Fort Knox unit keeps supplies flowing
08 October, 2012
KABUL: When the last of the 33,000 US "surge" soldiers pulled out of Afghanistan last month, thousands of tons of equipment — Humvees, bullets, night scopes, generators, radios and building supplies — went with them.
The job of moving all of that material out of the mountainous war zone fell largely to the Fort Knox-based 3rd Sustainment Command, a 260-soldier headquarter unit of top military logisticians, who since April have been in charge of keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan fully supplied.
And even after the drawdown, they continue to distribute everything from bullets to beans to bandages to the 68,000 remaining U.S. troops who will stay through 2014. Each day, the Knox-based unit moves 63,000 pounds of mail, 2,400 personnel and 315,000 pounds of cargo by air alone.
They’ve coordinated more than 100,000 truck convoys this year, mostly using Afghan trucking contractors who must navigate tribal tensions and dangerous roads, including the Salang Tunnel, a single-lane, 11,200-foot pass over the Hindu Kush mountains.
Getting everything from food to spare parts to liquid helium for surveillance balloons to keep an army fighting is a difficult if largely unheralded task, complicated by challenges ranging from Taliban attacks to Pakistani border closures.
"Delivering supplies in Afghanistan is dangerous, as the main supply routes are littered with insurgents and improvised explosive devices," said Brig. Gen. Kristin French, commanding general of the Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan, in a recent email interview with The Courier-Journal.
While the withdrawal of President Barack Obama’s surge is complete and French’s unit will return in January 2013, the U.S. military logisticians face a monumental task between now and the end of 2014. By then, most U.S. troops will have left — but not before crating gear, closing bases and moving out 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 shipping containers.
Col. Chris Wicker, who is deployed with French’s unit from Fort Knox, said the material drawdown will continue over time because so much has accrued during a war that on Oct. 7 marked its 11th year.