Army counts containers in Kuwait
Stars and Stripes November 2, 2004
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — The featureless semi-trailer-size cargo containers are so common at camps in Kuwait and Iraq that few troops think about them. But they carry literally everything a soldier needs to fight a war, from food and ammo to clothes and spare parts.
“When you drive around, you see mountains of containers,” said Lt. Col. Marco Rosario, operations officer for the 143rd Transportation Command, a Florida-based Army Reserve unit now serving in Kuwait. “Now is the time to clean things up.”
In October, Rosario dispatched 14 teams totaling 90 people — 55 soldiers and 35 civilians — across Kuwait to count every container in every camp. Later, they will fan out to cover Qatar and Bahrain and, eventually, Afghanistan and Iraq. The team members open every container, verify the contents, record it and mark it with a gold tag.
It’s part of a biennial Army survey of its massive store of cargo containers. The last one, in 2001 (last year’s was delayed because of the Iraq war), listed 29,000 large containers on the Army’s worldwide inventory.
Since then, though, the service has bought or rented thousands more to haul cargo to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. Sandy Gorba, the manager of Army containers worldwide, said she expects this year’s inventory to top 100,000.
There are two good reasons to account for every container.
First, there’s money at stake. The Army leased many of the containers, promising to return them by a certain date. Similar to what happens when a rented DVD is returned late, the Army must pay a late fee of as much as $20 a day if they are not returned.
It doesn’t take long for the bill to add up. Brig. Gen. William Johnson, commander of the 143rd TRANSCOM, said about 1,000 of the 17,457 containers counted in Kuwait are overdue rentals. Returning them will save the Army about $6 million a year.
Second, it’s important to get goods back to their rightful owners. The Kuwait survey turned up about three dozen containers lost by Army units that have passed through the theater.
Lt. Col. Michael Verrett, container manager for the Kuwait-based Coalition Forces Land Component Command, said one such container held parts for a multiple rocket-launch system. Another contained empty ammunition boxes valued at $250,000.
“We’ll call [the unit] and tell them about it. And they’ll say ‘You found it!’ ” Rosario said.
Other boxes contain more mundane supplies such as Meals, Ready to Eat or truck parts. They are stored in a big patch of desert sand at Camp Arifjan, the largest camp in Kuwait.
“We can find whatever was in these boxes and get it back into the [supply] system,” Johnson said.
By Department of Defense regulation, every container shipped to the Middle East must have an electronic ID tag that is scanned every time it enters or leaves a storage yard.
The tag helps keep track of cargo, but it’s not foolproof. Some containers have been destroyed because of insurgent attacks on convoys. Some were simply mislaid in the confusion of the rapid advance on Baghdad during last year’s invasion.
“You can have equipment, even personnel, that in the fog of war [gets lost],” Verrett said. “We have a lot of trucks out there … the battlefield is fluid.”
The bin counters hope to change what happened after the Persian Gulf War, when the Army spent a year in the desert sorting and returning some 20,000 leftover containers.
“[This time] we’re doing it while the war is still going on,” Johnson said. “We didn’t wait till the end.”