With the World Health Organization’s declaration on May 9th that Liberia was “Ebola Free,” that nation and the international community supporting the counter-Ebola effort breathed a collective sigh of relief. And with the successful transition of support to civilian entities and decreasing military support requirements, the U.S. military team supporting Operation United Assistance (OUA) has begun the process to move assets no longer required for this operation to make them available for future missions.
Deliberate planning and actions across the entire logistics enterprise were essential to success in the early stages of OUA, just as they will be now as our logistics team ensures a smooth transition and a responsible retrograde of U.S. DoD capability from West Africa.
The following discussion focuses on the continued logistics support to OUA transition, highlighting some of the overall logistical accomplishments and – more importantly – noting some of the key logistical lessons learned across the Joint Logistics Enterprise. First, a brief review of where we’ve been.
Operation United Assistance officially began on 16 September 2014 when Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commanding general, U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), and his advance party arrived in Monrovia, Liberia and established Joint Forces Command-Operation United Assistance (JFC-OUA). The JFC-OUA mission was to rapidly establish a field hospital for treatment of Ebola healthcare workers, diagnostic labs, and Ebola treatment units; quickly followed by transitioning those capabilities and sustainment missions to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The operation was organized into four phases, 1) Initial Entry, 2) Integration, 3) Support to USAID, and 4) Transition/Redeployment.
In early January 2015, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Logistics Directorate authored an article focused on phases one through three of OUA highlighting the outstanding work across the logistics enterprise in support of AFRICOM’s four major lines of effort; 1) Command and Control, 2) Logistics Support, 3) Training, and 4) Engineer Support. Given the sheer magnitude of the contract support leveraged, the article also highlighted Operational Contract Support (OCS) as a key enabler for mission success. In context, the efforts across the logistics enterprise to set the theater for success and sustain those gains was amazing to witness - from the initial deployment of USARAF, to the transition with the Joint Forces Command - 101st Airborne Division, and finally, through sustained regional coordination of U.S. military support to USAID and international relief efforts.
In late January, as lines of effort were nearly complete or completed, transitioning or transitioned; President Barack Obama approved the USAID and DoD plan to transition OUA to civilian and international response organizations, while retaining a small DoD element in Liberia for continued support, as required, pending a national decision to terminate DoD involvement. This small, but capable, headquarters has ensured uninterrupted support to USAID and has overseen the ongoing transition and authorized disposition of nearly $40 million worth of excess materiel thru the Foreign Excess Personal Property process.
Considering all that has transpired since September 2014, there are a multitude of logistical lessons to be learned. We introduced some of our initial observations in the January 2015 article. In the following section, we will delve deeper into three topical areas: 1) Setting the Theater, 2) Operational Contract Support, and 3) Communication; then conclude with overall considerations for Joint Logistics Enterprise support to future humanitarian/disaster relief operations
Setting the Theater:
A hallmark of the logistics approach in OUA has been flexibility – sufficiently responsive to meet emerging requirements, but agile enough to de-scope when warranted. In fact, this flexibility was born of actions early in the operation; specifically, setting the theater and shaping the logistics operation to support execution.
With proactive support from strategic partners such as U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), Army Materiel Command, and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), AFRICOM was able to rapidly deploy multiple joint task forces – port opening capabilities; multiple Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office mission support teams and a director of mobility forces to the lead component and Joint Force Command; as well as multiple DLA distribution expeditionary teams across the joint operational area, and contracted expertise to gain swift momentum. This instant network of deployment/distribution nodes, warehousing capacity, operational contract oversight, and mobility staff expertise was critical to the reception, staging, onward movement and integration of the equipment, supplies, and people supporting OUA.
In all, this initial theater infrastructure and the forces that followed supported more than 350 strategic and 161 intra-theater airlift missions that moved 6,000+ passengers and over 10,000 short tons of cargo. Additionally, the seaport teams handled multiple strategic sealift vessels deploying and re-deploying close to 3,000 pieces, from seaports in Liberia and Senegal.
Key engineering assessments, coordination, and repairs were critical to ensuring Roberts International Airfield, Liberia’s primary aerial port and lifeline, was able to support the increased flights for OUA. An Air Forces Africa (AFAF) pavements team provided an initial report on the airfield early during operations, allowing USTRANSCOM to make smart decisions on the weight of aircraft. Pavement experts from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provided reach back expert analysis to help JFC OUA engineers develop a simple maintenance and minor repair strategy using Logistics Civil Augmentation Program and local contractors to keep the airfield open. Ultimately an AFCEC pavements team performed a detailed inspection of the airfield. The report concluded OUA operations had not materially worsened the airfield but did make recommendations to a long term repair project which may lead to a USAID funded project.
