Monday, May 4, 2009

Ready to Roll - Soldier Magazine

THE end of Operation Telic presents the British Army’s logistics experts with an interesting challenge.

After six years of ferrying troops, equipment and supplies into Iraq, the Royal Logistic Corps now has to perform an about turn and transport the accumulated kit back out of the country.

It is a mammoth undertaking, but the movement experts have an ace up their sleeve in the form of the Visibility and Transit Aspect Logging (VITAL) system.

By placing small GPS transmitters inside every container heading out of Basra, the logisticians are able to continuously track each item from the moment it leaves Iraq to the time it reaches its final destination.

The system has been implemented by Capt Tim Walvin (RLC) who told Soldier that it will prove indispensable in ensuring nothing gets lost in transit.

“Before anything leaves, we barcode the items and can then track them on their way to whichever depot they are going to,” he explained, adding that similar operations in Bosnia and Kosovo carried out before the system was in place took significantly longer and required many more people to be involved. “That links in with the Total Asset Visibility brick [the GPS transmitter].

“It’s massively important. As nice as it would be to up sticks, gun everything into an ISO container and do a runner, I know as a supplier that it has to be unpacked at the other end.

“If things go missing it takes money out of the pot and this system means we can avoid that. The technology gives us total visibility and it gives people confidence because they know where their key assets are.”

Unsurprisingly for soldiers serving on such an historic tour, the Telic experience of the 20th Armoured Brigade troops serving with 1 (UK) Logistic Battalion has been unlike that of their colleagues on previous deployments.

Knowing that they would be at the very least partially responsible for returning the Army’s equipment to British bases and operational theatres around the world, 1 (UK) Log Bn began to size up their task soon after arriving in theatre.

An initial scout around the Contingency Operating Base (COB) and other locations in Basra province revealed around 5,000 containers which the loggies had to open and record the contents of.

The drawing-down of kit has been an ongoing process ever since, with more than 20,000 different types of equipment ranging from socks to engines needing to be removed from theatre.

The figures for Operation Pike – the road convoy between Kuwait and Basra – tell their own story.

In comparison to previous tours when the amount brought into the COB far exceeded that taken out, Telic 13 has seen the loggies remove more than they received.

Since arriving in theatre in December, the soldiers have overseen the dispatch of 5.5 million tonnes of supplies to be returned to depots in Britain and abroad or disposed of locally compared to the 4.3 million tonnes they have received.

The monthly totals for goods in and out have also shifted dramatically as the tour has progressed. While a total of 100,000kg of items headed each way in December, the monthly figure now stands at around 40,000kg entering the COB and as much as 500,000kg leaving it.

Take into account the mind-boggling numbers involved elsewhere in the supply chain for Op Pike alone – the 102 convoys on Op Telic 13 have covered 219,319km and transported 5.4 million litres of fuel – and it is hard not to admire the work ethic of the Army’s logistics experts.

They have also taken on responsibility for developing the Iraqi Army’s 14th Division’s logistics capability, working alongside the Middle Eastern soldiers at Shaibah.
Maj Steve Mellor (RLC), who spent much of the tour mentoring the Iraqis, said the host nation’s soldiers had been willing learners.

“They have a bit of work to do on their tactical awareness, but that will come with time,” he said. “Their ability is good and there’s a quiet confidence within the division. We have also helped them to develop their command structure and that has been particularly evident over the last three months.”

While other soldiers may have had a slower-paced final Telic compared to their previous experiences, the tour has been a true test of the mettle of everyone working in logistics.

But when the final ISO container loaded with British kit is sent on its way home, the specialists will be able to reflect on having played a part in a truly unique operation.

“We have had a successful five months of getting stuff out of here,” said SSgt Dougie Hollowell (RLC). “We knew the plug was being pulled [on Telic] so we have worked hard throughout.

“This is unlike previous ops so we are writing the textbook when it comes to logistics. There are a lot of new areas for us to learn and times have really never been busier.”

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