CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- As troops continue to draw down from Afghanistan and head back to the United States, their tactical equipment needs to be redeployed as well.
Redeployment and Retrograde in support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group was established aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, during April 2012. They have a significant role as the unit responsible for bringing all Marine Corps gear home from Afghanistan.
“R4OG was created so the Marine Corps had a centralized point that accepted gear from the units, brought it to record, and shipped the equipment to locations based on the Marine Corps’ needs,” said Master Sgt. Hector Villarreal, operations chief with R4OG. “This allowed for R4OG to solely focus on R4 operations and allow the warfighter to keep focusing on the mission at hand.”
The R4OG mission allows for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force to stay in the fight a little longer, without having to worry about how they will get their gear redeployed. Right before units are about to leave the country, R4OG has the units bring their gear to their lot and will retrograde it for them. R4OG handles all the sorting, cleaning and prepping to get the equipment back to the logistics command in the States, where the reset and reconstitution process takes place.
Since their activation, R4OG has had five unit rotations, with the fifth and last rotation currently in country. The command is comprised of Marines coming from I Marine Expeditionary Force, II MEF and III MEF.
“What makes R4OG so unique is the specialized personnel within the command brought together from diverse locations and backgrounds to accomplish a complex mission,” said Villarreal, from Mission, Texas. “We have Marines filling billets which provide them the opportunity for broadening their experience. For example, we have a band member working at the embark section and a radio operator managing hundreds of containers, and they are excelling while working outside of their (military occupational specialty). We have load planners, a section of dedicated certified Customs and Border Clearance agents; HAZMAT certifiers, personnel certified to declare hazardous goods for shipment; and Marines licensed for motor transportation and materiel-handling equipment not specific to their MOS. The training the R4OG personnel have received for this deployment is valuable and will bring new capabilities to their units upon their return.”
To help with governing the proper processes and procedures for retrograding tactical gear and equipment back to the States, a playbook was developed.
“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. “It categorizes all the equipment and also identifies the equipment that is excess to Marine Corps requirements, so we know what is and is not economical to retrograde back to the States. The playbook literally goes through every piece of equipment or class of equipment that is out here. It is pretty substantial. We are very frugal with how we are doing business. Some items aren’t economical to bring back, meaning it costs more to bring the item back, than what it costs to get rid of the item and then purchase it new back in the States.”
Once equipment goes through the depot-level maintenance, it comes out in a like-new status. The logistics commands work hard to reset and refurbish Marine Corps equipment to prolong the life of the gear, making the most of every taxpayer’s money.
Since the Marine Corps is the smallest branch of the U.S. armed forces, they learned early on how to do more with less.
“The Marine Corps has the smallest budget of the armed forces and are accustomed to working with a limited budget and analyzing purchase requirements to save money,” said Villarreal. “We have always taken care of our gear and facilities with the limited resources and have adopted a motto, ‘do more with less.’ With that same mindset at R4OG, we are properly managing resources, preparing our principle-end items (PEIs) and materiel excess for redeployment and reutilization. We help the Marine Corps save money by being the centralized point for equipment turn-in and aggregating equipment to maximize the cargo space of all modes of transportation, reducing shipping costs. We are committed to good stewardship of the U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.”
Principle-end items refer to gear with serial numbers, while materiel excess is gear without serial numbers. Both types of equipment are directed under the R4OG playbook.
To accomplish their retrograde mission, R4OG has experienced personnel guiding, receiving, coordinating and shipping the gear out of the country.
“The tactical retrograde assistant force teams provide guidance to units to facilitate equipment turn-ins,” said Villarreal. “The supply section issues the unit turning in gear a receipt for the equipment. The commodity section, in coordination with R4 elements, sorts, cleans, containerizes, palletizes, certifies and prepares the equipment for shipping with the aid of the general support section. The mobility and embarkation sections maximize all modes of transportation to retrograde all equipment out of Afghanistan.”
Since 2012, R4OG has retrograded a net value of more than $1.39 billion of PEIs and more than $5.75 million of materiel excess items back to the United States.
“This isn’t a standing unit but it provides an operational level of logistics to the Marine Corps Forces Central Command commander to be able to efficiently and effectively shut down the theater and retrograde all the gear out of theater, and I think R4OG has done some pretty remarkable things since being out here,” said Whitaker, from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. “From 2012 to now, we have retrograded an enormous amount of equipment and taken advantage of a lot of alternative methods of getting gear out of the country. It is remarkable the work that the Marines have put in to get the job done, reducing from approximately 71,000 PEIs in 2012 to approximately 10,000 now.”
With troops still conducting operations in support of OEF, as long as they need equipment to accomplish the mission, R4OG will be here with their dedicated and hardworking Marines to receive the gear and retrograde it home.
“The Marines have a great handle on the end state, which is get all the gear out, and they are moving it out, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the process,” said Whitaker. “It is exciting that we are the last rotation here, to close out another chapter in Marine Corps history. It does put a little pressure on us because we have a deadline to meet, and we have to perform. But we are focused on getting the job done, and I feel very confident that we have a solid plan to make sure all the Marine Corps property is completely out of Afghanistan. We can proudly say we can account for each and every piece of gear getting out of here. We are going to make it; there is no doubt in my mind. The Marine Corps gives you a mission or deadline and you either meet or exceed the deadline as Marines – and we will meet this deadline.”