Lessons from the Operation Iraqi Freedom Theater Distribution Center to Improve Your Supply Chain Operations

Think your distribution operations have been put to the test? A closer look at the U.S. Army's multi-million-square-foot distribution center that was established in Kuwait two years ago to support Operation Iraqi Freedom provides some insight for...


Think your distribution operations have been put to the test? A closer look at the U.S. Army's multi-million-square-foot distribution center that was established in Kuwait two years ago to support Operation Iraqi Freedom provides some insight for companies looking improve distribution operations under harsh conditions.

Is there a difference between the distribution operations of the U.S. Army and your supply chain? There is a difference in the operational conditions for most soldiers and your distribution center (DC), considering there can be more critical consequences from the U.S. Army not getting the right supplies to the right place at the right time or consequences from stock outs. However, distribution operations fundamentals are the same in your supply chain as they are in the U.S. Army. And the goal of this article is to provide insights from the operations of the Theater Distribution Center in Kuwait that will assist you in improving your supply chain operations.

We will look at the following areas that were critical to the success of the Theater Distribution Center. We will also look at some general observations on distribution and the correlation between the Operation Iraqi Freedom support and commercial logistics showing how you can learn from our mistakes and successes to improve your operations.

1. Planning and layout
2. Staffing
3. Training
4. Team building
5. Forecasting
6. Infrastructure and communications
7. Leadership
8. Stress
9. Command and Control

Let's take a closer look at each one of these lessons individually, and then we will look at how they are related to improving distribution operations.

The first lesson from the Theater Distribution Center in Kuwait is that planning and layout are important to the success of the operation. The planning has to have a long-term focus while not forgetting about the short-term. For example, if you are going to design and build a new distribution center, are you going to consider the out years, or just build it for today's requirements? Of course you would want to consider future requirements. In doing so, you may find out there is a reason for the recent increase in activity in your distribution center that may not be present in the future. You may conclude, therefore, that you won't need to build a new center, but rather acquire a short-term third-party logistics (3PL) solution to a temporary problem.

One major distributing company, several years ago, discovered that it was quickly outgrowing its relatively new facility. The problem began when the facility was built and the company failed to look to the future expansion and growth of its business. In addition, the company found itself in a position that prevented expansion of the current facility as other DCs had been built around it. The result was a new multi-million-square-foot facility built only a few miles down the road.

In planning for the Theater Distribution Center, it was necessary to pick a location that was centrally located to as many units as possible during the build up for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unfortunately, this location was not convenient to the other distribution warehouses that also served as customers of the Theater Distribution Center. The result was additional handling and transportation to move supplies from the Theater Distribution Center to the supported warehouses, and then on to the customers. And, as most of you can quickly ascertain, the more times the product was moved and the more times it was loaded onto and off of a truck, combined with the additional movement over some less-than-ideal roads, the more likely that products were lost, misrouted or damaged. The lesson here is to consider all alternatives and combine that with the future requirements for your operations when designing and laying out your distribution center.

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