As British troops prepared to leave Iraq and turn over control of a base in Iraq to U.S forces, Capt. Stephen Spulick led a team from the 8th Medical Logistics Company (MLC) in Balad to provide MEDLOG support to 10 units at Camp Basrah. The Forward Distribution Team (FDT) established a local network with DCAM so that the units could place class VIII orders through a remote Supply Support Activity (SSA). By consolidating orders through a central location, the FDT helped to significantly reduce shipping times from weeks to days.
As the 8th MLC prepared to deploy to theater, they participated in a week-long field exercise in Germany and they devoted time to established network connectivity with a very small aperture terminal (VSAT). This experience proved to be invaluable when the unit was called upon to support the effort at Camp Basrah.
Why was the FDT assigned to Camp Basrah?
- “We had a couple of bumps in the road on this mission, but the most pressing issue to work through was the communication challenges.”
We received word from the Multi-National Corps-Iraq that forces were being reassigned. At the time, the British controlled Basrah and they were preparing to pull their troops out of Iraq. The U.S. units replacing the British forces needed medical logistics support. I assembled a team to support the 274th Forward Surgical Team and the nine other units in the area located approximately 300 miles from the nearest SSA in Balad.
What hurdles did the team overcome?
We had a couple of bumps in the road on this mission, but the most pressing issue to work through was the communication challenges. When we arrived at Basrah in April, the base was still under British control.
Since the infrastructure was so different from U.S. Army networks, we weren’t able to just show up and plug in to the network. As a result, American comms were severely limited. DSN, NIPR and SIPR lines didn’t exist. Today, connectivity over the new data lines are still sketchy.
We brought a VSAT with us to Basrah so we could submit class VIII orders to the SSA in Balad. Prior to this mission, the 8th MLC had not used a VSAT in a live setting. So before the FDT departed for Basrah, we performed pre-combat checks (PCCs) and pre-combat inspections (PCIs) at the Balad warehouse to make sure we had all of the necessary equipment and it functioned properly, as well as connected to the SSA via VSAT. While testing it, we ran into some firewall issues. With some determination and assistance from John Donaho, MC4’s MEDLOG contact in Iraq, we got them resolved. Once everything was operational, we set out for Basrah.
Upon our arrival, we quickly set up the VSAT and connected to the Balad warehouse. We then established a mini supply network off of the VSAT. Two laptops operate as level 1 DCAM stations and they link to another laptop set up as the level 2 DCAM server. This set up enables level 1 customers to electronically place their orders and move away from paper forms or submitting requests via e-mail.
We are currently working to have the FDT connected to the network via NIPR lines. I expect that effort to be complete by August. Once the NIPR lines are in and live, the FDT will work with the level 1 customers so that they can submit orders to the level 2 server from their own terminals.
You mentioned that the VSAT was not previously used in a live setting. What training did the 8th MLC receive to set up and operate a VSAT?
Before we deployed in January, we conducted a one-week mission rehearsal exercise in Germany. One section of the unit was located in Grafenwöhr and the headquarters staff was in Meisau. We set up VSATs at both locations and established connectivity to MC4 systems.
- “By establishing the FDT at Basrah, we provided a central hub to order and receive class VIIIs.”
In order to use the VSATs for the training scenario, the equipment was configured for garrison. This configuration contributed to some of the firewall issues we worked through during PCCs and PCIs before the FDT departed Balad.
The training did not require us to place any class VIII orders. The only way the exercise in Germany would have been better was if we were able to link to a test server with the VSAT and practice the steps to place orders through DCAM.
Overall, the training provided an invaluable experience and proved the concept that we could communicate via VSAT. It was great preparation for our mission to Basrah.
How do local units benefit from the FDT’s location at Basrah?
Before the FDT arrived, the units did not receive medical supplies in a timely manner. Each unit placed orders to the SSA in Balad, so all of the orders shipped separately. The basis of the problem was the shipping infrastructure. We mainly rely on the Air Force and Army air transportation to deliver our items. Where we fall in the priority of the shipments, largely depends on the quantity of items to be shipped.
Transporting small packages or limited quantities is a major problem in theater. Unlike in the U.S., where it is very easy to ship small packages with UPS or FedEx, military transportation isn’t set up for that. It is far easier to ship pallets and triwalls filled with supplies and equipment, than it is to ship small boxes. Because of the size of the orders being placed and the small packages going back to the units, it would take forever for the class VIIIs to arrive.
By establishing the FDT at Basrah, we provided a central hub to order and receive class VIIIs. The FDT at Basrah doesn’t store items like a standard medical warehouse. They receive the supplies ordered by the customers and notify the customers when they arrive for distribution.
Initially, after our arrival, the orders placed through us by the units were still small and deliveries required 10 to 12 days to arrive. In time, more units placed orders through our DCAM network and quantities increased. Today, we process more than 1,000 orders every week and shipments arrive in as little as three days. We saw the biggest improvement with supplies that must remain cold. They now arrive within two days.
- “Another benefit is the enhanced visibility and management of the medical items since they are delivered to a central location—the FDT.”
Another benefit is the enhanced visibility and management of the medical items since they are delivered to a central location—the FDT. Once the orders come in, the team separates the class VIIIs and notifies the units. This is a better process than having many small orders arrive and get tossed aside, where they can potentially sit in an open distribution yard leaving the customer to hope that they can find the order.
Some of the Soldiers that have played an instrumental role in this effort include Sgt. Chukwuemeka Echeozo, Spc. Francisco Livingston, Sgt. Keno Deale and Spc. Wilbert Glen.
Sgt. Echeozo provided his experience from a previous rotation in 2006, when he helped to establish an FDT in Tallil. Spc. Livingston took the lead for all supply chain activities, including receiving, tracking and distribution. Spc. Glen immediately filled the void for managing the cold-chain items and quality control, ensuring these items arrived in proper condition and within usable temperature.
This mission would not have been as successful without their support.
What are some the lessons learned from the mission to Basrah?
The main lesson is that Soldiers typically feel that the training they go through during pre-deployment training will seldom, if ever, be used downrange. This mission demonstrates that you can be deployed to a new location at any moment and you have to operate under completely different circumstances. It also shows that when you take the time to learn your role and how to properly use the equipment—either through learning on your own or guidance from someone else—the knowledge will be put to use.