Army ask­ing: Dude, where’s my car?

Lots of ve­hi­cles in lots of lots

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY KRISTINA WONG

Imag­ine a park­ing lot as large as 100 foot­ball fields and filled with nearly ev­ery type, make and model of U.S. mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle, cov­ered in dust and dirt and bak­ing un­der a desert sun in Kuwait.

Your job: Find one spe­cific ve­hi­cle, read its se­rial num­ber and cat­a­log it for trans­port back to the United States.

That’s part of the daunt­ing task fac­ing the Re­spon­si­ble Re­set Task Force, which must in­spect thou­sands of ve­hi­cles used in the Iraq War and de­cide which ones are worth send­ing back to the United States.

“There’s just this huge, big ex­panse of sand with a fence around it,” said Army Col. Jef­frey Carra, the task force’s for­mer chief of op­er­a­tions. “Forty rows of stuff that’s just parked head to tail.”

The Army is re­spon­si­ble for about 15,000 ve­hi­cles at four U.S. mil­i­tary bases in Kuwait, some with a dozen lots. About 9,000 ve­hi­cles will stay with the U.S. forces in Kuwait, but up to 6,000 will be shipped home, Col. Carra said.

They in­clude Humvees, trucks, trail­ers, cranes, bull­doz­ers, tanks, per­son­nel car­ri­ers and how­itzers. One Humvee can cost more than $1 mil­lion, and a tank, a cou­ple of mil­lion.

“I’m sure it’s over a bil­lion dol­lars,” Col. Carra said of the value of the mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in Kuwait.

Be­fore a ve­hi­cle can come state­side, it needs to stripped of ex­tra equip­ment, washed, ster­il­ized and brought to a port. It will spend more than a month at sea be­fore ar­riv­ing in the United States. Roughly 5,000 ve­hi­cles that came out of Iraq are now en route to the United States.

The ve­hi­cle then will be trans­ported to a de­pot to be re­fur­bished to fac­tory stan­dards and re­dis­tributed wher­ever nec­es­sary.

About 2,000 con­trac­tors are also in­volved in the pro­gram. They are sup­posed to take an av­er­age of 20 hours to find and pre­pare a ve­hi­cle for ship­ment, but they usu­ally take much longer.

Some­times a contractor car­ry­ing a hand­held scan­ner spends days walk­ing around a park­ing lot the size of a sports sta­dium park­ing lot in search of a spe­cific ve­hi­cle.

It cost $20 mil­lion over a sev­en­month pe­riod to com­plete the process at just one lot, ac­cord­ing to an Army study. That cost did not in­clude ship­ping, which can run thou­sands of dol­lars per ve­hi­cle. Ship­ping a sin­gle ve­hi­cle from Afghanistan to the United States costs $7,000.

One of the U.S. bases, Camp Arif­jan in Kuwait, con­tains dozens of lots. Lot 58 is its main sort­ing area. It is 174 acres, or the size of about 174 foot­ball fields, and can hold up to 2,000 ve­hi­cles.

Camp Arif­jan is the only Army base equipped with spe­cial tech­nol­ogy for speedy wire­less track­ing of the ve­hi­cles.

The tech­nol­ogy, called AMATS, in­volves af­fix­ing a small mo­bile­phone-sized tag to each ve­hi­cle with the ve­hi­cle’s se­rial num­ber and unique iden­tity pro­grammed into it. That tag can be lo­cated by satel­lite us­ing GPS tech­nol­ogy.

“It’s freak­ing awe­some,” Col. Carra said about the tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity to pin­point a ve­hi­cle’s lo­ca­tion.

“You can say, ‘Oh that’s go­ing to be in Lot 58, row 17, the fourth one from the front,’ “Col. Cara said.

The tech­nol­ogy has halved the cost of ready­ing the ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to the case study.

Mary Ann Wag­ner, who worked with the Army for five years to de­velop the tech­nol­ogy, said the sys­tem can cut costs by 50 per­cent over seven months.

“Be­cause we don’t need as many peo­ple go­ing around with hand­held readers, we’re able to re­duce la­bor costs,” said Ms. Wag­ner, pres­i­dent of Cu­bic Global Track­ing So­lu­tions and XIO Strate­gies.

The tech­nol­ogy also has been in­stalled at the naval base in Kuwait and at the Kuwaiti port of Shuaibah to track ve­hi­cles be­ing shipped.

Ve­hi­cles will be ship­ping out from Kuwait through­out the sum­mer be­fore the Re­spon­si­ble Re­set Task Force can say, “Mis­sion ac­com­plished.”

“We’re try­ing to fig­ure out how to do that for Afghanistan,” Col. Carra said.

He es­ti­mated that there are 50,000 pieces of rolling stock — any­thing big with wheels — in Afghanistan.

“The prob­lem is the mil­i­tary has many, many ve­hi­cle and high valu­able as­sets,” Ms. Wag­ner said. “Keep­ing track of those as­sets are im­por­tant.”

Bet­ter tech­nol­ogy could pre­vent equip­ment theft by con­trac­tors.

“I’m not naive. I’m sure there was some,” Col. Carra said.

Mil­i­tary as­sets lose value over time, es­pe­cially if the tech­nol­ogy be­comes dated, so some things cost less to leave be­hind than to bring home and re­fur­bish, he added.

“If you’ve got a 10-year-old car, and it needs a $2,000 re­pair and $1,000 for trans­porta­tion, but you can buy new for $4,000,” he said, “it may make more sense to buy a new one.”

ARMY PHO­TO­GRAPH

TIGHT FOR­MA­TION: U.S. mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in Kuwait are be­ing re­turned to the U.S. if they are no longer needed by forces in the Mid­dle East. About 6,000 Army Humvees, trucks, trail­ers, cranes, bull­doz­ers, tanks and how­itzers await ship­ment in lots.

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