Drawdown triples theater logistics mission

Story and photos by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson
196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — As the upcoming responsible drawdown of U.S. forces looms, the “Warrior Pride” company has answered the call to duty of embracing a mission that has tripled in size since July 2009, when they arrived in theater.

The 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), has been successful during its deployment in handling the majority of equipment that has moved in and out of theater, thanks to the hard work of Soldiers, said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Latch, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the central receiving and shipping point with the 159th SOC and a Little Rock, Ark., native.

“ Getting a view of the biggest picture the Army has to offer, being theater logistics, is a great reward,” he said. “Just saying one of my Soldiers or me personally, has touched, inventoried, accounted for and taken responsibility of 90 percent of the equipment that has moved through Iraq is a great feeling.”

In addition to CRSP yard operations, the 159th SOC is responsible for the operations of the container repair yard, the empty container collection point for containers approved for sea travel. The company also retains a team assigned to help units move equipment during their deployment, redeployment or retrograding processes.

“The mission we started with, compared to what it has evolved to now, has tripled in our CRSP and CRY operations,” said 1st Sgt. Charlie McKenzie, first sergeant with the 159th SOC and an Atlanta, Ga., native.  “The monthly goal for the CRY grew from the production rate of 500 containers repaired to 2,000. The local national work force grew from 50 to almost 460 in the CRY.”

Operations of the 159th SOC have resulted in a good relationship between the U.S. Army and local villages, said Sgt. Jamal Wesley, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of final inspection at the CRY with the 159th SOC and a Clinton, N.C., native.

“One of the biggest rewards in working in the CRY is creating opportunities for the local nationals to go outside their community and become working citizens and earn a respectable living for their families,” he said.

The CRSP yard is where deploying, redeploying or retrograding units send goods and equipment so it can be transported to its final destination.  

The concept behind the CRSP yard and the empty container collection point is that units do not have to move containers, empty or full, in one trip, said 1st Lt. Gabriel West, officer-in-charge of the central receiving and shipping point with the 159th SOC and a Media, Pa., native.

“We have the largest CRSP and ECCP in Iraq, here at Joint Base Balad,” he said. “Basically, anything that can be shipped in Iraq comes through here.”

When a container is deemed unworthy for sea travel, it goes into the CRY where Iraqi nationals repair it.  Once it is repaired and inspected by a U.S. Soldier, it is moved into the ECCP until sent to other bases around Iraq in need of empty containers, West said.

The JBB ECCP supplies all the other ECCPs in theater with their seaworthy containers, hundreds at a time, Latch said.

Being the largest ECCP in theater, the numbers are staggering, West said.

“The ECCP has just over 1,000 containers,” he said. “That is always fluctuating.  We’ll range anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 these days. In the annex yard, there are just over 3,000 damaged containers awaiting repair and the CRY is just under 1,000 containers. Cargo in theater right now is moving mind-bogglingly fast. You wouldn’t think it though by looking out (in the CRSP yard).”

The average amount of time a piece of cargo is in the yard is about 72 hours, but some move through as fast as 24-48 hours, Latch said. 

There are many formulas the team uses to figure out the average movement of goods in and out of theater.  One of those ways is what they call the “through-put” number, he said. 

“We compare the amount of cargo that comes in (to the CRSP yard) to the amount of cargo that goes out and that equals a through-put,” Latch said.  “The number of through-put is, more often than not, higher than the pieces we have in the yard.  We will actually receive and ship more pieces in a 24 hour-period than is actually sitting on ground.”

The through-put in the CRSP yard was about 500 pieces per month when the unit first arrived. Now it’s more than 10,000 per month, West said.

Because the mission tripled in size, the unit outgrew their previous CRSP yard.  They moved from a space of 32 acres to their current location of about 70 acres, West said.

With all of the moving pieces the 159th SOC is responsible for, the main challenge of running the CRSP, ECCP and CRY is the accuracy of its reporting database.

“We use a manual inventory system to keep the database accurate,’ West said. “Among the high-speed technologies the Army uses these days to track cargo, ultimately, we’ve found pen and paper and a Soldier are the best tools for finding out what’s in the (CRSP) yard.”

Another key part of the159th SOC mission is the material handling equipment team, dedicated to assisting units moving in and out of theater, base closures and the relocation of heavy objects. 

“One mission might be a (base) closure and the next might be aiding some Iraqis in building up (their force protection) so they can help in the U.S. upcoming drawdown,” said Staff Sgt. Teah Clay, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of operations functions for the MHE team, with the 159th SOC and a New York City native. “We move anything from a pallet to Jersey barriers to observance towers to tanks.”

The MHE team has traveled more than 10,000 miles on the roads of Iraq, aiding units with whatever their equipment movement requirements may be, said 1st Lt. Richard A. Paradiso, III, executive officer with the 159th SOC and a Virginia Beach, Va., native.

“From a leadership standpoint, I really couldn’t ask for better Soldiers,” he said. “These Soldiers sacrifice so much. They’re here to do the mission and they go above and beyond to make sure it gets done. There’s never been a mission we’ve said no to.”

Even though the unit is busy and spread throughout theater, they still manage to strive toward standards and goals the leadership set long before the deployment started. The unit has six Sergeant Audie Murphy Club inductees — awarded entrance into the club by consistently personifying all aspects of military leadership with the utmost proficiency and passing a rigorous board review — and a 100 percent Army Physical Fitness Test pass rate.

“We did a lot of soul searching, team development and confidence building before we got here,” McKenzie said. “What we start with is building a Soldier’s fitness, their physical readiness, as a foundation to make sure they can withstand the mental and emotional stress of the sacrifices they have to give. Then we work on their self-development as a person; not just as a Soldier, but as a human. Once we’ve built that, we build their long-term self-development by motivating and encouraging Soldiers to strive for excellence.”

The Soldiers have an immeasurable amount of loyalty to the commander and first sergeant. The Soldiers are not doing missions for rewards, they are doing it because it is their commander and first sergeant’s mission, Paradiso said.

“(The Soldiers) do an outstanding job,” said Capt. Philip McDowell, commander of the 159th SOC and a Charlottesville, Va., native. “Ever since we hit the ground, they’ve been working extremely hard and they understand how important it is to get all the cargo and equipment out of Iraq.  They understand their mission is very essential and vital to the responsible (drawdown) of U.S. troops (and equipment from Iraq).”

 

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Trucks are used to unload equipment May 28 at the central receiving and shipping point at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Soldiers with the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) run the CRSP yard at JBB. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)

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Spc. Shea Wilkerson (third from left), a cargo inspector with the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Hattiesburg, Miss., native, verifies cargo as it arrives at the central receiving and shipping point, Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The main function of the CRSP yard is to provide units with a resting point for cargo so transporters do not have to make the trip from the starting point to the final destination at once. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)

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A piece of theater equipment is unloaded from a truck May 28 at the central receiving and shipping point at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Soldiers with the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) run the CRSP yard at JBB. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)