WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2011 – The logistical drawdown in Iraq is progressing well and on track to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, the commander of the unit that oversaw the mission since January reported as he and his soldiers prepared to return home early this week.
Army Col. Stephen Falcone, commander of the Army Reserve’s 77th Sustainment Brigade, said his troops faced tough demands in Iraq as they supported two seemingly opposite requirements: keeping troops on the ground supplied while orchestrating the United States’ largest logistical drawdown since World War II.
“It’s been a big balancing act,” Falcone told American Forces Press Service from Camp Virginia, Kuwait, as he and his soldiers awaited their flight home to Joint Base Mcguire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. “And it’s something we’ve had to focus on every day to make sure we give [troops on the ground] just enough, but not too much.”
So as convoys arrived at bases throughout Iraq delivering food, water, fuel, ammunition and other staples, Falcone and his soldiers ensured they left filled to the brimming point with equipment destined for Kuwait and ultimately, the United States.
The 77th Sustainment Brigade was among the last units to deploy to Iraq as the United States began the process of handing over operations to Iraqi forces and other U.S. agencies. Its 300 soldiers arrived in January to serve as the headquarters element for an additional 3,500 soldiers and airmen assigned to put the logistical plan into action.
During their deployment, they ran more than 1,700 convoys, traveled more than 4.2 million miles, issued more than 120 million gallons of fuel, moved out 2,700 tons of ammunition and transported 20 million pounds of incoming and outgoing mail, Falcone reported.
As they closed warehouses and scaled back support operations, they transitioned more than $238 million in equipment, repair parts and other supplies to the Defense Department inventory, he said.
Good planning, hard work and favorable weather came together to move the transition of bases to Iraqi government control on or ahead of schedule, Falcone said. He noted that three of the largest bases transitioned earlier than planned, including the most recent, Joint Base Balad, which was transferred to the Iraqis three weeks ahead of schedule.
“We have done an orderly and responsible progression of how we transferred those bases,” Falcone said, giving some welcome breathing room in the schedule to complete the process by the year’s end.
As daunting as the logistical drawdown may be, Falcone said it is complicated by the fact that U.S. forces remaining on the ground for the duration of Operation New Dawn still require beans, bullets and other essentials.
Falcone said he didn’t want them “living in tents and eating [Meals, Ready to Eat] every day,” and took pains to provide them the best quality of life for as long as possible while still adhering to the drawdown schedule.
As bases prepared to close and contractors who had been assigned to them returned home, military members stepped up to conduct missions the contractors had done. They took over the dining facilities, laundry and other services.
In some cases, they cross-trained into other jobs to keep vital services flowing. Falcone’s water purification specialists, for example, served as fuel handlers as well. Other service members volunteered to become crane operators, positions contractors had held.
“The good part is that they stepped up to the plate and did a fantastic job,” Falcone said. “We had absolutely no problems.”
Falcone called the evolution taking place in Iraq a throwback to the earliest days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or “OIF in reverse.”
“When we first went into Iraq in 2003, it was kind of an austere environment,” he said. “And as we transfer those bases over, we go back to that austere environment for the soldiers.”
Falcone acknowledged that in the weeks leading up to Dec. 31, conditions will become increasingly austere as the last U.S. forces in Iraq wind down their operations.
With the 77th Sustainment Brigade now redeploying, the active-component 4th Sustainment Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, will oversee the completion of the mission.
Many of the 77th Brigade soldiers elected to extend their deployments to join the 4th Brigade in seeing the mission to completion, he said.
Together, “they are going to do it the right way, they are going to do it on time and more than likely, ahead of time, and then they are going to go home,” he said.
Unlike past rotations in Iraq, no replacement unit will be arriving to take their places. “This is the first time when there is no unit following us,” Falcone said. “So when we leave, the job we were asked to do is done. It’s not left to someone else to finish up.”
Falcone said his soldiers are excited about their role in the historic drawdown mission in Iraq. “They’ve gone a yeoman’s job, working very long hours conducting the largest retrograde operation since World War II,” he said.
“I tell them that when they go home, they need to be proud of what they have done here, to stick their chests out farther and to hold their heads high,” he said. “They need to walk down the streets of America knowing they have truly ended this operation the way it should have been ended. They did a great job, and they did everything the country asked them to do.”