(MCT) SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — Moving the U.S. military and all its stuff out of Afghanistan is not a job for the average moving company.
The U.S. Defense Department has more than 750,000 pieces of equipment worth more than $36 billion that needs to be moved out of Afghanistan before the end of 2014 and personnel at Scott Air Force Base are tasked with getting it done.
Personnel at the Army's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command are in the business of moving supplies, equipment, and people for the Department of Defense.
At Scott, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command is in charge of making sure all the "stuff" that goes with the troops gets to where it needs to be, whether at a remote assignment or back home in the states. The command is responsible for 87 percent of the cargo that has moved in and out of Afghanistan.
"It's like trying to move all the furniture in the biggest mansion in town with a Pacer and enlisting all of your friends to help," explained Scott Wadyko, chief of Movement, Assessment and Execution for Operations at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. "The question becomes: Do we really have to move it? Is it cheaper to move it, or replace it?"
It will cost about $5.7 billion to ship all that equipment back to the United States, even with an estimated $7 billion worth of equipment that will be left behind or destroyed. Some of that equipment, including out-dated computers and office equipment, will be left behind because it's cheaper to replace it with new than send it back to the U.S. Some of it will be donated to nations who have need of it or have requested it.
With the current financial issues facing the Department of Defense, the goal is to move large volumes of stuff at once, meaning there will be an overall cost savings if it can be shipped out via railroad and, eventually, on ships. Only sensitive equipment and supplies will leave the country via planes.
"Flying is expensive, going on a slow boat is not very expensive," said Army Col. Glen Baca, Chief of Operations at SDDC.
Equipment has to travel more than 300 miles through different countries to reach a port where it can be loaded onto ships, Baca said, and it's cheaper to send it by rail than by truck.
There is a lot of planning and coordinating with units stationed throughout Afghanistan to assure everything that needs to go gets to port around the same time to be loaded and shipped off, especially when countries around the land-locked Afghanistan are not amenable to allowing the U.S. to store its equipment while waiting for a full load to arrive.
"Our goal is to get cargo out and away from Pakistan and Afghanistan as quickly and efficiently as possible," Baca said "We have to know definitively what we have to move. The network (roads out of Afghanistan) has plenty of capacity, as long as we move it in a timely manner. If we find out about cargo that has to move late, that network will be overloaded. It is a lot of stuff, but there is sufficient enough commercial capacity that we can move it."
The SDDC does not own any trucks, trains, ships or planes, instead, it contracts with commercial carriers to move what needs to be moved, Baca added.
As U.S. troops move out of Afghanistan, the men and women moving their equipment will have to rely on Afghanis to provide security while moving out. About one-third of the total force has already left, along with their equipment. As troops leave, equipment and supplies leave.
"We are still sending in equipment and providing training to equip the Afghanis to run their own country," Baca said.
The command also depends on Afghani contractors to drive trucks to move equipment. So when a religious holiday rolls around, movement stops because all the drivers observe the holiday and don't work, Baca said.
What has the challenge of moving equipment in and out of a landlocked, hostile region with rough terrain taught the command?
"Given enough time, we can solve any transportation problem given to us," Baca said.
©2013 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)
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