October 8, 2004
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), hammered by many complaints about air shipments taking too long to arrive in Iraq and Afghanistan, responded by copying the civilian freight firms that were getting stuff to the combat zone faster. Ever since the Afghanistan campaign, where troops began using air express companies to have some stuff sent to them (often via a hired truck, that would take the packages from Pakistani air freight offices and run the stuff into Afghanistan), it was noted that the air freight people (FedEx, DHL, UPS, Etc.) were much faster than military air shipments. Thanks to the rapidity with which this observation spread via email, chat room and BBS, DLA and the air force were soon facing embarrassing questions on the subject. After all, the air force had hundreds of its own transports, could land them right in combat zones, and had complete control over these vital air shipments (of spare parts, medical supplies and other urgently needed stuff.) How come the troops could get stuff faster by simply having it shipped FedEx. The answer, which the air force and DLA quickly adopted, was in the part of the commercial air freight operations that are rarely seen by the general public. This is the consolidation (of packages going to the same destination) into containers and then sending them off to the freighter aircraft, which promptly files them to their destination. DLA and the air force had long been using a less efficient system that had stuff sent directly to the air base, where items often piled up for days before a planeload was sent out.
It was actually an air force general that forced the issue and caused the establishment of Consolidation and Containerization Points (CCPs) earlier this year. The CCPs now did the consolidation and forwarding. All of a sudden, DLA and the air force could move nearly as fast as DHL or UPS. DLA was still slower, because DLA and the air force are two separate bureaucracies. Now matter how hard they try to cooperate, there will always be some institutional friction that will slow things down. But its no longer a sure thing that troops in Iraq can get their stuff faster by FedEx, than by via DLO and the air force.