Accomplishing Expeditionary Logistics in East Africa

BY LT.J.G. GREG CUMMINS, SC, USN
EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL
EXPEDITIONARY SUPPORT UNIT TWO

Task Force SPARTA Battalion staff pose at the entrance to Camp Lemonnier. Mission Supply Officer Lt.j.g. Cummins can be seen on the far right without sunglasses.

Task Force SPARTA Battalion staff pose at the entrance to Camp Lemonnier. Mission Supply Officer Lt.j.g. Cummins can be seen on the far right without sunglasses.

The Horn of Africa. What comes to mind? If you are a logistician who enjoys a challenge, then look no further than this area of responsibility.

Our military operations in the region span 10 countries and an area nearly half the size of the continental United States. Forces are stationed here primarily for one reason – to counter violent extremist organizations such as al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and ISIL. At its core, this is accomplished by security force assistance, direct military engagement, force protection measures, and helping build the defense capabilities and capacities of East African partner nations.

As many of you know, behind every operation, every initiative, and every warfighter is a supply officer ensuring the material, mobility, and maintenance requirements are met to enable the mission.

I deployed to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, last June as the N4 for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit TWELVE. We assumed the role of Combined Task Group 68.3, more commonly known as Task Force SPARTA.

We were tasked with improving the counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) and counterterrorism (CT) capabilities within the East African region as well as providing base response and force protection for Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield.

Djibouti City where Supply Officers procure goods from local vendors.

Djibouti City where Supply Officers procure goods from local vendors.

Navigating the supply chain network in East Africa is something many supply officers should experience. The tyranny of distance highlights one of the major concerns. For example, the distance between Djibouti City and Mombasa, Kenya is the same as between Maine and Florida. But there is neither an interstate system nor are there trucking companies to get equipment from point A to point B. Inadequate road conditions and shoddy infrastructure turn 150-mile drives into nine-hour ventures.

With regards to sea lines of communications, surface shipments in-theatre were largely unreliable due to both the immediacy of many EOD-specific requirements and the nature of most requirements being inland.

To ensure the forces in theater had the appropriate funding to meet the needs of the missions, I coordinated with a number of agencies – the U.S. State Department; U.S. Africa Command; Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa; and Navy Expeditionary Combat Command – to iron out all issues concerning the availability of funding for the C-IED/CT training programs, humanitarian mine action, and general use consumables. These lines of accounting supported both material procurement and travel arrangements for EOD technicians.

As for Class IX support, we came prepared with robust pack-up kits of high-usage, common breakage items for our boats and vehicles. Pack-up kits provided interim-support for the more common maintenance-related issues, but for more critical or abnormal issues, we utilized reach back to EOD Expeditionary Support Unit TWO in Virginia and EOD Mobile Unit EIGHT in Spain.

During my deployment, I found myself working closely with Combined Task Force 68 and Camp Lemonnier Public Works Department to secure both a laydown area and funding for a permanent battalion facility.

In a nutshell, the deployment to East Africa called for one thing – creativity. Thinking outside the box and using the strong support network of fellow Supply Corps officers to problem-solve were the keys to our success.

September/October 2016