8 Things to Know About the Afghanistan Withdrawl

After 31 years as a Marine Corps officer, Scott Anderson took a civilian job. He now serves as director of Logistics and Engineering for U.S. Central Command.

After 31 years as a Marine Corps officer, Scott Anderson took a civilian job. He now serves as director of Logistics and Engineering for U.S. Central Command.

It’s a delicate balance keeping troops supplied while downsizing in Afghanistan. Then, add the mandate to do it in the most economical and efficient way.

That’s why troops in Afghanistan, including the commander Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, are eating an MRE for one of their three daily meals. There are a lot of prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat stored in Afghanistan and they are not worth the cost to ship home.

Despite the uncertainty over how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, logistics experts at U.S. Central Command are already closing bases and moving out equipment and troops.

Retired Marine officer Scott Anderson is the civilian in charge of logistics and engineering for CENTCOM.

The time differential between Afghanistan and Tampa, FL is 9.5 hours during Daily Savings Time. That means Anderson comes to work very early in the morning, more like late at night, to coordinate with his military counterparts in theater.

A digital board displaying several time zones is mounted above a large flat-screen TV in his office at U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base.

And the clock is ticking for Anderson and his logistician counterparts from the Pentagon to the Pakistan’s Port of Karachi. They have just over a year to ship, transfer or destroy tons of equipment originally sent to Afghanistan to support troops.

Here are some details Anderson shared on their progress:

  • They are 60 percent complete with base closures in Afghanistan.
  • At the peak, there were 360 bases in Afghanistan, now; there are fewer than 44 bases.
  • Afghan Security Forces identified the bases they wanted and asked the U.S. to build some new ones.
  • U.S. engineers are training Afghans on base operations like the electrical grid and water systems.
  • A snapshot of how much equipment is coming home: for the period of Sept. 10, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014, 7500 vehicles and about 1500 shipping containers will be moved out.
  • Troops are eating a prepackaged MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) for one of their three daily meals to use up stores that are too expensive to ship home.
  • The cheapest way to ship equipment out of Afghanistan is to truck it to the Port of Karachi in Pakistan and sail it home. Currently, 70 percent is coming out that way.
  • There are two options for equipment too old or too expensive to ship home: transfer it to the Afghan Security Forces or destroy it if it is deemed it the equipment would only be a burden to the Afghans.

Anderson said his biggest challenge is to not draw-down too quickly. He does not want a scenario where a soldier doesn’t have a meal or enough fuel in his vehicle.

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CENTCOM Sends Thanksgiving Turkeys to Troops

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7 enjoy a Thanksgiving Day meal featuring turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012. Credit Cpl. Timothy Lenzo / U.S. Marine Corps photo.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7 enjoy a Thanksgiving Day meal featuring turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012.
Credit Cpl. Timothy Lenzo / U.S. Marine Corps photo.

Currently, troops in Afghanistan must eat a prepackaged MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) for at least one of their three daily meals to use up supplies as the war winds down.

Even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., is eating an MRE a day.

So the Thanksgiving turkey dinner will be a welcomed relief.

U.S. Central Command, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, has made certain the troops in Afghanistan will have that special meal according to Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of Logistics and Engineering for CENTCOM.

Anderson is in charge – on the civilian side – of making sure troops are properly supplied.

“The last I saw, we were nearing 100 percent ready for Thanksgiving. That means all the turkeys are there for our troops so they’re ready to have a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving,” Anderson said. “And we’ll turn to and get ready for Christmas. There are some special meals that we make sure our troops are taken care of.”

Anderson served 30 years as a Marine Corps officer and knows how special a  turkey dinner can be to the tens of thousands of service members on the front lines.

Government Shutdown Forces 1,500 MacDill Furloughs

MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Scott DeThomas briefs reporters on the shutdown impact to civilian workers and military families outside the main gate.

MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Scott DeThomas briefs reporters on the shutdown impact to civilian workers and military families outside the main gate.

