Endless piles of stuff, all with a special use
March 3, 2008
BALAD, Iraq — What would a classic war movie be without the stereotypical scavenger?
You know, the guy who always manages to finagle key bits of creature comfort in the midst of war.
Lt. Col. Sam Hamontree III, commander of Katterbach’s 412th Aviation Support Battalion, has another word for that archetype: thief.
“The Army hasn’t changed. It still has people who acquire things in inappropriate ways,” he said Friday. “‘Scavengers’ makes it sound better.”
The 412th’s Company A runs the Army’s largest supply warehouse in Central Command. Units across Iraq and Afghanistan depend on soldiers from Katterbach-based Company A, 412th Aviation Support Battalion to provide them the parts they need to keep going.
“It’s your Auto Zone. It’s your Wal-Mart. It’s your Lowe’s. It’s everything you can imagine,” Hamontree said.
Like scavengers, the soldiers in this warehouse pride themselves on getting key pieces of equipment to soldiers whatever it takes. But the job demands complex orchestration to make sure the right parts come in and go out. Not following the elaborate procedures can disrupt the process.
The 17,000-square-foot building these soldiers work in contains about 8,000 different types of parts — ranging from small gaskets to motors and transmissions, said Staff Sgt. Tyrrell Terrell, 35, one of the noncommissioned officers in the warehouse. This variety of parts fills the warehouse with an innumerable quantity of individual items worth about $114 million total.
By contrast, the unit’s warehouse back in Germany had only 1,700 different parts, he said.
Each item that comes in must be entered into a computer so that it can be tracked. Units then file a request for the items they need. In all, the warehouse has filled about 60,000 requests for parts since it arrived at the end of July, Hamontree said.
Holding up one of six dampeners for a main landing pad in the warehouse, he illustrated the difficulties involved in overseeing the equipment. If there aren’t enough dampening pads, helicopters will have to wait on the ground while the part is ordered. But keeping too many in stock — 12 dampeners instead of six, for example — can be just as much of a problem.
“If you do that with $150 million, it’s $300 million,” Hamontree said. “It partly can be used other places, and it’s a waste of money.”
The unit has fewer than four dozen people to manage this balancing act, about a third of whom are civilian contractors. Yet Terrell prides himself on being able to get any part within 48 to 72 hours, even if that means tracking down a part somewhere else in the theater.
“We tend to make it happen,” said Terrell, showing pride that perhaps a good scavenger would recognize.