Supplying the Front
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TOM BEARDEN: Combat forces consume everything at a prodigious rate: Food; ammunition; water; and especially fuel. The Third Infantry Division alone can burn 600,000 gallons in a single day.
In the last two weeks, there’s been a lot press attention focused on whether the troops have outrun their supply lines. Convoys have come under attack. There have been reports of shortages at the front, that food has been rationed, that some units were running low on water.
Major Gen. Dennis Jackson is Central Command’s director of logistics, the military term for the art of keeping forces supplied.
TOM BEARDEN: Have the attacks at all disrupted the operation?
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think the answer is no. I think when you look at the sustained movement over time of supplies, the consistent re-supply, you know, we do things in a couple of ways in the military. We provide supplies by push and we do it by pull.
So when you’re talking about repair parts or some specific things that a unit needs, they’d ask for that specifically, and then we respond by letting them pull that forward. In other cases, we anticipate what they would need, in terms of fuel or food or water or ammunition, and we would push that forward to them.
TOM BEARDEN: Give me some idea of the quantities of materiel that you deliver.
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: Just by air, if we would have considered moving any individual city over here by air, we could have moved all the household goods in Santa Barbara, California. In fact somebody asked me how we would deal with such long supply lines, how are we dealing with this force, and I said, well you know the supply line isn’t 250 miles long, the supply line, the logistics train, the sustainment line, is really 8,000 miles long. It really starts at the East and West coasts of the United States, and moves all the way to here.
TOM BEARDEN: The particular segment that people have been focused on is that 350-odd miles between Kuwait and the forces at the front. Is that, in itself, particularly long in the history of the United States Army’s operations?
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: Well, I don’t think it’s particularly long. I think, though, it’s particularly different. This is an operation unlike previous operations that we have done.
So trying to go back and compare, for example, what was done in the Gulf War in the early ’90s, or perhaps what has been done in the Korean War or the Second World War, it’s not a clean comparison — not particularly long, but the rate of advance we knew would be a challenge, so what we tried to do was organize for success.
TOM BEARDEN: Did that rapid advance cause a significant challenge?
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think it caused… there’s always challenges to these things, and the question is, have you thought about the unknown? The danger in every logistician’s life is, what is the thing I haven’t thought of — it’s that unknown-unknown out there. I don’t know it, none of my staff knows it, other people haven’t thought about it yet, and all of a sudden it occurs. So if there’s something that keeps us awake at night thinking about things, it’s that.
TOM BEARDEN: Have you encountered anything that surprised you in this operation?
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: It was a lot browner out there during the sandstorm than I thought it would be, you know. Weather is always, is always a factor here, and I think the effects of that are significant sometimes. We train in all kinds of weather, so that has worked out reasonably well. I’ve been doing this job for about two and a half years, and have been to the region a number of times.
We know, at least partially understand, the dynamics of this area, and so I don’t think there have been too many surprises. But it’s always the dynamic of the change, as we see the battlefield constantly moving. It’s kind of a living, breathing place out there, so there’s some degree of adaptability that has to occur.
TOM BEARDEN: Is everything that needs to be at the front getting there when it needs to be there?
MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think it is. But as my boss said earlier, “Is Private Jackson out there at the front end and one squad, in one platoon, in one company, does he have everything he needs at every specific time?” Maybe not.
But this distribution system depends on that 8,000 miles plus the last tactical mile, so I think from in the strategic sense and in the lines of the communications forward, and in the resupply to units forward like the Third Infantry Division, yes, it is.
TOM BEARDEN: The number of troops in Iraq is expected to double within the coming weeks. General Jackson says Central Command has long planned for their arrival, and will be able to handle the additional logistical load.