Roll On/Roll Off 2005 - War zone logistics

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Fort Hood’s 49th Transportation Battalion tracks vehicles and shipments from Texas, to Kuwait to IraqBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTRo/ro shippers and carriers are challenged to get vehicles and equipment to their intended destination on time. The US Army’s 49th Transportation Battalion, headquartered in Fort Hood, Texas, is also in the business of moving cargo, wheeled and otherwise. In the case of the 49th, they are moving it to and through a war zone, at least some of the time.
In January 2004, the 49th was deployed to Iraq after first spending two weeks in Kuwait training personnel in convoy operations. Once in Iraq, the 49th set up shop at Logistics Support Area Anaconda located near Balad, where the unit fell under the auspices of the 13th Corps Support Command. The unit returned home a year later.
“Every day we encountered mortars,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rodger Flicek, the 49th’s operations sergeant.
Facing insurgent fire meant constantly routing and rerouting the convoys, a challenge for the 49th’s Movement Tracking System, a satellite-based technology for tracking vehicles and shipments. “We had to publish the current status of routes on our website, not just daily, but on the hour,” Flicek said.
The 49th’s mission was all the more sensitive because most of the truck drivers delivering shipments were civilian contractors. As much as 70% of the shipments were driven by civilians, according to Maj. Pete Butts, the 49th’s second in command. He noted, however, that at times, such as when fighting was heavy around Najaf, civilians refused to carry the loads and they had to be replaced by military personnel. Civilians were also not authorized to carry certain shipments such as ammunition.
As in the civilian world, choices of transportation modes come into play in the military as well. “Initially, most everything went over the road,” Flicek said, “but then we started looking at different delivery methods.” Eventually, about 25% of deliveries ended going by air, especially helicopter.
“The mission over there is great for the military and great for logistics,” said Butts. “It is very challenging to be able to operate in theater.”
Not everything the 49th does is that heroic, it must be noted. Now that the unit is back stateside, it has resumed its usual role of tracking cargo movements, much of it ro/ro, in and out of the port of Beaumont, Texas. “Our basic mission at Hood is movement control,” Flicek explains. “We have seven different teams spread throughout the world supporting this mission.”
At Fort Hood, the 49th busies itself managing everything that moves in or around the post. This includes units performing simple maneuvers and the activities of the motor pools. In addition, the unit monitors movements at Fort Hood’s rail and air nodes.
“We have a movement control team assigned to each node, whether rail or air,” Flicek explained. “The operations teams monitor trains and aircraft coming in and out and they keep track of the pieces loaded or offloaded, and which units they belong to. We also have teams at the port monitoring what comes off and what is loaded, including the numbers of different pieces of equipment. We inform headquarters of any issues that arise at the ports.”
Issues can include incoming equipment that is delivered to the port for maintenance and repair. The 49th’s personnel route that equipment to the proper depot.
The 49th’s mission is supported by a movement tracking system (MTS) which monitors the location of vehicles to determine when they left the motor pool. “MTS operates off satellites which record locations,” said Flicek, “but you can also talk to others through a chat room. Problems can be messaged through MTS to summon a maintenance unit.” All US vehicles in Iraq are tracked through MTS.
To support the Iraq effort, the 49th has movement control teams at seaports and rail terminals in Kuwait, at all base camps, and at some battalion headquarters. “There are always problems with such a large scale operation,”

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.