CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Delivering the supplies and equipment needed to sustain troops in forward areas is one of the hardest, most vital responsibilities in a combat zone.
Instead of UPS or DHL, Marines in Iraq depend on SMU.
As a nerve center for logistics in Iraq, the Supply Management Unit now controls essential supplies -- from bottled water to ball bearings - without which, units of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in the Al Anbar Province would cease to function.
The SMU has shipped nearly 20,000 supply items, almost 190,000 Meals, Ready-to-Eat, and more than 1.1 million cases of bottled water to units within the I MEF since deploying to Iraq this spring.
Reliance on one merged management unit improves how the Corps' supply system operated during the invasion of Iraq, said Capt. Todd A. Fujimoto, who organizes transportation for all of the supplies traveling to the eastern part of the province.
Since units are not moving like they did last year, the Marines have been able to establish static bases, allowing the 1st Force Service Support Group to keep the supply elements at one location, under the control of Combat Service Support Group 15, which sends resupply convoys to the other bases.
During last year's push to Baghdad, the Marine Corps' infantry battalions were constantly moving. As a result, the combat service support elements that supported them had difficulty coordinating with each other, as well as with their headquarters, and sometimes lost or misdirected supplies.
"There was no battlefield visibility of stocks," said Fujimoto, a 32-year-old resident of Albany, Ga. "It could have been two tents over and they would have never known about it."
This year, Marines with the SMU receive, sort and distribute goods, employing several systems to track deliveries and to keep them from getting lost during their journey.
A computerized manifesting system creates a list of a shipping container's contents and records the information in radio frequency identification tags attached to each box, said Capt. Tarrell D. Giersch, the SMU operations officer.
At key positions along the delivery routes in the United States and Iraq, electronic readers scan the tags and transmit the contents and location of the load to a tracking server, which acts as a place to store the information, said Giersch, a 32-year-old Milwaukee native.
Marines access the server, via the Internet, with the Joint Deployment Logistics Module, which converts the data, so they can view it on a map. This allows the Marines to follow the gear as it travels from point to point on its way to the SMU, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael I. Naputi, the SMU's assistant operations officer.
"We can track from New Cumberland, Pa., where it's packed, Charleston, where it flew out of, Balad, where it arrived into country (and) 'TQ' when it arrived here," said Lt. Col. Joe Granata, SMU's officer-in-charge, and a 42-year-old native of Fredonia, N.Y.
The Marines are also applying an inventory system that, while not new to the Corps, is being used in a combat zone for the first time.
When incoming supplies arrive at the SMU, Marines scan them using a wireless, interconnected system of computers and hand-held devices that analyze the bar code labels on the sides of shipping containers, Giersch said.
The system directs the Marines exactly where to store the gear amongst the many rows of boxes and crates on their large storage lot.
This has made it easier for the Marines to track the more than 19,000 items that have come into the SMU during this deployment, on top of the massive amounts of rations and bottled water.
Accounting for everything on paper, as the Marines did while deployed last year, caused problems, said Cpl. Blanca Hernandez, a warehouse clerk with SMU, who is serving in Iraq for the second time.
"It was a hassle. We lost a lot of paperwork," said Hernandez, a 22-year-old native of LaPuente, Calif.
Now, the units send routine orders through computer-based logistics programs used throughout the Marine Corps, said Naputi, a 33-year-old resident of Murrieta, Calif.
Once the requests come in, Marines at the SMU collect the items listed, separate them according to where they are going and affix reprogrammed radio tags. The SMU then coordinates to have the shipments loaded on one of the 1st FSSG convoys that travel throughout Iraq.
For faster service, front-line battalions can also get what they need quickly by e-mailing a "rapid request" to the SMU or by sending a representative to do a "walk-through."
"Currently, we receive around five walk-throughs or rapid requests per day," said Giersch. "They're both high-priority requirements and get handled the same way."
To deliver higher-priority shipments, the SMU links up with CSSG-15's Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group to have the equipment moved by air, said Fujimoto.
"I can get it out of here within hours," he said.
The electronic readers track the deliveries until they reach the ordering units, which can look up the status information themselves, by accessing the tracking server through the Internet, cutting down on phone calls from outfits trying to locate their equipment, said Fujimoto.
"They don't have to come ask me any more," he said.
Though the technology helps, it's the Marines that keep the SMU going and the SMU that keeps the operating forces of the I MEF up and running with the food, water and repair parts they need to get the job done.