Jun. 25, 2012 -By ADAM STONE Defense News
U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, recently transferred more than $85,000 worth of consumable medical supplies to the Afghan National Army.
The delivery included bandages and other supplies that would have been too expensive to ship back home. The May 24 handoff was one of several planned by the Afghanistan-based Marine Regional Logistics Support Command-Southwest.
The logistics center typically is a pass-through point, receiving goods and forwarding them quickly to units in the field. With U.S. forces leaving the region, the center is seeing a backlog of certain items, including medical supplies, said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Schoonover, health services support officer for 1st Marine Logistics Group.
“With the drawdown we have a lot of medical facilities in this part of the country that are basically closing up shop, and they have stuff that has been on the shelves for weeks or months. Now all of that is returning back to the logistics company,” Schoonover said.
Even before the troop withdrawal began, Marine logisticians knew they would likely have excess disposable medical materials, partly as a result of leftover supplies coming in from Iraq, and partly because of the uncertainties of troops’ demands, which often lead to stockpiling in the field.
“In this kind of environment you don’t necessarily know what you are going to need every day,” Schoonover said. In an effort to keep supplies available, planners in general prefer to have too much on hand, rather than too little.
The result has been an excess — and a quandary. It made no sense to merely dispose of the material, yet the cost of shipping made a return to the U.S. impractical.
“We’re not talking about any big-ticket items,” Schoonover said. “It’s basically just a box inside a box, and that takes up a lot of room.”
Despite the mutual benefit of donating medical supplies, planners had to navigate bureaucratic hurdles to make the handoff possible. In particular, there were issues of national sovereignty at play, Schoonover said. As a fledgling democracy, Afghanistan is eager not to be seen as being dependent on outside charity.
“I wish we could just give it over to them, but it was seen as significant for the Afghan government to be self-supportive,” Schoonover said. A formal approval process would ease that perception, while helping to keep a glut of material from piling up on the Afghan side. “There are things we would like to give them that they might not necessarily want or need.”
Eventually the Marines and the Afghan military forged an official process for handing over the supplies. Dr. Abdul Qayum Tutakhail, the surgeon general for the Military of Afghanistan, signed off on the project.
Besides aiding the Afghan Army, the donation of medical supplies helps Marine logistics run more smoothly by keeping the shelves clear for current needs. “Normally we don’t want to store a lot of things,” Schoonover said. “It is ordered, it shows up and we get it out [to the field] in the most expeditious means possible.”