CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- One by one they trickled in, notebook in one hand, the other wiping a dripping brow resulting from even a brief walk in the sweltering summer heat. Soon, the seats were filled with captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and their counterparts, master sergeants and master gunnery sergeants, from what seemed to be nearly every staff section of Regional Command (Southwest).
The collaboration of the staff sections pointed toward a pressing question and overriding theme as RC(SW)’s mission comes to a close by the end of this year: What does leaving look like?
From the time Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan transitioned authority during early February 2014, staff members recognized there was quite a challenge placed before them when it came to meeting operational requirements, lifting off equipment as well as the remediation of the camp, all of which must be complete by the end of 2014.
Over the course of several rotations, each command has brought more into country than they have returned home, building up Camps Leatherneck and Bastion to the size of a small city that housed more than 21,000 Marines at its height in 2011. Additional friction to an already incredibly complicated task is imposed by the remaining infrastructure, personnel and equipment brought by multiple coalition nations and branches of service throughout the world.
“Nobody here has much experience with tearing down a city, so it’s an interesting challenge,” said Maj. Bryan Hatfield, the C-4 logistics operations officer for RC(SW). “There are a lot of people and organizations that are involved, and there was not really a mechanism in place to bring everyone together into the execution part of it.”
As the base consolidates, certain units have found themselves performing very similar functions while simultaneously facing the same logistical issues. Entities such as Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward) and Redeployment and Retrograde in support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group once served a separate and independent purpose when the footprint on the base was at its peak, but have since joined forces. Planning in isolation was yet another source of friction.
“It was fine when we were doing steady-state operations, but when you recognize that we are closing it down, you have to get to zero, you need a level of detail in the planning, in the monitoring, in the directing of the execution. There was not a body, or working group or review board structure to allow the commanding general to provide guidance and direct the execution,” said Hatfield.
In order to synchronize their efforts and address issues with the required level of detail, the Retrograde, Redeployment and Remediation Board was developed. The board was designed to be tri-chaired by the heads of the C-4 logistics section, the C-7 engineering section and Joint Force Support – Afghanistan, a logistical organization focused on the sustainment and retrograde of U.K. forces. A tiered system, the R3B is fed the outputs from the Retrograde and Remediation Working Group, the purpose of which is to screen and recommend topics to be briefed to the board after vetting the inputs from base-level working groups that span the breadth of RC(SW)’s R3 operations.
Instead of using the base-level working groups to deal with a particular issue such as equipment, personnel or services, the R3B was built upon working groups that focused on lines of effort that encompassed the issue itself, bringing disparate efforts together under one roof.
“We realigned the structure. We had several streams — the life-support stream, the equipment-drawdown stream, the sustainment stream — there were several streams that kind of fed the body of the R3B,” said Capt. Ivan Goudyrev, the C-4 logistics assistant operations officer for RC(SW). “It got people out of the offices — they were all dealing with the same issue — and talking about the issue vice planning in stovepipes.”
In addition to creating an organized and centralized effort, R3B serves as the rudder-steer for all the working groups by establishing a priority of effort, said Goudyrev. The R3B first established a timeline of big-ticket events to further streamline the output-driven process.
“What they did initially was set up a schedule of what would be briefed at the R3B, and it was very much tied into a time-phased drawdown of services, at what point do we need to brief the drawdown, the transition from one service to another,” said Goudyrev.
Painting the known events on a linear timeline served as a starting point for further back-planning, driving inputs from each working group.
“As those things became due in time, ‘Ok, we need to transition from contracted services to military services, how was that going to happen?’” said Goudyrev. “Every working group was working toward that end state.”
With a desired goal in place, the timeline is further refined by the establishment of feasibility-driven lateral limits to the means to accomplish the tasks at hand. Cross-collaboration is essential, as each group’s individual timeline is likely to affect another’s.
“There’re people tied to equipment. We can’t tear down buildings if there’re people living and working in them. All three — infrastructure, equipment and people — are interrelated, so it’s been a challenge to balance those requirements,” said Hatfield.
The level of detail in the planning ranges from big picture to what may seem to be minutia, but each working group contributes toward the ultimate goal of supporting the plan operationally while meeting the timeline to depart the base by the end of the year.
If the timeline established by the R3B generates the “what” and the “when,” it is the working groups and their building blocks that establish the “how.”
For example, R4OG operates off the established timeline for removing various equipment from theater. Once tactical gear and equipment is designated to be sent back to the States, they rely on their several-hundred item playbook to help them get the job done.
“The playbook is a comprehensive, enterprise-level manual that has every individual item that is a serialized piece of equipment and will go through our depot-level maintenance – Stateside at the logistics commands – to get reset, refurbished and sent back to the operating forces," said Col. Joseph S. Whitaker, commanding officer, R4OG.
