CAMP VICTORY, Kuwait -- As Marines here continue to assemble their fleet of vehicles and stockpiles of gear, a team of 1st Force Service Support Group Marines is using some new software that could become the standard for prepostioning operations in the future.
Learning from their previous deployment to Iraq, where some gear was lost in the shuffle, the Group's Arrival and Assembly Operations Element developed accounting software to keep track of each and every item arriving from Maritime Prepositioning Force ships.
During the buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the 1st FSSG used the Marine Corps' two main logistics programs - the Asset Tracking Logistics Automated Supply System and the Marine Air/Ground Task Force Deployment Support System II - to try and track the gear. The first is the backbone of the Marine Corps' supply system; the second is used for all embarkation missions.
However, the two didn't talk to each other very well, meaning not everyone who needed to account for the gear could tell where it was, said Lt. Col. Thomas M. Vilas, the element's officer-in-charge.
Additionally, the scanners used to scan the bar codes marking each piece of gear didn't work as intended. In the end, Marines were forced to log in data by hand, which consumed a lot of time, said Vilas.
On top of that, the I Marine Expeditionary Force didn't have a clear picture of which MPF gear went to which unit.
All these problems amounted to slower distribution and gear being taken or lost before it could be accounted for, he said.
This time around, though, the 1st FSSG's new accounting database has alleviated some of the problems, making sure everyone is in the loop.
"Once (the gear) is in your hands, everybody knows it's in your hands," Vilas said.
During the planning for the Marines' return to Iraq, each unit determined the amount of MPF equipment it would need based on the missions they were expected to perform. Once I MEF provided Blount Island Command in Florida, which runs the MPF fleet, with its wish list, the gear was earmarked. For example, in 2003 if a unit requested a humvee, they would get a humvee. This year, units know exactly which humvee they are getting and which ship it's on.
The database, built using Microsoft Access, is the brainchild 1st FSSG's 2nd Lt. Alfred E. Hunter, who also served in logistics as an enlisted Marine.
In addition to vehicles, the database allows the embarkation specialists to track containers as well as their contents - a key improvement from last time.
"We can account for everything down to a battery in the bottom of a container," said Capt. Laurie A. Gillespie, the element's operations officer.
The new system has had such success, Blount Island Command has requested more information on the program, which may become the standing operating procedure for all MPF operations in the future, said Maj. Jason L. Wallace, the element's deputy officer-in-charge.
The MPF sails with a veritable war chest of equipment for forward-deployed Marines, lessening the time it takes to get suited up for operations. Marines and sailors of 1st FSSG began unloading the first of several MPF ships on Feb. 8 at a Kuwaiti port. Approximately 25,000 I MEF Marines and sailors, a fifth of which belong to the Group, will be deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in the coming months to conduct security and stability operations while the Iraqi democracy takes root.
For each of I MEF's subordinate commands - I MEF Headquarters Group, 1st Marine Division, 1st FSSG and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing - an arrival and assembly element is putting in 24-hour days accounting for all inbound equipment from the MPF ships.
Though not all MPF gear, more than 3,000 vehicles and numerous other containers of gear and supplies are being assembled here and at other various locations in Kuwait so that I MEF's main forces can marry up with them. Convoys of Marines should begin the trek northward to Iraq in the coming weeks.
The arrival and assembly elements will work "however long it takes" until all of the Marines' gear is received and accounted for, said Gunnery Sgt. Daniel M. Ramos, the 1st FSSG element's watch chief.
Marines and sailors, ranging from heavy equipment operators, motor transportation drivers, electricians and embarkation specialists, make up these temporary staffs.
Once the mission is completed, the element will dissolve. Some Marines will move up with their normal units in Iraq, while others will return home. Their offices will be mothballed until it is time for a new group of Marines to begin loading gear back onto the ships when the Group prepares to return home.
Note: Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere contributed to this report.