War and Peace

War and Peace

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Logistics has an important place in peace and an important place in war. As the U.S. government prepares to force Saddam Hussein to surrender weapons of mass destruction, American military logistics officers prepare again for action in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile hundreds of groups, from the U.S. Agency for International Development to the tiniest church missionary program, wrestle with the job of distributing food, medicine and other aid.

One such organization is the United Nations' World Food Program, which Associate Editor Ken Cottrill profiles in this issue (see page 9). The WFP delivers millions of tons every year to 83 countries, from southern Africa to North Korea and more. That agency's efforts make a fascinating story about dealing with the urgency of threatened starvation and the realities of a Third World transportation network. In one case the agency determined they could save more lives by repairing a railroad line in Mozambique and leasing a locomotive to haul food than by spending the money on food itself.

Last week, in the Feb. 17 edition of Traffic World, Ken wrote about the logistics of war as the Military Traffic Management Command develops its web-based transportation management system, and this week he zeroes in on those efforts in the Air Force (see page 16).

As Traffic World has noted in many articles over the years, the logistics and transportation industry gains quite a few of its top performers from the military. Just to name two: Army Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis headed the army's logistics efforts in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War and later headed logistics at Sears Roebuck & Co.; and Vice Adm. Edward M. Straw directed the Defense Logistics Agency before switching to the civilian sector and leading Ryder Integrated Logistics and then the logistics operation at Compaq, the computer company.

The flow of know-how also goes the other way, and now we are seeing logistics officers in the Reserves and National Guard called up to active duty to support the military buildup in the Middle East. These military men and women deserve special thanks from our nation for answering the call, leaving their families and putting their careers and lives at risk for our defense.

During the Persian Gulf War our nation's military and its allies scored a huge victory, and logistics played a big part. That's not to say there were no logistics problems. And if it comes to war again - and I am predicting that war eventually will be avoided - the U.S. military will face an even more difficult challenge.

As Traffic World reported in 1994, serious problems arose during the Gulf War, with receiving systems of the Defense Logistics Agency overwhelmed by the flood of 40,000 forty-foot containers into Saudi Arabia in six months. The military version of bills of lading were lost, leaving container contents unidentifiable and lost to the military unit that requisitioned them. When a container failed to reach its destination, the same unit would issue a second or third requisition for the same material.

In the end, it took two years after the war ended to move out all the supplies and equipment, some of which were never touched during the war. While the military has made great strides in managing and automating its supply chain since the last war, Iraq won't be any walk in the park this time around either.

It is significant that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, in an interview with The Washington Post, said that while the U.S. military is up to the task in Iraq, several factors may make it more difficult than in 1991. The war may last longer, Hussein may use chemical or biological weapons, and intense urban fighting may be required. But in the end, if war is necessary, our military logistics officers will be ready for the job.