Army commander says gear for Iraq moving slowly but steadily

Slowdowns in parts and equipment delivery have not affected readiness rates in Iraq.

Escalating violence has slowed the movement of parts and equipment in Iraq, but has yet to lead to any major shortfalls in gear for U.S. troops, according to Gen. Paul Kern, commander of Army Materiel Command.

"Everybody is very weary of potential shortages that could emerge because we either have to reroute supply lines or find alternative methods. [The increased fighting] is clearly making life more difficult, but right now we are keeping up with it," Kern told Government Executive in a recent interview at AMC headquarters at Ft. Belvoir, Va.

"We always have shortages, never excesses," Kern said. But, he added, operational readiness rates have not suffered. The biggest shortage is in windshields because shots are regularly fired at convoys and the rough terrain in Iraq kicks up lots of rocks. Fuel also is often in short supply because of the high tempo of operations, he added.

The Army's five depots, the service's in-house repair centers where equipment is repaired and refurbished, have increased production and spending by 25 percent over last year. The depot workforce will grow by about 7 percent, from 13,526 to 14,517 uniformed personnel, civilians and contractors in fiscal 2004. The increase in production and personnel is a marked change from recent years, when depots have been sharply downsized.

Kerns said the Army has so much depot work this year that it will have to increase its reliance on contractors. In fact, he said, the service might for the first time need an exemption from federal law that requires no more than 50 percent of all repair work be contracted out. By mid-June, the Army will decide whether it needs its first-ever waiver from Congress of the 50-50 law, Kern added.

Army ammunition plants also have seen a major increase with ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the plants, which are government-owned and contractor-operated, have boosted personnel by 33 percent -- from 1,850 mainly contract workers in fiscal 2003 to 2,410 now.

Army Material Command also has been sending military, civilians and contractors to Iraq and Kuwait to set up repair centers. All told, AMC has 33,062 repair personnel in the Central Command region, but most of those are contractors except for about 411 civilian workers and nearly 400 uniformed personnel. Kern said similar repair centers were created during Operation Dessert Storm, but this time around, there are more centers and they have been operating for a longer time.

According to Kern, the increased operations at depots and ammunition plants have put to rest perennial questions about whether they are still needed.

"We've learned an awful lot about the responsiveness of our depots, arsenals and ammunition plants over the past two years," he said. "They've met the demand, and our big challenge has not been the workforce but it's been the supply of parts to the workforce so they can keep the working going."