Gear in, gear out: Marines on retrograde mission pack it up and ship it out
From left, Lance Cpl. Matthew Ford, Cpl. Matthew Pappas and Lance Cpl. Albert Adams, all of Redeployment and Retrograde in Support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group, or R4OG, prep a pallet of gear for transport from Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan to I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
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CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Forklifts, weapons, radios, tactical vehicles. Containers, trailers, air conditioners, generators. If the Marines brought it to Afghanistan, they need to get it out of Afghanistan, and it’s R4OG’s job to get it done.
“Saving money is the key reason why we exist,” said Lt. Col. John Flynn, commander of Redeployment and Retrograde in Support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group, or R4OG. “We could burn, crush and bury everything in country and get out faster, but equipment would be wasted.”
The unit was honored this week with the Ground Logistics Unit of the Year award for its work from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, during which time it sent home more than $570 million worth of equipment and materials. Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos presented the trophy to the unit here in Helmand province on Tuesday and praised the work the unit has done even since then — retrograding “millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of stuff.”
The Marines need that gear to redistribute around the Corps, particularly as more Marines are moved to the Pacific, Amos said.
There are now four infantry battalions on the ground in Okinawa, and nearly 22,000 Marines west of Honolulu, compared to roughly 16,000 a year ago, he said. And in about a month, the Corps will put about 1,200 infantry, logistics and aviation Marines on the ground in Darwin, Australia, Amos said — and all those Marines need equipment.
Much of the nonmilitary stuff — desks, televisions, office equipment — will be given to the Afghans or destroyed if they don’t want it, but just about everything else needs to be moved out.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, estimates that across Afghanistan, the U.S. will spend $5 billion to $7 billion shipping out 20,000 containers of equipment and 24,000 vehicles or large pieces of equipment, in addition to tens of thousands of troops.
The 340 members of R4OG come from 95 units and comprise a diverse group of military occupational specialties, Flynn said, and many arrived in the last two months. The challenge they have now is backward planning so that they are able to retrieve, clean, repair and redeploy all the gear they can — and then redeploy themselves.
Maj. Brian McCaw, commander of R4OG’s Headquarters and Service Company, said the process is vastly different than the retrograde after the first Gulf War, where he also served. There, he said, it was incredibly disorganized, with “vast piles of stuff” everywhere.
Now, the Marines take a more organized approach: logging and fixing the gear, certifying it for transport, and working with Marine Corps Central Command to determine which units need which equipment.
“We’re ahead of schedule, and we’re good at what we do,” McCaw said.
Flynn said the process also differs from the retrograde from Iraq, which took place over the course of a year. The planning for the Marine Corps retrograde from Afghanistan began in 2011, he said, and the process is constantly improving.
Amos said the Marine Corps has already removed 75 percent of its equipment.
“I couldn’t be prouder of you,” he said. “We’re on a glide slope to finish the mission here by the end of December. That’s what’s going to happen.”