It was evident early that a blended engineer approach was needed to obtain materials and build 10 ETUs to aid Liberia’s recovery. Building materials were obtained via local, U.S., and European sources through existing DoD stocks and multiple sourcing strategies, including DLA, 414th Contract Support Brigade, and LOGCAP. Manpower and equipment capacity issues were a concern because the ETUs needed to be constructed simultaneously, leading to a multi-pronged execution strategy. In the end, six ETUs were built through LOGCAP, three by Armed Forces Liberia, and one by the 902nd Engineering Platoon.
On the medical operations and medical logistics side, there were also significant efforts towards setting the theater. Most notably, coordination for the delivery and set-up of the Monrovia Medical Unit - a 25-bed emergency medical facility, eventually staffed by the U.S. Public Health Service and dedicated to treatment of ETU healthcare workers. Additionally, detailed collaboration and coordination efforts with USAID, the Center for Disease Control, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the DLA were needed to define, procure, and deliver essential personal protective equipment to support the lead federal agency’s requirements.
Setting the theater quickly and comprehensively paid dividends, but it wasn’t without friction. Our experience in OUA highlighted the importance of pre-coordinated solutions to fill capability gaps. More specifically, sharing forces - when necessary – with fellow combatant commands provided us the necessary capability, but the lack of assigned or allocated (dedicated) capabilities and resulting delays did impact some mission execution. This is not a new problem for AFRICOM. The persistent lack of logistics enablers remains a challenge, but multiple efforts to mitigate the shortfall thru Global Force Management and codified force sharing agreements, continue.
“Operationalizing” Contract Support:
In our previous article, we highlighted the criticality of Operational Contract Support (OCS). Our plan from the onset of OUA was to attempt to contract as much of the effort as possible to minimize the military footprint yet still meet all USAID support requirements.
Thru the OUA experience, we established an Operational Contract Support Integration Cell as outlined in the recently revised joint publication on OCS. AFRICOM assigned USARAF as the lead service for contracting to synchronize, coordinate, and contract for common contract support requirements in the joint operating area. This central entity coordinated efforts and executed functions as a single point-of-entry for processing contracted requirements and OCS-related information that enabled timely and relevant contracting solutions for the joint force command.
Vetting of foreign goods/service providers is another aspect of Contract Support that warrants discussion. Combatant Commands require DoD guidance in order to develop vetting programs to support contracting efforts across respective Areas of Responsibility (AORs). We advocate that DoD develop and issue more explicit policy guidance on foreign vendor vetting for all combatant commands, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act and integrate this policy guidance into joint doctrine. Our thanks goes out to USTRANSCOM, who allowed us to use their Transportation Intelligence Center (TIC) to vet over 30 contractors and ensure we were not doing business with bad actors.
By the end of OUA, we had let over 400 contracts totaling over $120 million, employed the synchronized pre-deployment and operational tracker to account for contractors, developed a theater business clearance, contractor management plan, and an operation order with annex W. We’ve proudly opened our books to the DoD Inspector General and Government Accountability Office. We are now taking the lessons we learned regarding OCS in OUA and applying them to the rest of our AFRICOM area of responsibility.
As stakeholders across the Joint Logistics Enterprise experienced, synchronizing the efforts of the enterprise was a significant undertaking. We were challenged by limited communication infrastructure in the joint operations area and coordination across multiple time zones, but our daily J4 logistics synchronization session facilitated cross-talk and coordination – regularly bringing together over 100 stakeholders for a one hour or less, virtual session via Defense Connect Online.
To flatten lines of communication, we opted for a dashboard format for our DCO meeting room, providing representatives from the AFRICOM J4, lead component G4, JFC J4 and supporting commands/agencies virtual note pods to post information, share critical updates/status, and enter requests for information. Every 24 hours, our joint logistics operations center would facilitate a verbal update giving senior logistics leaders the opportunity to provide guidance and perspective and all stakeholders the chance to update the assembled group.
While not a perfect process, the virtual logistics synchronization remained a rallying point thru the critical phases of OUA. Going forward, we have institutionalized this model for coordination and synchronization of support to operations. As the DoD enterprise migrates from DCO to DCS, we will lose some ground in the short term due to changes in functionality, but will continue to refine and build out this capability.
Logistics is all about aligning the rights—getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time. With the help of an incredible logistics team, demonstrating great agility and collective responsiveness, we were able to get a lot right during OUA. That is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges along the way. In the end, the J4 Directorate logged 41 official lessons learned in the Joint Lessons Learned System.
We believe OUA serves as a positive example of how DoD can support a lead federal agency such as USAID, fulfill some truly requirements, and then transition our efforts to other priorities as circumstances on the ground allow, while maintaining the progress we’ve made together via our long term relationship with the partner nation. Our hope is that the lessons learned and best practices highlighted here will benefit the Joint Logistics Enterprise as well as fellow combatant and service component commands while responding to future foreign humanitarian assistance requirements. Thanks to the Joint Logistics Enterprise partners who helped with this OUA success – we couldn’t have done it without you!