Iraq Builds Its Logistics Network

A powerful goal of the Coalition Forces preparing to exit Iraq is to help the Iraqis build a sustainable society, government and economy. The purpose of a joint Iraqi/Coalition tactical exercise late in 2008 was to “practice the planning and execution of logistical operations in their drive towards self reliance.”

The effort to provide training quickly becomes a challenge of language, culture, geography, technology and infrastructure. To succeed, the efforts of the logistics training teams will need to be disseminated quickly through multiple networks. One approach they are taking is “training the trainer.”

That effort started with a two-day symposium that included what the military refers to as a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT). Though the first-ever event brought together nearly 300 Iraqi Army officers and their Coalition counterparts (including over a dozen generals), it only lays the groundwork for “improving Iraq's logistical capability through partnership and assistance.” The job of carrying the knowledge and concepts to the Iraqis who will build those logistics networks rests with people like CW3 Rodney L. Hughes Sr. and SFC Josue Martinez. Hughes is a team chief of a Logistics Training Assistant Team (LTAT) and Martinez is one of the many Coalition logistics specialists working directly with Iraqis. They provided background on the effort thus far.

Much of the previous Iraqi effort to build up logistics capabilities relied on trial and error. What seems to work in one province may not work in another, say the two Coalition specialists. This makes it very difficult to take the approach of building a logistics system that can be generalized to meet the needs of the whole country. In addition, what is counted as success in one place may be taken as a setback in another.

There is an additional hazard of cultural sensitivities, which can be reflected in different perspectives on the part of the various tribal regions. Implied in this issue is not only the fact that one region may view issues differently than another, but pointing to a group or region as “good” can jeopardize success in another area. Teaching or training to a “best practice,” therefore, becomes a treacherous approach. It quickly becomes clear why a train-the-trainer approach is important to carry out the ultimate mission. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed in his 1841 essay on self-reliance, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” In Iraq in 2009 the goal is to prepare many men to cast their shadows.

Among the broad challenges is the fact that forms and required paperwork used to maintain accountability are constantly changing. This makes the transition from individual and outdated practices and systems to general, accessible and flexible systems a greater challenge. Similarly, there are barriers to setting up basic tools like a database system to manage large amounts of information needed to support specific and overall logistics goals. Even on the level of the operations themselves, the ability of the Iraqi soldiers carrying out logistics tasks to identify items by stock number or part number becomes a training issue and a matter of developing proper systems support.

A conventional classroom approach of teaching concepts must be heavily supplemented with on-the-job training. While training for specific roles and functions in a warehouse, the trainers must also teach the bigger context of why those functions are important and how they fit into the overall operation. At the same time, trainers are motivating and giving purpose to the trainees. The approach involves continual demonstration, hands-on experience and praise for good practices and behaviors.

The trainers have learned to take logistics one piece at a time and use repetition in the training process to ensure mastery of the skill or procedure. They couple this with efforts to analyze and select personnel who have shown the best fit for some of these key positions.

Language and communication present obstacles. Word-by-word translations are inadequate. It is important to communicate concepts and descriptions of ideas. With direct translation, “You often lose the meaning and intent of what you are actually trying to convey,” say the trainers. And that communication runs both ways. “Not every system in the Western culture will fit into the Eastern culture. Be aware of practical differences,” they point out. Forming a friendly relationship will require time and constant interaction before doing business, but it will pay great dividends.

Central to achieving some of the short-term and long-term goals is the establishment of channels of communication between the logistics system users and outside “customers” and suppliers to build a logistics team concept and spirit. Information technology helps support this, but the systematic involvement of elements at all levels through meetings, briefings and practical exercises and acknowledgement of checks and balances among the internal chain of command are all foundation elements in building a solid logistics system.

Though the focus is on logistics to support the Iraqi military bases and efforts, those bases don't exist in a vacuum. The economy of the community in the immediate area of a military base plays an important role. Not only do civilian resources help build the military capabilities by providing skilled workers and materials, they facilitate realization of the current non-military supported self-sustainment assets. These include telephone and Internet services and all classes of supply. As they evolve and develop, the skills and capabilities of the two logistics systems, military and non-military, become more interchangeable and support each other.

There are 65 LTATs working with the Iraqi Army, National Police and Special Operation Forces to improve logistics. “This is a critical part of our exit strategy,” said Major Lowell Howard, Logistics Training and Assistance Team Support Officer for Fort Riley's 1st Sustainment Brigade.

The work is far from finished, but as the Iraqi Army has improved its logistics capabilities, it has reduced its reliance on Coalition Forces' support for logistics, points out Iraqi Staff Lt. General Abdullah, the Deputy Chief of Staff-Logistics for the Iraqi Joint Headquarters.

Thanks to CW3 Rodney L. Hughes Sr., 16th SB LTAT Team Chief, and SFC Josue Martinez and to Sgt. Alexander Gago, Public Affairs Officer, 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

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