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Months before bombs dropped on Baghdad, Marine Col. Philip Yff plotted who would be where and carrying what. Now he’s planning how to get ’em all back home — man and machine.

The life of a logistics commander is far from glamorous, and even farther from easy, said the 28-year veteran charged with supporting a “population that sometimes is greater than an entire city.”

But Yff (pronounced EYE-ff) said he always likes a good challenge.

“The Marine Corps has never given me a bad job, to include this one,” he said during a recent phone interview from Bahrain, where he serves as the logistics commander for U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

The U.S.-led invasion into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein meant having more than 130,000 U.S. servicemembers in country — each needing food, water, ammunition, protective gear and even mail from home.

Originally, Yff was faced with the logistical battle of keeping supplies flowing to about 25,000 Marines.

Plans changed.

“They added another regiment, the 1st Marine Regiment, and then we got Task Force Tarawa” — and eventually had to plan supply lines for more than 56,000 Marine ground forces.

He adapted.

Such is the mantra of the line haul.

When troops pick up their tent cities and move forward, how are they resupplied?

The key is to break down the task into small, manageable parts, said Yff, 50. “It’s like world hunger. You’re never going to solve all of world hunger at once, but you can go out and start feeding the hungry children.”

Computer programs for the most part figure out the right proportion of supplies, from ammunition to food. But there are times when computer programs fail to pick up on certain key needs, like a lack of toilet paper.

And he makes room for precious words from home.

“Mail and newspapers. They really want to see that come off the line, though we’re not sending any of the packages forward. It’s just too difficult to handle on the line haul. But we are sending letters — that’s something everyone looks forward to.”

Food planning is one of the easier parts. “You know people eat three meals a day.”

Ammunition is trickier. Will Marines meet resistance? If so, how much? What kind? Where?

“When the forces doubled, the 30-days stockpile became 15, and we didn’t have ammo coming in on ships for a while … so we went to the Army.”

The Army, tasked with the defense of Kuwait, didn’t use as much of its supply allocated for that mission, and some soldiers moving north did not encounter as much enemy resistance as anticipated, allowing the Corps to borrow for its reserve, he said.

“We work closely with the Army and we are constantly exchanging information, so they know what our critical items are and we know theirs.”

Ammo-carrying ships originate in the United States, and depending on weather and ship speeds, trips can take 18 to 25 days if ships sail from the East Coast, and 30 to 35 days if they sail from the West.

Once vessels are off-loaded, flatbed trucks haul the supplies to awaiting troops.

Yff hired some civilians from the region, mainly in Kuwait, to transport supplies.

“We had approached the companies about that before, negotiated terms with them, consulted with lawyers to give them each special Geneva Convention cards … and then we made a great effort not to take them too deep into Iraq,” he said.

On average, the “through-puts,” as they’re sometimes called, consisted of 100 trucks, two drivers to a vehicle, and a force protection of about 50 Marines.

“That’s just the line haul. Then you have to consider the people who are pulling supply, loading the vehicles on one end and same thing on other end,” said Yff, who is fluent in Arabic but says he hasn’t used much of his language skill.

Yff’s usual 18-hour days now are spent planning for the reverse, and making sure that when he gets the word, there’s no delay in a new mission at hand, he said.

“We’ll be ready whenever the president says go to bring a lot of happy people back to the States.”


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