With British combat operations in Iraq now completed, the task of moving the thousands of pieces of equipment and vehicles that have been used throughout the operation back to the UK has begun.
Brigadier Paul Stearns, Commander of the Joint Force Logistic Component, has the responsibility to bring the British military’s kit home.
To achieve this mammoth task, Brigadier Stearns heads a team of around 1,000 logistic specialists split between the Basra Contingency Operating Base and the Kuwait Support Facility in Camp Buehring. Their job is to conduct, co-ordinate and check the work being done to return the kit.
Brigadier Stearns said: “The taxpayer has spent a lot of money over the last six years to give the Armed Forces the right kit to do the job. The important thing for us is to make sure we preserve that investment and get it back on the shelves, ready to use again, as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Asked to put the size of the task into perspective, he said: “Think of the biggest Halfords store you’ve ever seen; they have about 10,000 product lines, we stock nearly 13,000 different items.
“To move all the vehicles, equipment and containers back to their various depots would take the entire Eddie Stobart fleet of 1,850 trucks and trailers.
“We’ve got to take all of them back to the right locations in the UK and Germany, in the right order, and in the right condition.”
A key part of the logistics team, which consists of both military and civilian personnel, are personnel normally based at the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency in Bicester, Oxfordshire.
Pauline Blaylock is one of the 20 civilians who have been working in Iraq since March. Her role is to ensure containers are intelligently packed so their contents end up in the right location back home. She said:
“I was involved in sending a lot of the equipment to Iraq in 2003, and now I’m doing the reverse job at this end getting everything back. We’re taking our time and getting it right. It’s been successful so far and we’re working well with the military, but we’re really going to ramp up over the next few weeks.”
The operation to return equipment from Basra will take advantage of a number of innovative processes. Key amongst these is the Compendium. This is a list of the tens of thousands of items, stored in more than 19 separate locations in Basra, containing details of how each is to be prepared for storage and where it is to be sent from among dozens of different storage sites across Britain and Germany.
Teams also now check the quality and state of equipment before it is packed and some of the most advanced tracking methods available follow the movements of each item of equipment back to the shelf in the warehouse.
Anything too old to use, or that would cost more to ship back than to replace, is being sold to civilian contractors, e.g. furniture and non-combat vehicles.
But the bulk of equipment will be heading home through Shuaiba Port in Kuwait on journeys undertaken by one of four MOD-owned RoRo vessels.
Brigadier Stearns said: “We have a long and enduring relationship with Kuwait and we’re very grateful to the authorities and people of the country for allowing us to use their excellent infrastructure.”
The end result will be millions of items, from chap sticks to Challenger Two main battle tanks, being ready for use again in the shortest time. The Brigadier added: “We have the time and resources to do things differently and this means we’re packing once and packing right.”
The Joint Force Logistic Component is also responsible for ensuring that the 400-plus Service personnel who are planned to remain in Iraq to continue training the Iraqi forces will be correctly equipped to operate under the new command structure.