Packing up a mighty mission
By Corporal Mark Doran and Sharon Palmer
The Disposal Support Team has helped bring to a close Australia's presence in Uruzgan
AUSTRALIAN Public Service personnel have contributed to the successful remediation and drawdown of the Australian Defence Force base in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province.
Three Defence Materiel Organisation members formed the Disposal Support Team, part of the Joint Task Force 633 Redeployment Fusion Cell at Multinational Base Tarin Kot. The ADF mission in Uruzgan province ended in December and the Disposal Support Team completed its work in February. Their experience in the management of Defence equipment and its inventory proved invaluable
Mark Hardwick of the Helicopter Systems Division, Jodi Graham of the RAAF Guided System Program Office and Kelly Yager of the Materiel Logistics Office provided advice and assistance across three main areas: managing not-in-catalogue (NIC) items; disposal by gifting, sale or destruction; and container management.
Jodi and Kelly replaced Tom Traynor of the Land Systems Division and Craig Evans of the Materiel Logistics Office, who returned to Australia in October 2013 after a six-month deployment.
Mark was responsible for the Middle East Area of Operations NIC items and disposal by gifting.
"NIC items are mainly articles purchased by units which are not normally required for operations but are needed in the MEAO for the unit's day-to-day business. We needed to account for these items, as they were bought with public monies," Mark says.
"Units were not permitted to return this equipment to Australia unless it was approved by the relevant capability manager, which for this operation was primarily the Chief of Army."
Mark says equipment was sold, destroyed or donated - nothing was abandoned.
"With the gifting process, we needed to ensure the recipients had the training, technical ability and the tools to maintain the items," he says.
Mark describes his six months in Afghanistan as hectic but fulfilling.
"Being a public servant without a military background, I never thought I would have an opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan," he says.
"It was the most rewarding role of my life, both personally and professionally. Not too many public servants get an opportunity to participate where the capabilities we support are used.
"Many people had an input into the closure of Tarin Kot, but to be there and affecting the resulting closure was very satisfying."
While Kelly is ex-RAAF, her time in Afghanistan was her first overseas deployment.
"The biggest highlight was being part of a deployment and finally understanding the bond that is developed by deployed personnel - they become your family and everyone tries to help everyone else," she says.
Kelly relished her job as Container Manager and the deployment's routine and camaraderie.
"The work ethic, the health mentality, the simplicity of life and the total focus you can apply to the end goal - very little distracts you," she says.
"During the last three months in Tarin Kot, there were approximately 800 containers on base that were being tracked. In line with policy, all assets owned by one of the coalition forces or contractors had to be remediated ... either through sale or destruction."
She says a few of the containers were identified for donation to the Afghan forces as they held a range of items such as tools and linen.
She was amazed at the "lunar scape" around Multinational Base Tarin Kot.
"A lot of rock is brought in from nearby to help reduce the dust, but the dust is ever present. A chopper landed one day and the dust cloud swelled as high as a five-storey building, rolling and billowing outwards, covering everything in brown-red silt," she says.
"I would also never want to experience dust again like I did in Tarin Kot, but having said that, the mountains were amazing. Stark, ravaged with deep cuts down their side, they still exhibit the scars of two continents colliding. And rocks, rocks and more rocks, I will not miss them - my legs got a workout moving over them each day."
Jodi is also a former RAAF member and, although she had deployed to the MEAO twice in uniform, she had not been to Afghanistan.
"Seeing Tarin Kot for the first time was a highlight for me even though the base had reduced in size by the time I got there. Nothing compares to seeing something in person," she says.
As Disposals Manager, Jodi oversaw the sale and destruction of surplus assets.
"It has been a great experience and has built on my previous experiences and given me a more appreciative understanding of the whole area of operations and of our role, in particular as a contributing nation to the International Security Assistance Force," she says.
Jodi believes the Disposal Support Team proved a "valid and successful venture for Defence".
"The concepts, processes and procedures are enduring and can be adapted to suit the disposal environment in Australia. I hope our collective experience will be drawn upon to shape the future of disposals," she says.
Tom was primarily responsible for disposing of equipment by sale or destruction.
"There are different disposal plans for a range of products, including those controlled under the United States International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)," Tom says.
"If it was not value for money to return equipment to Australia, we disposed of it subject to these requirements and completed the destruction by accessing the US Defence Logistics Agency Disposition Services located in Kandahar or Tarin Kot."
Working closely with coalition forces, contractors and Afghans was diverse and interesting, says Tom, especially with regard to the cultural challenges.
"As an ex-soldier, I understand how the military system works and the related processes, which enabled me to negotiate with people and build trust and understanding," he says. "It was a rewarding experience and I have many good memories."
Craig mainly looked after container management during his six months at Tarin Kot.
When he first arrived, he had to contend with nearly 1500 containers. When he left Afghanistan last October there were less than 400, with the others having been sold, disposed of or returned to their original owners.
"If we had to transport the containers to Kandahar and sell them it cost nearly $4000, so by selling them in Tarin Kot we saved money," Craig says.
By the time the containers returned to Australia they would be at the end of their life cycle and would have had to be scrapped anyway.
"This also means we saved cargo space on a C-17 Globemaster and also money for Defence and the Australian taxpayer," he says.