By Cathy Hopkins
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 6, 2009 - When he joined the Navy 15 years ago, Cmdr. Trent Kalp probably expected to serve six-month deployments to the middle of the ocean during his career. But at the time, it might have come as a surprise to learn he also would one day be packing his bags at his home in Midlothian, Va., for six months in Afghanistan. As operations officer for aviation customer operations at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Kalp usually works stateside as part of Defense Logistics Agency's aviation demand and supply chain. But from January to July this year, he commanded DLA Support Team Afghanistan.
Kalp's 16-member team worked with the Army's 45th Sustainment Brigade at Bagram Airfield and U.S. forces serving in Regional Command South in Kandahar, where they supported U.S. forces throughout the country.
The deployment was a unique opportunity for a Navy officer, Kalp said.
"It was like being a fish out of water," he acknowledged, adding that Navy personnel "aren't used to deploying in this 'boots on the ground' capacity in a desert environment, as opposed to on a ship.
"Five to 10 years ago it wasn't so common," he continued. "Now, in the joint environment, we are breaking down barriers ... and gaining more credibility with each other."
Kalp's team was restricted to bases in Afghanistan, and traveled primarily by air. But on a few occasions, they did have to travel in armored vehicles to visit other military locations.
"It was a good opportunity for me to see what was going on in the country outside of the bases," he said. "An image I'll always remember is the sight of kids walking to school, especially girls in white head scarves. To me, it was a sign of hope that what we are doing there is helpful -- that, if nothing else, they get a chance to go to school."
Kalp said he also saw the infrastructure challenges the country faces when his armored car got stuck in a pothole. "It was a little tense when a crowd started to surround us just to see what was going on," he said. "Then an Afghanistan policeman with a winch pulled the car out of the hole."
As the Army activated new commands to accommodate an influx of additional troops, Kalp's team picked up additional members so DLA could continue providing the best support possible to developing organizations.
"The team is made up of active duty and reserve military, as well as civilians," he said. "The billets are very fluid to meet the customer needs, and DLA is pushing more billets into the southern part of the country."
Kalp said two hot issues during his deployment were food and construction materials. The influx of new forces already was under way when he arrived, and it increased during the first two months of his deployment. He said the number of troops almost doubled, and the buildup continued after he left.
"Food requirements increased on a faster timeline, stressing the contractors' ability to provide the food," Kalp said. As a result, he spent a lot of time working with DLA's prime food vendor and meeting with his Army customers to see what was working on the supply lines and what wasn't.
"The biggest logistic challenge in the area is the austere environment," Kalp said. Afghanistan has no seaports, and ground transportation must come through Pakistan and countries to the north.
"A drive of 300 miles may take a week or longer because of the road conditions to get into the country, and then there are challenges in the country to get materials to the troops," Kalp said. "Any change in weather and combative forces working against us delayed deliveries."
Kalp said DLA's prime vendor uses local truckers to make deliveries, because they know the routes and what is safe or not. He said militant forces still hampered their ability to move quickly, but some convoys also were aided by locally contracted security forces.
Construction material was the other hot item. Kalp said keeping available supplies of lumber, plywood and other materials was challenging. The DLA team's involvement grew when Army engineers needed help getting their relocatable-building project up and running.
Relocatable buildings are modular structures designed to be disassembled, moved and reassembled with relative ease.
"The engineers needed some line items that hadn't arrived in a timely fashion," Kalp said. "We were able to use a contracting vehicle managed by Defense Supply Center Philadelphia to purchase needed items. DSCP, working with Defense Distribution Center, was able to quickly acquire and deliver the items."
Kalp said the most impressive part of the project was the size of its environmental footprint.
"We essentially built up the equivalent of eight cities with all of the forward operating bases and combat outposts in the country," he said, "but through coordination with the local populace, our environmental impact was minimal.
"Many customers are still unaware of all DLA can do," said he continued. "We helped educate them on our capabilities; but if customers could learn about how DLA can help them before they deploy, it would be better. It's a hard environment to train in once the units are deployed, because they're so busy."
Kalp said his deployment changed the way he reacts to overseas requests, among other things.
"Deploying is definitely worthwhile, but not for everyone," he said. "It reset my priorities. After living there, you don't let things work you up that did beforehand. You have a better view of the bigger picture – of what is important."
Kalp said employees need to make sure they are able to perform well in their job, and need to understand it isn't a glamorous environment. "You are living in less-than-ideal circumstances, and every once in a while the 'bad guys' remind you that they are there," he said.
(Cathy Hopkins works in the Defense Supply Center Richmond public affairs office.)