated at the center are being used now as the depot assumes management of a formerly Navy-owned warehouse in Bahrain.
"Today, when folks in Bahrain requisition material from Kuwait, we fly it at a cost of about $1.98 a pound," he said. "Now that we have a warehouse in Bahrain, we can fill it with material from Kuwait and, working with Transcom, we can truck it, and it will only cost us about 10 cents a pound."
The center also has improved end-to-end distribution by increasing cargo visibility and maximizing airlift assets. And by initiating the use of "pure pallets," which contain items for one customer only, the center eliminated the need to break down and repackage cargo for specific users in theater.
"The CDDOC plays an important role in synchronizing operations right there on the ground," Heinrich said.
"The future for CDDOC is limitless, and I feel lucky to have been a part of its beginning," he added. "It's made me a better logistician and a stronger member of the DLA team."
(Beth Reece works for Defense Logistics Agency public affairs.)