Here’s the breakdown of civilian defense workers furloughed from commands at MacDill Air Force Base: 95 percent of the civilians working at U.S. Special Operations Command; 33 percent of U.S. Central Command civilian workers; and about 30 percent of civilians with MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing command.

In all, more than 1,500 civilian defense workers at MacDill are without paycheck due to the federal government shutdown.

MacDill base commander Col. Scott DeThomas said most of the civilian workers have already had to take six unpaid workdays because of sequestration.

“These civilians have been going through this since 1 March (2013),” DeThomas said adding that the shutdown is even more unnerving because it’s open-ended. “Think about that. Think about the impact of not knowing how many days of furlough, how much pay you may or may not lose.”

DeThomas said the furloughed civilians will only receive a half-paycheck next week and then that’s it. It will mean a cumulative loss of $400,000 a day in salaries.

Traffic is a lot lighter outside MacDill's main gate since 1,500 workers were furloughed Tuesday.

Traffic is a lot lighter outside MacDill’s main gate since 1,500 workers were furloughed Tuesday.

“That’s going to have an impact on mortgages, credit cards, car bills, all those things that we take for granted some times,” DeThomas said. “What I’ll ask, is for our financial community to be proactive in reaching out to those folks.”

The base commander already has reached out to more than 30 local bank executives to ask they be flexible with the civilian defense workers especially because a bad credit report can directly affect security clearances for defense workers.

“Most of us carry security clearances. Security clearances are the difference between being qualified for a job and a lot of times not being qualified,” DeThomas said. “If you lose your security clearance, I can release you from that job. That’s critically important.”

A couple of banks have set up loan procedures, so called “check-loans”, for furloughed civilian defense workers so they can receive the dollar amount their pay should have been.

And furloughed workers are not restricted from taking outside employment if they can find it.  But DeThomas said they should notify their supervisor.

While some folks call the back-and-forth in Washington government dysfunction, the MacDill Base Commander called it democracy.

“Frustration? Of course we want to be able to do everything in our power to make the mission go. We want to never allow folks to be furloughed, I got that,” DeThomas said Wednesday at a news conference outside the base gates. “But the reality is: what you’re seeing play out in the political realm is of value to democracy. And I’m fairly certain, a lot folks around the world – yeah they might throw stones – but they’d love to have a piece of that.”

Service members in uniform are still getting their paychecks, but many will have to work longer hours to fill in for the civilians who are now on furlough.

Tampa’s Navy Week Cancelled, But Seamen Will Still Serve

SOUDA BAY, Greece (Jan. 19, 2013) The guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton (FFG-40) arrives for a scheduled port visit. Halyburton is on a scheduled deployment operating in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley/Released)

SOUDA BAY, Greece (Jan. 19, 2013) The guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton (FFG-40) arrives for a scheduled port visit. Halyburton is on a scheduled deployment operating in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley/Released)

The Congressional sequestration tentacles are reaching further into the fiscal year forcing changes and cuts even in the military.

The Navy is cancelling “Navy Week” in Tampa. Citing the “current budget environment,”the port visit by the USS Halyburton and the Blue Angels air show at MacDill Air Force Base have been cut. Without those elements, there’s little left of the Navy Week program. So, it was officially cancelled.

However, seamen serving at the United States Central Command, Navy Operational Support Center Tampa, and Navy Recruiting District Miami, are stepping in. Continue reading

Gen. Schwarzkopf Laid to Rest with Honor at West Point

Twenty-two years to the day when Operation Desert Storm ended, the general who commanded that allied ground offensive was laid to rest at West Point, N.Y. A memorial service for retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1956 graduate, was held at the Cadet Chapel Feb. 28 with family, friends and colleagues in attendance. (Photo by Tommy Gilligan USMA PAO

 A memorial service for retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1956 graduate, was held at the Cadet Chapel Feb. 28 with family, friends and colleagues in attendance. (Photo by Tommy Gilligan USMA PAO)

He made Tampa his final home, now West Point is his final resting place.

On February 28, 2013, a memorial service for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf was held at the Cadet Chapel.

