As director of logistics for U.S. Central Command, Army Maj. Gen. Aundre Piggee oversees one of the most massive moving jobs ever undertaken by the U.S. military — hauling about $6 billion worth of equipment, and more than 100,000 men and women, safely out of Afghanistan.
It’s a challenging job with a lot at stake and a tight deadline. And Piggee said it’s “the main effort” for his boss, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the commander of Centcom, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base.
So for inspiration, Piggee draws on the history of his late father Roland, an Army sergeant who played a role in one of the most successful logistical operations in military history: The Red Ball Express, a trucking effort that supplied Patton’s Third Army as it raced across France.
“I didn’t really fully appreciate it as a kid, but as I’ve become a military member — a logistician no less — doing some of the same things my dad was able to perform during WWII, I am extremely proud of that and proud of his service,” said Piggee, whose father was 72 when he died in 1998. “I will use a lot of those techniques our forefathers used during The Red Ball Express to build convoys, secure them and then move them from Point A to Point B.”
With Patton outpacing his supply chain and France’s railway system decimated to keep it out of the hands of the Germans, a three-month operation was set up to send trucks, crewed mostly by African-Americans like Roland Piggee, constantly streaming toward the front.
Moving things in the opposite direction, away from the front and back home toward the United States, Piggee also faces some stiff challenges.
“We have to bring out about 100,000 pieces of rolling stock, over 80,000 containers, over 120,000 personnel, be that military or some of our contractors or Department of Defense civilian,” said Piggee. “Afghanistan is different from Iraq. We could just drive all the equipment down to Kuwait. Afghanistan is landlocked, so we use a combination of methods to get equipment out.”
One of the biggest challenges is having to rely on the good graces of Pakistan, an erstwhile ally prone to shutting down border crossings to protest U.S. drone strikes, among other reasons.
“We do move equipment, the majority of the equipment, through ground through Pakistan,” said Piggee. “But we have challenges with that sometimes so we have multiple ports throughout the Middle East that we actually fly using both commercial and military aircraft to move it from bases. We have five or six strategic bases in Afghanistan to move things to what we call multimodal locations throughout the Middle East.”
Adding to the complexity of the mission, U.S. troops are pulling back to larger bases as their numbers decrease to about 33,000 by year’s end.
But Piggee is confident that the Afghans can step up with intelligence and force protection.
“We’ve been partnering with our Afghan partners,” he said. “We’ve trained them, we’ve worked with them, they observed us and we will continue to have that relationship. We will be advising and assisting. That’s what we see as our future role. So that will give us a sufficient, we think, amount of access and information that we will continue to be able to help them prosecute the war. But they are in the lead. They are taking charge and we are in support. It’s been successful to date and they are getting better every day.”
Another wrinkle is the shuttering next July of the U.S. operations at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan that served as part of the Northern Distribution Network for military supplies to and from Afghanistan.
“They have been great partners with us,” Piggee said of the Kyrgyzstan government. While the “majority of our forces are in the southern part of Afghanistan ... we do have forces in the north and we have actually been able to move a significant amount of equipment through many of the Central Asian countries and with great success, and that has been a great outlet for us as we need all our opportunities and routes to get the equipment out because of the large amount of equipment we have in Afghanistan.”
A large amount worth a lot of money, said Piggee.
“There’s about $8 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan to be moved,” he said. “Eight billion dollars. We are pretty confident that we’ll be able to get about $6 billion worth of that moved back to the States. That other $2 billion we will probably sell to our other supporting framework nations, or we will sell and leave for our Afghan security forces to use as they execute operations in the future.”
The equipment not coming home includes smaller, wheeled vehicles, some armored vehicles and some communications equipment, said Piggee, adding that no decision has yet been made to destroy unwanted equipment.
Piggee said he is confident that the mission will be completed on time and as expected.
“We started this process back in the early part of the summer and we have a plan to be almost out to where we think the president has mandated by October of 2014,” said Piggee. “We are on a good glide path, I think we have a great plan in place and we are confident that we will be successful in getting out equipment back to the depots where it can be refurbished and reissued to military units in the future.”