- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

The military's top supply officer says American ground troops drove so fast to Baghdad they sometimes outran supply lines bringing bottled water and fresh rations of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
Army soldiers and Marines wolfed down most varieties of the vacuum-packed, 1,300-calorie meals without complaint at the rate of hundreds of thousands a day. But they held their noses at one dish beef with mushrooms. Now, it's now off the MRE menu.
"The beef and mushrooms was very unpopular," said Navy Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, director of the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), in an interview. "I think we're going to pull it and take another crack at it. We're a beef-eating country and I don't think it reaches the standard of good steak we're accustomed to."
On any given day, DLA's 22,000 employees are busy feeding and clothing more than 1 million active-duty and reserves. The agency's $24 billion budget also buys tents, cots, spare parts and a new protective uniform called the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST).
But when word came from the Pentagon to DLA headquarters at Fort Belvoir last July to prepare for war, the agency had to move fast to keep up with an army that, in accordance with Napoleon's historic axiom, marches on its stomach.
The agency began a $1 billion buying spree that included 30 million MRE pouches at $6.75 each, 2 million "chem-bio" protective suits, 300 million gallons of fuel for aircraft and vehicles, and $36 million worth of bottled water to soothe parched throats in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq.
Fortunately, Adm. Lippert said, combat units had stocked up on equipment to the point all were rated "green," the highest readiness level in a Pentagon system of green, yellow, red.
"The readiness of our armed forces was absolutely superb," said the three-star admiral, who has spent the majority of his military career making sure the Navy gets replenished.
Now, he's responsible for the Army, Air Force and Marines as well. A top priority in Operation Iraqi Freedom was feeding and watering the troops.
"My attention was on bottled water and MREs," Adm. Lippert said.
Gen. Tommy Franks' ground war focused on speed. He pushed Army and Marine troops on a 350-mile sprint from Kuwait to the outskirts of Baghdad. The capital fell in 22 days, and Saddam Hussein's last outpost, his hometown of Tikrit, was captured five days later.
But the victory severely tested man and machine. Adm. Lippert said he is now bracing for what the military now calls "reconstitution" the replacement of spare parts in hundreds of weapon systems damaged by wear and tear, and Iraq's dusty sand.
Both the 3rd Infantry Division southwest of Baghdad and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force on the southeast rode their tanks and personnel carriers at over 50 mph, outrunning supply trucks.
There were some shortages in units where fighting men were accustomed to three or four calorie-packed MREs a day.
"We always had enough MREs and bottled water in theater," Adm. Lippert said. "In many cases, our troops advanced so quickly to Baghdad they literally outran supply lines. They went so fast we couldn't keep up with the MREs to get them to them."
He said the shortfall was quickly filled when supply trucks caught up.
The military considers its current meal-in-a-pouch a big improvement over the MREs introduced in Desert Storm 12 years ago, and head-and-shoulders above World War II K rations.
Testers at the Army's research kitchen in Natick, Mass., found new technologies to extend the shelf life of flavors in MREs, which come in 24 varieties. "After many complaints about the quality of previous MREs, they really went to work," Adm. Lippert said.
There are standard chicken recipes, ethnic cuisine, vegetarian and even kosher MREs.
"I've tried a lot of these things," Adm. Lippert said. "The bean and rice burrito is pretty good. Chicken with salsa is pretty good. The chicken with noodles, I've had that."
The Defense Logistics Agency relied on new technologies and tactics to improve resupply in this war.
Logisticians in Kuwait used the military's secure SIPR internet to relay orders directly to the U.S. forces. In addition, DLA learned from private shipper Federal Express, which can track a parcel en route. Each war shipment carried a radio frequency identification tag that told commanders the product's exact location.

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