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Afghanistan Withdrawal: Equipment Retrograde

by Sgt. Jovi Prevot, Public Affairs Specialist, Mississippi Army National Guard

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 53

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In the history of the U.S. military there has never been a requirement to retrograde as much equipment in as short a period of time as there was during Operation New Dawn, when American forces withdrew from Iraq. 

In order to accomplish the mission, and with all the new systems being used to transport and track equipment, it was necessary to learn new skill sets and combine them in a logical, effective combination as part of Redistribution Property Assistance Teams, or RPATs, which are teams formed to relieve units of equipment.

The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, or SDDC, is a unique U.S. Army command that delivers world-class, origin-to-destination
distribution solutions.

Whenever and wherever Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are deployed, SDDC is involved in planning and executing the surface delivery of their equipment and supplies. SDDC is the Department of Defense’s (DOD) manager for all aspects of surface movement, from planning, booking and shipping, to tracking cargo, conducting port operations anywhere in the world, and managing personal property moves for military personnel, federal employees, and their families. Although headquartered in the Midwest United States, five brigades, dozens of battalions and detachments and thousands of personnel across the globe support the surface movement of DOD equipment and supplies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Eight representatives of the Army Materiel Command held a briefing to discuss retrograde and reset operations in Zabul province, Feb. 8, at Forward Operating Base Apache, Afghanistan.

“We have retrograded more in the last six months than during the whole time we have been in theater,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Douglas Windell, officer-in-charge, Mobile Retrograde Property Accountability Team, 401st Army Field Support Battalion. Retrograde operations, the term for the removal of equipment, are continuing to grow he added.

Army Materiel Command is the governing body for all logistics in the Army. It oversees purchasing, selling, outfitting, decommissioning, shipping and receiving virtually all equipment within the U.S. Army’s arsenal. The men and women who work for the AMC are known as logisticians. 

The role of the Army logistician has made a complete reversal in the past year, shifting from supplying the war fighter to retrograding all excess equipment within the Afghanistan theater of operations. 

Despite full support and the assets, the United States government is dedicated to withdrawing equipment and troops from Afghanistan, there are no shortage of skeptics. Skeptics of the logistics, the timeline and of the withdrawal in general are constantly emerging.

A large reason for skepticism is the sheer amount of equipment to recover.

The eight logisticians attending the meeting, however, all agree that those concerns were not well-rooted.

U.S. Army Maj. Jeff E. Gornowicz, Brigade Logistic Support Team, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, defended the deadline of retrograde by saying “it’s going to happen and probably with an accelerated timeline.” 

They will meet the deadline, he said, the only question left is how.

There are many avenues of extraction because prospects are narrowing due to many factors; air transportation is most commonly used as of now. 

U.S. Army Maj. James E. Bluman, systems acquisitions officer of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, assured members of the briefing that currently the math adds up. There is a vast amount of equipment to retrieve and only so much time in which to retrieve it, but the AMC is meeting those goals.

The recent withdrawal from Iraq left the AMC better equipped for current and future retrograding operations.

Gornowicz said that even though the situation in Iraq was different than the situation in Afghanistan, lessons learned during retrograde operations in Iraq can and have been implemented in Afghanistan.


What is it?
 Retrograde is the movement of equipment and materiel from a deployed theater to a Reset program (replace, recapitalize, or repair) or another theater of operations in order to replenish units or stock requirements. Equipment is redistributed in accordance with theater priorities to fill mission requirements within the Area of Responsibility (AOR) and Department of Defense (DoD) requirements. Army Materiel Command (AMC) is the Army’s Executive Agent for retrograde.

What has the Army done?

The Army G-4 has published messages tailored to each theater for the retrograde of materiel and equipment including: Army Central Command (ARCENT), United States Army Europe (USAREUR), and Eighth United States Army (EUSA) AORs. The policy requires commands that have identified equipment or materiel excess within their theater to coordinate with local AMC elements to assist with retrograde and retrograde reporting. End-to-end models of USAREUR and ARCENT AORs have been developed. The Army G-4 has developed a Retrograde Task Force (TF) that provides a forum in which the retrograde stakeholder community identifies, discusses, and develops solutions to issues/obstacles affecting retrograde operations. There are key representatives from Army G-3, G-4, G-8, USAREUR, EUSA, ARCENT, Logistics Support Activity, United States Central Command, Defense Logistics Agency, United States Transportation Command, Multi-National Force—Iraq, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and AMC. Additionally, the Army has identified performance standards for secondary item materiel returns.

What continued efforts does Army have planned for the future?

The Retrograde TF is leading the retrograde indicator team for the Army G-4’s 360 Degree Logistics Readiness initiative. The end-state of this prototype tool is to develop end-to-end visibility throughout the reverse pipeline with quantifiable metrics for air and surface movement of materiel. The team completed a lean six sigma project that analyzed the retrograde process for major end items to identify deficiencies in the reverse pipeline with the goal of optimizing movement of equipment to a Reset program or to replenish units or stock requirements.

The Army G-4 established control measures for transportation priority-4 movement for AMC-controlled Reset, and retrograde of clothing and textiles, major end items, and repair parts cargo from Southwest Asia (SWA) to Army depots in the U.S. This initiative decreased the shipment wait time for selected low-density, high-demand items and increased the speed that equipment gets to depots in the U.S. to better support Reset and retrograde. Since January 1, 2008, more than 5,200 short tons of Reset and retrograde major end items and repairs parts have been transported to the U.S., resulting in savings of more than $2.3 Million in surface transportation charges, while reducing shipment time by 48 days.

Since 2005, more than 40,192 pieces of retrograded major end items (rolling-stock) have been shipped from SWA, EUSA, and USAREUR in support of Army Force Generation operations. The AMC continues to meet production requirements for essential replenishment of equipment.

Why is this important to the Army?

The retrograde process provides a means to return equipment and materiel to the DoD inventory and for units to Reset the force in accordance with the Dynamic Army Resourcing Priority List.
Sgt. Jovi Prevot is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Mississippi Army National Guard. He studied Social Science at William Carey University and graduated in 2012.
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