This summer, a U.S. Army effort to better measure its equipment in the field is marking its two-year anniversary. While a lot of materiel has been accounted for, much still has not been put on the books.
The lax record-keeping is a direct result of the unique qualities of the war in Afghanistan, said Col. Ann Reese, deputy director of supply at Army headquarters.
“In 10-plus years of war, other priorities came up and simple bookkeeping tasks were put to the wayside,” she said.
In a traditional conflict, soldiers head into the field with their equipment on their backs. The present war has seen a more hurried pace, with materiel raced out to the battlefield in time to meet arriving soldiers. That’s where the accountability began to break down, Reese said.
“We got a lot of brand new equipment over the past 10 years, equipment that was commercial-type equipment and not necessarily standard Army equipment,” she said. Much of this was acquired in the open marketplace rather than through the typical acquisition chain, creating a scattershot paper trail.
In two years, the property accountability initiative has made some headway in locating these items and getting them into a formal inventory chain, including $3.2 billion worth of materiel that had not been previously recorded. This included a broad range of small items, Reese said.
Another $33.9 billion in equipment was identified and redistributed to fill shortages within commands. It’s not clear, though, how much of this materiel already existed in inventories and how much was newly discovered, Reese said. Whatever percentage may have been unaccounted for previously, “we want to get everything on record, because if you don’t need it, somebody else does.”
A push from the top has helped drive the aggressive inventorying. In two years, the Army has held some 6,000 accountability training and mentoring events for its commanders. At the unit level, supply managers have executed nearly 30,000 inventory inspections.
The Army hasn’t brought any new techniques to bear on this effort. Rather, leadership has tried to shine a brighter light on the problem.
“The rules, the procedures, the policies are nothing new. It’s a matter of command emphasis, the commanders giving the supply sergeants the time they need to get these things done,” Reese said.
Even as the Army tries to catch up with the paperwork of a hasty deployment, inventory managers are finding themselves burdened with the return of those same items. As the drawdown progresses, the number of items being added to inventory likely will increase as unaccounted for property comes to light.
“We have seen a stabilization this year of the dollar value being brought to record,” Reese said. “But we expect that as these units come out and begin to reset themselves, we are going to see more property coming onto the books.”