War on Terrorism

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trailblazers return from Afghanistan

by Army Capt. Gina Thomas
HHC/17th CSSB Commander

11/21/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion returned home this week with elements of the 23rd Sapper Company after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

The 17th CSSB Headquarters, consisting of 62 personnel from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson were deployed under the Central Command Materiel Recovery Element. The unit played a significant role in the force reduction in Afghanistan, as they oversaw the responsible retrograde of equipment and materiel from theater after 13 years of war and buildup.

Working as a subordinate command to the 45th Sustainment Brigade, the 17th CSSB provided mission command of four companies spread across every region of Afghanistan and were given the mission of recovering the multitude of equipment that the military brought into Afghanistan since the start of the war.

The mission was twofold: first, recover as much valuable equipment as possible and return it to the United States; and second, responsibly dispose of the used equipment that will cost taxpayers more to send back home than it would cost to replace.

The latter boiled down to cost analysis and the question of whether a piece of equipment was worth the cost of shipping it from Afghanistan back to the United States. Equipment being moved out of Afghanistan must first be "reset" back in the United States. That means it first goes to a depot to be overhauled or repaired before sending it to a receiving unit. There is a big price tag for transportation and for that kind of repair, and it is often more cost-effective to purchase new equipment.

The 17th CSSB Commander, Army Lt. Col. Brian Formy-Duval, summed up the battalion's accomplishment.

"If you take all of the 20-foot equivalent units we processed and put them end to end, it would stretch for nearly 38 miles," he said. "Our Soldiers put nearly $200 million back in to the Army supply system; the annual budget for the City of Topeka, Kansas."

The battalion also saved more than $40 million in transportation costs by preventing unwanted materiel in Afghanistan from being shipped back to the states. This reduction in transportation also translates into more than 1,600 Soldiers kept off the road and out of harm's way because they weren't moving unnecessary equipment on dangerous roads.

The 17th CSSB's mission success was largely due to its strategy of forward interdiction of materiel throughout Afghanistan and responsible retrograde by ensuring only needed equipment and supplies were brought back into the Army supply system. Forward interdiction was essential, because the process filtered valuable and needed materiel from the surplus or unusable.

By the time materiel passed through the six forward retrograde elements, located throughout Afghanistan, into the two retro sort yards, which served as the main sorting and shipping hubs and were located in Kandahar and Bagram airfields, only essential and cost-effective materiel was sorted and returned to the U.S. military inventory with much of it going to Army depots to be reset for later use by Soldiers.

With the reduction of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan from 38,000 troops to 9,800 during 17th CSSB's tenure, there was a lot of work and coordination to be done in setting conditions with Operation Enduring Freedom to officially become Operation Resolute Support Jan. 1, 2015.

Until recently, civilians and contractors augmented the CMRE mission and worked alongside military personnel. However, with the transition to Resolute Support, the military stepped aside and the civilians and contractors took the lead and covered down on this important mission.

As the 17th CSSB handed off their mission, Army Brig. Gen. Flem B. Walker Jr., the 3rd Sustainment Command's (Expeditionary) commanding general, praised the battalion for its accomplishments.

"The CMRE mission you have performed has been critical in the responsible return of military equipment from the battlefield to the U.S. and has been vital to sustaining the readiness of forces around the world," Walker said. "The bottom line is that the 17th CSSB helped sort, track and transport equipment as the logistical arm of CMRE. You have saved the Army millions and have done so at what can simply be called one of the most historical times in our nation's history. This is truly amazing work by an amazing team."

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