Supplying the Force

By Reece, Beth | Soldiers Magazine, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Supplying the Force


Reece, Beth, Soldiers Magazine


WHERE Soldiers go, quartermasters follow with bullets, fuel and chow.

"Watch the news and you'll see quartermasters all over the battlefield making sure that everything Soldiers need to sustain themselves and fight gets to the right place at the right time," said CSM Jose Silva, top NCO at the Quartermaster Center and School at Fort Lee, Va.

Quartermasters have been supplying Soldiers in war since the American Revolution. Once boasting 113 job specialties, the Quartermaster Corps now has only nine.

But don't mistake the downsizing for diminishing need. Quartermasters have done their share to help score success in Operation Iraqi Freedom--daily serving 500,000 meals, delivering 1.2 million gallons of fuel, producing 4 million gallons of water and conducting 214 convoys with more than 2,291 vehicles.

The Quartermaster Center and School trains Soldiers in fuel supply and testing, water purification, food service, laundry and shower, unit supply, parachute rigging, aerial delivery and mortuary affairs.

"A lot of Soldiers coming through here are headed for units that are already in Iraq or Afghanistan, so we spend a lot of time mentoring them for deployment," said SFC Michael Nichols, NCO in charge of the logistics training department.

The Providers

Petroleum-supply specialists acquire, stock and issue fuel to keep the force moving. Before the product is pumped into customers' tanks, petroleum-laboratory specialists test for contaminants, oil, water and sediment, and also analyze chemicals for strength, purity and toxic qualities.

"Bad fuel affects the entire operation. It can increase the risk of a stall, and static buildup can cause aircraft to explode," said SSG Osbert Okebata, an instructor. "Ultimately, it can lead to a loss of combat power when the force can't move forward."

In field environments where units need fuel daily, petroleum-supply specialists must ensure product that's pumped out is steadily replaced with incoming fuel. They must also be able to connect hoses and valves when refueling tanker trucks, aircraft, ships and rail cars.

Quartermasters supported the Army's energy needs with fuel, kerosene and wood long before the arrival of motor vehicles, according to Luther Hanson, museum specialist for the Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee.

"We even provided candles. We've been doing this mission all the way back to the industrial revolution," Hanson said.

Water-treatment specialists ensure Soldiers get water for drinking, washing clothes and bathing. They also provide water to engineers for construction purposes, as well as to hospitals. Using several filtrations and reverse osmosis, water-treatment specialists can sanitize seawater, saltwater, creek water and even pond water.

Unit-supply specialists request, receive, issue, store and account for all equipment--ranging from ammunition and gas masks to spare parts--in their units' inventory. They also schedule and perform preventive maintenance on weapons.

Meeting the Demand

Business is fast-paced for supply specialists following their units to the field, where the demand for supply and parts often escalates. Orders are processed in the field and parts come in from the rear. In such places as Iraq and Afghanistan, supply specialists work with in-country storage depots to get the parts Soldiers need.

"When supply specialists go into theater, they take only the parts that are in high demand, such as batteries or starters, things that are considered a basic load. It also depends on the type of units they're supporting," said Nichols.

"We don't want to cut the company short even though we're out in the field," added Nichols, who helped train the Afghan National Army to maintain its own supply system.

Automated-logistical specialists run the Army's supply warehouses. They unload, unpack, inspect, separate and store incoming supplies. …

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