U.S., Iraqi soldiers work to fix supply chain
June 8, 2009
SALMAN PAK, Iraq — First Lt. Ahmed al-Dulmly holds a rolled up piece of paper in his hand.
On it are handwritten requests to his Iraqi army headquarters for parts for American-made Humvees and pickup trucks used by the more than 2,000 soldiers with the Iraqi army’s 45th Brigade, which patrols just southeast of Baghdad’s city limits.
"I know it is a lie," says al-Dulmly, the brigade’s supply officer, as he shakes the paper in his hand. "I don’t even know where the paperwork is going to."
Neither do the Americans. That’s why the U.S. Army has fielded new training squads — Logistics Training Advisory Teams — to help officers such as al-Dulmly fix the broken Iraqi military supply chain.
It’s a daunting task. In the years that the U.S. military has worked to train Iraqi troops to secure their own country, they’ve also handed over millions of supplies in vehicles, weapons, computers, radios, uniforms, boots. At the same time, American commanders have pushed the Iraqis to take this equipment, and their own money, to establish an independent supply chain.
That push has proved difficult at best, both Iraqi and American troops say.
Some Iraqi units get fuel based on how many vehicles they have, not how much they drive. Some get supplies based on tribal influences or personal connections. Some get only 10 to 20 percent of what they request, so officers like al-Dulmly ask for many times more than what they need.
One U.S. commander said he’s seen Iraqi officers work to obtain 30 signatures on a single request in order to get a shipment of fuel. Another said he’s seen Iraqi medical units who have trouble getting light bulbs, much less medicines.
Maj. Gregory Osborn is the leader of an Army military training team working with the 45th Brigade, which just formed in December. The logistics team is meant to supplement the Iraqi unit’s work, as he explained to the brigade’s deputy commander last week.
"We’re trying to get your system to work and not rely on our system," Osborn said.
Getting the Iraqis to buy in is part of the battle. Twice last week, Iraqi soldiers didn’t show up for training sessions at the nearby American base. They had reasons. They were in the midst of their own unit inspection, and then many of their soldiers took their monthly 10-day leave.
The logistics teams are trying to persuade officers such as al-Dulmly to believe in the paperwork. Above him, other U.S. advisers are trying to track requests up and down the chain. They work to persuade Iraqi leaders to push out supplies based on needs rather than on wants or personal whims.
Sgt. 1st Class Eridana Reinoso is part of the logistics team working with the 45th Brigade. On Thursday, her team visited the brigade’s headquarters in Salman Pak for the second time. They met with Iraqi officers and soldiers in charge of medicine, weaponry and vehicles. The communications officer was on leave.
Reinoso met with an Iraqi soldier newly appointed to care for the brigade’s stock of rifles and ammunition. He said the unit has made requests for weapons lockers, to no avail. She asked him for a copy of the form, which he couldn’t produce.
"He’s not going to get anything if he doesn’t request it," she says.
Reinoso knows that there’s only so much her team and the Iraqi soldiers can do at their level. So part of the team’s task is to help the Iraqis better use what they have and improve unit-level inventory systems.
When she visits the brigade’s personnel office, the two Iraqi soldiers tell her they need help with the two computers on their desks. They want to know how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.
"OK," she says, writing it down. "We can do that."
Other members of the team make lists of other training needs, including those of the brigade’s medical unit.
"It’s simple stuff," said 1st Lt. Michael West-Dominguez, the leader of the logistics team, who served as an Army medic before getting his commission. Some Iraqi medics don’t know basic first aid — putting on a tourniquet, starting an IV, sealing a wound.
The biggest need, al-Dulmly and others say, is vehicle maintenance.
"They are used to the Russian stuff," says Staff Sgt. Bryan Leeds, a mechanic with the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which works closely with the 45th Brigade and its fleet of American-made trucks. "Ford and GM and Dodge — you can’t get more American than that."
The local Iraqi fuel clogs those American-made engines. The computer-based transmissions in pickup trucks and Humvees require special equipment and an English-language manual to diagnosis problems.
A Humvee, with proper care, can last 20 years. But after every use, its suspension system needs to be checked, and often, tightened. If the bolts come loose, the chassis will wear down quickly.
"People underestimate them," said Staff Sgt. John Snyder, another mechanic with the paratrooper battalion, referring to Iraqi mechanics.
He said most of those he’s met know what they are doing. They just don’t yet understand the more complicated American systems.
For officers like al-Dulmly, he’s just trying to understand his own supply system.
"This is my job. I have to be more serious about it," al-Dulmly says through a translator. "But I hate my job because it’s a lie."