“We're the executors,” said Lt. Col. Michael Fitzgerald, executive officer, R4OG. “The R3B are the planners and the working group that recommends which equipment comes off the battlefield based on the MEB's timeline. The R3B reviews the operational and logistical needs of the equipment and provides a recommendation to Brig. Gen. Yoo. If the CG's decision is that the MEB no longer requires the equipment, then the playbook and disposition instructs us where it needs to go."
Since their arrival during May 2014, R4OG has shipped 322 serialized vehicles and 57,333 material excess items out of the country.
The Resolute Support Transition Team is also a key collaborator with the R3B. While the R3B is responsible for determining what can be transitioned to the Afghan National Army’s base adjacent to Camps Leatherneck and Bastion, the RSTT determines what should. Ultimately, the coalition goal is to transfer safe, secure and sustainable bases to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the purpose of supporting the Afghan National Security Forces’ defense and support of the people of Afghanistan.
“What the RSTT focuses on is how we are going to do this. One could say it is a relatively simple task for Marines to pack up their equipment, account for all their people and redeploy back to the U.S. We do that all the time. Those tasks in RC(SW) are complicated by the requirement to turn over a defendable and sustainable camp that contributes to the 215th Corps' ability to continue to project military force on behalf of GIRoA in Helmand and Nimroz provinces,” said Maj. Bob McCarthy, RC(SW) plans officer.
The GIRoA Base Closure Commission continues to work with ANSF and coalition force leaders in order to establish plans based on their desired disposition of the base come the end of the year.
“We have to find the balance between what is to our advantage to facilitate getting out of here while being responsible in what we are transitioning to the Afghans,” said Hatfield. “What the Resolute Support Transition Team, the C-3/5 planning effort, brought into it was, what can we do and what can we transition to the Afghans? It brings a little different perspective, not only what we need to do to get out of here and tear down the camp and leave in good order, but what can we do to set the Afghans up for success?”
Although it might seem more economical to leave everything in place, there are still costs associated with the infrastructure that is left behind. One of those costs is the price of fuel required to generate power for the remaining structures, which is included when calculating annual operations and maintenance costs.
“We cannot turn over infrastructure that degrades their ability to continue the fight. That would be counterproductive,” said McCarthy.
The R3B established what they termed “critical infrastructure,” the infrastructure required by coalition forces until the completion of the mission in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. From this critical infrastructure, the RSTT determined what could potentially be of use to the ANA, referring to it as the “green zone.”
“Our goal is to turn over a smaller, sustainable (forward operating base) that can be defended and will have value to them, to give them structures that can be used — a (dining facility), living facilities, a power grid, water service — something that be sustained,” said Hatfield.
While it would seem that leaving a structure in place would require little to no effort whatsoever, even the transfer of infrastructure and equipment requires more than meets the eye.
Primarily, one must have the authority to hand over the equipment. Since not all equipment is owned by the command currently on deck in southwestern Afghanistan, sometimes permissions or approvals are required from various branches of service or hierarchies of command.
The follow-on implications of what is not chosen to be handed over or transported home includes the cleanup of high-explosive training ranges and munitions disposal areas, as well as infrastructure and environmental remediation of approximately 1,000 acres of the 6,500-acre Bastion-Leatherneck Complex, which stands nearly 75% complete as of mid-July. Additional remediation requires personnel and equipment, the facilities to support them, and time.
Once the equipment required for remaining tasks has been established, the coalition forces take a look at redundancy and the possibility of sharing capabilities.
“Both the U.S. and the U.K. are trying to reduce our footprint, so if they’ve got a fuel truck and we’ve got a fuel truck, maybe there’s an opportunity for us to share, particularly in the last month,” said Hatfield.
All of these decision points feed into the planning. According to Hatfield, an analyst from Headquarters Marine Corps modeled the RC(SW) overall plan to determine whether or not it was possible to keep certain capabilities until a given point in time while still maintaining the capacity to transport necessary items out of the battlespace within the designated timeline.
One main reason for establishing a timeline back-planned from constraints based on feasibility of support is that it yields flexibility within a given time window.
While the final phase is inevitably heavily influenced by time, the R3B has worked to create decision space within the existing timeline in order for Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commander of RC(SW), to retain or off-ramp capabilities as he deems necessary.
“If the limiting factor is not the number of C-17s, if it’s not the infrastructure or the life support, then the factor is the CG making decisions. The CG wanted to maintain a capability and flexibility until the end,” said Hatfield.
“And don't forget the enemy operating outside of Camp Leatherneck gets a vote in how this transfer of infrastructure is going to go. It is a great challenge — a challenge that is made manageable by the work being done within the R3B and RSTT,” added McCarthy.
At the R3B’s weekly meeting, the planning continued. While a structured forum, the insight and expertise of the participants emerged in the form of questions and observations, leaping from the corners of the crowded room in an effort to ensure nothing was overlooked: “Did we stick this on the wall because it is a day WE picked?” “Is this still the right day?” “As long as we time it out, it can work.” “If you close that then, it is going to affect a lot of other things,” and perhaps most importantly, “Are we on track?”