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Two U.S. cargo ships are steaming toward Kuwait this week with the tanks, Humvees and other combat equipment to be used by soldiers set to deploy soon from South Korea to Iraq, officials said.

The ships left late last week from piers in Pusan, South Korea, with equipment slated for use by the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The ships’ departures marked an end to what officials have said is one of the biggest logistical operations in the Army’s five-decade history on the Korean peninsula.

The 18-day, around-the-clock operation began around July 7 and saw the Army move almost 1,800 tanks, trucks and other hardware down the Korean peninsula’s length by truck and train to Army installations in Pusan. It later was stowed aboard ships for further transport to Kuwait.

The brigade’s 3,600 troops will “marry up” with their equipment in Kuwait, then take it into Iraq, said Lt. Col. Brian Imiola, deputy commander of the Army’s 20th Area Support Group at Camp Henry in Taegu.

Getting the equipment to Pusan required 200 truck trips with each driver logging an average of 290 road miles from points around the 2nd Infantry Division area; 40 train trips from railheads at Camp Casey and Camp Edwards in the 2nd Infantry Division area; and the deployment of 430 U.S. troops from various units in Korea to Pusan to get the gear off the trains and trucks, into staging areas, then later onto the ships.

One ship left from the Army’s Pier 8 in Pusan’s north harbor; the other from a pier adjacent to the Pusan Storage Facility, a major supply depot for the U.S. military in South Korea.

The last train pulled into Pusan July 17; the last trucks, July 18, Imiola said.

Meanwhile, some of the Army logistical units that played a key role in the operation plan a formal after-action review, or AAR, a routine U.S. military practice to cull lessons for the future and preserve them in a written report. “It captures lessons learned in a historical record that can be referred to if you do a similar operation,” Imiola said.

“It maintains excellence in those things that you’ve done well and it reminds you in those things that you could be better at,” he said.

The 20th Area Support Group was to have met Tuesday to review its role in the operation, Imiola said.

Next week, the unit will join in a similar after-action review session with its parent unit, the 19th Theater Support Command, the Army’s senior logistics unit in South Korea.

Sergeants played a key role in the Pusan phase of the operation, Imiola said, not least for ensuring troops followed safety procedures, got enough water and took timely rest breaks while working in temperatures in the 90s pier-side but even hotter in the ships’ holds.

“The guys did great at that,” said Imiola, as did their leaders at knowing their soldiers’ limits.

Troops in Pusan took a special pride in the operation, said Staff Sgt. Michael Loetz, who supervised 120 soldiers from various units, working in 12-hour shifts at the Army’s Pusan Storage Facility.

“When you look at it, this is the first time soldiers from Korea have deployed on this scale in the last 50 years,” said Loetz, a wheeled section maintenance manager with the 20th Area Support Group.

The troops, including young soldiers very junior in rank, told him “they understood the importance of what we were doing,” Loetz said. “I think that everyone walked away with that sense that this was a major accomplishment.”

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