Schwarzkopf, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1956 graduate, was best known for his leadership during Desert Storm. Afterward, he quietly retired in Tampa, home to U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He was buried next to his father, a 1917 USMA graduate and cavalry officer, a World War I veteran and founder of the New Jersey State Police.

You can read full coverage of the memorial ceremony by U.S. Central Command:

Twenty-two years to the day when Operation Desert Storm ended, the general who commanded that allied ground offensive was laid to rest at West Point, N.Y.

New Commander Nominated to lead U.S. Central Command

Gen. Lloyd Austin

Gen. Lloyd Austin

President Obama just nominated a new leader for one of Tampa’s most visible military institutions, U.S. Central Command, based MacDill Air Force Base.

The nominee:  Gen. Lloyd Austin, who currently serves as vice chief of staff of the Army. He is one of the military’s most seasoned combat leaders according to a statement from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:

“Gen. Austin led the 3rd Infantry Division from the front in the opening months of the Iraq war, earning a Silver Star for valor.  He later commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, led Multi-National Corps-Iraq from February 2008 until April 2009, and then commanded U.S. Forces-Iraq from September 2010 through the completion of the mission in December 2011.

“During his final deployment to Iraq, Gen. Austin led our military efforts at a particularly important time, overseeing the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment while simultaneously helping to ensure that hard-fought security gains were preserved and that Iraqis could secure and govern themselves.  Lloyd would bring an important combination of strategic thinking, regional knowledge and proven judgment to one of the most critical posts in the department.

“Gen. Austin is in the mold of the extraordinary CENTCOM commander he would succeed, Gen. James Mattis.  Jim has a distinguished record as a combatant commander, having also led the former Joint Forces Command from 2007-2010.  I will have much more to say about Jim Mattis, who I believe will go down as one of the most celebrated battlefield leaders and strategic military thinkers of our time.  He has been an exemplary leader of U.S. Central Command at a critical time for America’s vital interests in the Middle East and South Asia.  He has helped build regional security cooperation, advanced the cause of security and stability, and ensured that our forces are postured and prepared for any contingency in the region.  I have relied on Jim every day I have served as secretary, and am profoundly grateful for his service to me and to the nation.

“Americans are safer because one of our nation’s great warriors, Jim Mattis, is standing watch over this volatile and important part of the world.  I am grateful that we have found another warrior and patriot, Lloyd Austin, to carry his legacy forward and to command thousands of troops who are willing to fight and to die to defend our nation.”

The Tampa Socialite Who Stole CENTCOM’s Christmas

Gen. John Allen, ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

The fallout continues from former CIA director David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer. A report, by the Associated Press in the Tampa Tribune, cites a source who suggests the annual U.S. Central Command holiday party has been cancelled due to the high visibility of the broadening scandal.

Jill Kelley is the Tampa socialite who first alerted the FBI about threatening emails she received that eventually revealed Petraeus’ affair. That led to an examination of Kelley’s emails with the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen. The FBI referred those “reportedly” thousands of emails between Kelley and Allen to the Department of Defense Inspector General which is investigating.

But, Kelley was known by the top brass beyond Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Tampa Tribune reporter Howard Altman reports she received the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s second-highest award for civilians:

Kelley was recognized for “outstanding public service to the United States Central Command, the MacDill Air Force Base community and the Department of Defense from October 31, 2008 to May 31, 2010,” according to the award citation. “Mrs. Kelley distinguished herself by exceptional service while supporting the mission of the United Central Command, building positive relationships between the military and the Tampa community, supporting community outreach, and advancing various military endeavors.”

The citation also states that Kelley’s “willingness to host engagements with Senior National Representatives from more than 60 countries was indicative of her support for both the Coalition’s effort and the mission of United States Central Command.”

Gen. Allen’s nomination to be Commander of United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe is on hold pending the Inspector General’s investigation.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has asked the Senate to “act promptly” on the nomination of General Joseph Dunford, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, to succeed General Allen at ISAF.

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