Marines

Reinventing Marine Corps logistics

2 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

As an infantry platoon trudges through the streets of Port-au-Prince, the midday sun beats down on them, giving them no respite from the unbearable heat.

Exhausted from many hours of patrolling, their thoughts dwell on heading back to the camp, resting their tired feet and devouring some chow.

The Marines’ hopes are dashed upon returning to the rear to discover that the supply convoy containing their chow didn’t arrive.
Outraged, the platoon commander commandeers a computer, logs on, sends a query about the chow via email, and stares intently at the monitor.

The platoon crowds around the computer as a world map appears on the screen.  Moments later, the commander looks back at his men, a content look on his face, “At ease, leathernecks.  Your chow is right outside the camp,” he states.

‘In-transit visibility’ is defined as the ability to track the status of supplies needed for the mission.  By combining information transmitted from satellites and radio identification devices, the Marine Corps is recreating the way it handles logistics.

Marine Col. Peter J. Talleri, leader of Combined Joint Task Force - Haiti’s ITV project, says that the Corps is implementing many different systems and procedures to give unit commanders better ITV.

The systems include Joint Total Asset Visibility, which provides users near real-time asset visibility on the battlefield, Talleri said.  A Marine can log onto a website, type in a supply container’s tracking number, and pinpoint its approximate location, he explained.

The supplies are tracked through means of radio frequency identification devices.  How this works, Talleri explained, is that its radio signal-emitting placard is placed on a supply cache, and ‘interrogator’ units placed throughout the field detect the signal.

Using information from satellites and radio ID devices “is helping to catapult asset tracking and visibility to unprecedented levels during Operation Secure Tomorrow,” Talleri explained.

This fusion of systems is making its debut here in Haiti.

The interrogator transponder units work on a similar principle as cellular phone towers. They detect the supply container placard’s signal and send that signal to a satellite, said Lance Cpl. Thomas Mackenzie, acting CJTF Headquarters ITV noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

According to Mackenzie, the satellite then broadcasts the signal back down to earth, where it can be viewed via the Internet through JTAV and other websites.  This provides JTAV users near-real time visibility of where cargo is at any given moment, he added. “It saves us a lot of man-hours and a lot of headaches,” Mackenzie said.  JTAV enables Marines to know what supplies are in what containers, thus saving them the trouble of rummaging through gear for hours, he continued.

Marine Staff Sgt. Vincent A. Howard, Combat Service Support Detachment-20 supply chief and one of the Marines utilizing the system, is happy to see the change. “Instead of calling around the world, you have the ability to log on and track it through the system,” Howard said.

Talleri said commercial megaliths like Wal-Mart and Target “are at the forefront of an important move towards the widespread use of RFID technology throughout [their] supply chain.”  The military must work closer with the civilian commercial industry and learn from their success with ITV, he added.

Connecting supplies to troops in forward-deployed locations remains a challenge, Howard stated. He said not all Department of Defense containers contain the frequency ID tags yet; however, a new policy mandates widespread use of RFID technology by 2005.

Suppliers will have to place RFID tags on every part, case or pallet of cargo by January 2005, he continued. Despite the challenges that remain, Marines using the system enjoy the newfound conveniences JTAV provides.

Lance Cpl. Kelly A. Lonkowske, a supply administration clerk with CSSD-20, said better in-transit visibility makes her job easier. “It’s great to know what (cargo) is going to come in and when it’s going to get here,” she explained.  The ability to track gear from the point of embarkation to its final destination is a great asset to have in the supply admin field, Lonkowske added.

The 2nd Force Service Support Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, is leading the way in RFID technology for the Marine Corps.  The Department of Defense chose the unit to lead the RFID pilot study, putting CJTF-Haiti personnel are at the “tip of the spear,” Mackenzie said. “In the past four weeks, we’ve taken in-transit visibility from a mere concept to a concrete reality.  It’s proven to be successful in Haiti and will be indispensable in future conflicts and operations worldwide.”