CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
For over 10 years coalition forces have been in the country using equipment that eventually becomes worn out or destroyed. If it weren’t for the dedication of the crew from the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, previously known as the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office or DRMO, the forward operating bases would more than likely look like a junk yard.
With over 80 years of service and well over 5,000,000 pounds of scrap, two members of the Disposition Service office have served in one war many wanted to forget and one the American public keeps forgetting.
Chris V. Harris, the property disposal manager, said they are here to support the troops.
Disposition Services takes excess property, unserviceable concertina wire, Hesco barriers, worn out MRAPs, cougars, buffaloes and 7-ton trailers, and annihilates them.
“Pretty much any vehicle that’s been on a convoy ends up here,” he said. “We destroy everything because we have to be very conscious of defense. Everything, all the scrap, goes to Afghan contractors.”
DLA benefits the local population by providing them with scrap metal they can use to improve their quality of life, all while ensuring Marines stay safe through their diligence.
“Even though the contractors are vetted thoroughly, we still need to be sure that nothing we give them is something the enemy can use,” said Harris. “Particularly technology; especially since the [enemy] is obviously very active on the roads.” They strip copper from all equipment to ensure nothing of value falls into enemy hands
Although Harris served in Vietnam he’s no stranger to road-side bombs and knows all too well the hazards of convoys.
“The Viet Cong would hump our unexploded B-52 bombs to Highway One and plant them,” said Harris, an Army veteran with 21 years of uniformed service. “They would wait for the third truck in the convoy before they would detonate it.”
Doing their part to prevent improvised explosive devices is only one part of the job Harris and Robert V. Huffaker, disposal service representative, handle.
“We’re constantly pulling property to ship here,” said Huffaker, a retired Marine of 22 years. The gear is new and slightly used from other government agencies. A lot of times units are looking for furniture. It may cost $700, but to ship it into the country costs $2,200. At Disposition Service, they may find it in their inventory.
Part of the service DLA offers is reallocating gear the government already purchased, but is no longer in use. The gear is in serviceable condition, and it is a cost effective way to shift assets to units that need it saving the tax payers money in the long run.
“The gear is free and so is the shipping,” he said. “The question is, where is the gear? Sometimes it’s hard to find and sometimes it’s just in Iraq where we can put it in a forty-foot container and send it up here.”
Huffaker understands the importance of sorting through gear to determine what treasure there is from another man’s trash and delivering it to the troops. During his time in Vietnam he was well aware of all the things that would have been nice to have. One of those things, deep in the jungle, was a whole map.
Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Huffaker’s unit, was sent in to Con Thien to support a command close to the boarder of North Vietnam.
“We didn’t have a whole map, and that’s all they had to give us,” said Huffaker. “I guess we took a right instead of a left, and we marched for two days. The commander sent up flares every time we stopped, but no one could find us.”
They were so close to the demilitarized zone and the map was incomplete that they just walked right off of it into unknown territory.
“Finally our CO had to tell us he had no idea where we were. It was a little eerie,” he said. “An American Indian stepped up and said he could break trail to head back to the [position] where we started. We had no other choice because we were quickly running out of water and if we ran into anyone, we would run out of ordnance. It took us three days to get back because we ran into some nasties and had to skirt around them. Our CO told us, ‘keep your heads low and keep quiet.’”
Even though the word was to keep quiet in Con Thien, there’s plenty noise at the Disposition Services lot. Shredders are running and torches are hissing for 12 hours a day there. Some may wonder why two men who’ve served their country long enough to retire twice would be back involved in another war.
“I like being around the camaraderie,” said Harris, who was originally drafted into the Army on his 18th birthday. “Out where I feel I can be of assistance.”
Disposition Services manages to dispose of all the gear that is too damaged to use as well as helping to reallocate serviceable equipment elsewhere, keeping the war machine well oiled.