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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. troops took 48 weeks to move combat equipment and supplies 756 miles from Normandy, France, to Berlin, Germany, during World War II.

But just four weeks elapsed early last year when fighting forces moved the 828 miles from Kuwait into northern Iraq, said Col. James E. Rentz, former commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s division command, now in the office of the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics.

While the situations differed tactically and militarily, both demanded quick movement of millions of gallons of fuel, water and spare parts needed for front-line forces.

Logistics “is all about one thing … making life better for soldiers at the tip of the spear,” said Rentz, speaking Thursday at a three-day logistics conference focusing on South Korea, readiness and lessons learned from Iraq.

While the Kuwait-to-Iraq pace was right, it didn’t mean commanders knew where supplies were at every moment or if they were distributed efficiently, said Rentz.

The Army’s chief logistics officer, Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, has selected four areas to improve, Rentz said. They include better communications among logisticians, modernizing the Army’s distribution system, improving the reception of supplies and having an integrated, visible supply chain.

And this is keeping in mind the enemy also has a vote in logistics, Rentz said.

When the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, was getting ready to deploy, the division put key leaders — executive officers, senior warrants and sergeant majors — in charge at every point where forces were packing up, he said. The goal: Have someone know exactly what was in a container, which ship it was going in and who owned the equipment.

It worked well but trouble came the one time the system wasn’t used, Rentz said: Aviation ammunition was stuck somewhere on a ship. When the ship hit port, the ammo was needed quickly for pilots to pass their qualification requirements so they eventually could begin combat operations.

The glitch reinforced the need to “make sure you have the right person, the right leader at the node,” Rentz said.

Especially when you know 35 ships out there are full of your equipment. That’s why the 4th ID painted its crest on containers, Rentz said: so there would be no confusion as to who owned them.

Tracing where supplies were in the chain worked well until supplies hit the port and were taken into Iraq, Rentz said. At that point, leaders didn’t know exactly where certain supplies were.

The supply net also was complicated by communication troubles. The 4th ID followed the 3rd Infantry Division, and all communication assets were delegated to units already in Iraq. In the beginning, the 4th ID was limited using those systems for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, Rentz said.

Line-of-site communication systems failed because of long distances and desert sand dunes, he said. Now units in Iraq, along with the 3rd ID and Stryker units, have been funded for satellite communications equipment, Rentz said.

Those systems also should be augmented with ones that allow for instant inventories of equipment — known in logistics jargon as “in-transit visibility” and “total asset visibility,” he said.

But 4th ID assets also were strained because the division had to do its own reception, staging and onward movement operations, Rentz said. The Army lacks the resources to wage war while also doing those kinds of operations, he said.

The current logistics system can’t keep up with the 21st century battlefield, the Army logistician said. Needed, he said: A self-sustaining, theater-wide ability to receive goods and move them out.

But soldiers worked the system well, Rentz said. “I’ve seen soldiers come and go and we have the best qualified soldiers in the Army today.”


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