Logistics at the End of the World: Lessons from Afghanistan

Day 1 of 365.

Much of what I know about business and sustainability is from the perspective of the military.  For the last nine years, I have served on active duty as a Logistics Officer in the United States Army.  Over those years, I have worn many hats and held many important duties.  No matter the situation, three things remained of foremost importance: care for my people, care for our equipment and resources, and accomplishment of our mission.  It could be easy to think of each priority as independent of the other; in reality they are interdependent and essential.

Some of the most formative experiences occurred during my first deployment to Afghanistan.  At the time, I was part of a 1,300-person Task Force responsible for clearing roadside bombs across the southern half of the country. Within that mission, I ran a cell of logistics and supply liaisons at a major supply base, processing combat-damaged equipment, fielding of new technologies, and procuring specialty equipment to keep our people safe and make them more effective.

Obligatory combat gear selfie with my driver, Sergeant Netti before a mission.

About halfway through the deployment, Pakistan closed the G-LOC (“Gee-Lock”, short for Ground Line of Communication), a military transportation network linking our bases in land-locked Afghanistan with the Port of Karachi.  From that point forward, nearly all military materiel had to enter the country through a small handful of airports capable of receiving heavy cargo planes.  Overnight, fresh foods became scarce or disappeared altogether.  Availability of water, fuel, and other supplies decreased as volatility increased.  All costs went through the roof, and the impact of all supply-related decisions became much more significant and visible.  Every single gallon of diesel fuel held a total cost to the American taxpayer exceeding $45—if it was available at all.

File this under “Adventures in Afghan logistics.” Scenes like this were a common sight on Highway 1.

While the situation eventually stabilized and the GLOC reopened, the questions we guided our decisions by remain present in my mind.  What do we need? Why do we need it? Given constraints, what is most essential to the care of our people and accomplishment of our mission and how do we prioritize?

When I think about sustainable business practices, I think about those lessons and how a company could ask themselves the same kinds of questions.  How should we run our business, generating value for ourselves and our customers?  How can we use the resources we have – physical, human, capital — most efficiently?  Is what we’re doing sustainable – can it be repeated and consistent or are we purely extractive running people, natural resources, and the public trust through a corporate machine that vomits money into the pockets of investors and executives until it implodes?  Does it make sense to throw away money to inefficient buildings and fleets that run on an ever-dwindling supply of fossil fuels?

Some of my hard-working troops securing some locally-purchased light sets to improve our convoy staging areas.

This week, in my Social Media Takeover of the CSBP Twitter and Facebook, I return to my roots and start a conversation about sustainable logistics: how businesses and the public can benefit with changes in the shipping, trucking, and warehousing industries.  Finally, I take this story full circle, and show one way that United States Marines in southern Afghanistan are rapidly solving supply chain problems through tactical manufacturing.  Join the conversation on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oregongreenmba or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CSBP.UO

Written by jmyers8

Jared Myers is a 2018 MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. He is also an active-duty Army officer with nine years of experience in maintenance, distribution, supply, and transportation. He is interested in reducing in increasing efficiencies, enabling performance, and decreasing negative impacts of military operations. Within Sustainability, he is interested in food, manufacturing, and clean energy. Outside of class, Jared enjoys outdoor activities and skydiving.