Private suppliers fill in where Pentagon pulls out; TroopsDirect sends necessities to Afghanistan

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With the Afghanistan War in its 12th year, U.S. troops find that the Pentagon’s enormous logistics system has not mastered the job of getting things like soap, toothpaste and protective gear to all on the battlefield.

A congressman and a private support group say that the ongoing withdrawal of troops and closing of supply depots promise to make the shortfalls worse.


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Aaron Negherbon, who founded the nonprofit TroopsDirect, said his organization has shipped more than 180,000 pounds of essentials to troops since 2010, giving a new meaning to the idea of a CARE package.

These are not cookies and candy being shipped from his Northern California headquarters. The items are as fundamental as the powdered chalk used to highlight a buried improvised explosive device (IED) so troops can avoid it.

“These are Americans, and they’re out doing God’s work,” Mr. Negherbon said. “We believe that if [a bomb disposal] unit needs a kit that can render an IED safe, when they don’t have it, well they should have it immediately. That’s what TroopsDirect is all about.”

Where the hugely bureaucratic military logistics system must follow a strict step-by-step process to get goggles and body armor to Afghanistan, Mr. Negherbon simply orders, boxes and ships it via the U.S. Postal Service. It arrives at the gates of grateful war-fighters in a week or so.

“There’s no chains of command,” he said. “There’s no bureaucracies. There’s no red tape.”

Now, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, has written to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking for action.

Mr. Hunter fears that, with most troops moving out of the country by the end of next year, there will be a lower priority on getting basic equipment to the war theater.

“Significant time and energy is spent by the department moving gear and equipment to the other side of the world to support our troops, yet, somehow, there remain breakdowns in responding to the urgent needs of service members on the front lines,” he told Mr. Hagel in a letter delivered Friday. “As we begin to draw down forces in Afghanistan, it’s important that we continue to support the remaining troops, ensuring that they receive the resources and equipment they need.”

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said: “The secretary of defense will of course provide a timely and considered response to the congressman.”

Mr. Negherbon said the drawdown is resulting in fewer supply depots providing for what is still a large troop presence of 66,000.

Asked to respond, Navy Cmdr. Williams Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “I’m not sure how a nonprofit spokesman can speak with authority on our logistics, but I can assure you that as our footprint gets smaller in Afghanistan, our forces continue to get all they need to accomplish the mission.”

Mr. Negherbon said he quit his job in the mortgage industry and founded TroopsDirect in 2010, drawing a “very small salary” as its only full-time employee.

He was inspired after mailing a 40-pound package to a Marine officer friend in Afghanistan. He said the company commander emailed “thanks.” The officer said he was giving the stuff to his men who needed creature comforts — foot powder, protein bars, sports drinks — more than he did.

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