Supplying the force.
"Watch the news and you'll see quartermasters all over the battlefield making sure that everything Soldiers need to sustain themselves and fight gets to the right place at the right time," said CSM Jose Silva, top NCO at the Quartermaster Center and School at Fort Lee, Va.
Quartermasters have been supplying Soldiers in war since the American Revolution. Once boasting 113 job specialties, the Quartermaster Corps now has only nine.
But don't mistake the downsizing for diminishing need. Quartermasters have done their share to help score success in Operation Iraqi Freedom--daily serving 500,000 meals, delivering 1.2 million gallons of fuel, producing 4 million gallons of water and conducting 214 convoys with more than 2,291 vehicles.
The Quartermaster Center and School trains Soldiers in fuel supply and testing, water purification, food service, laundry and shower, unit supply, parachute rigging, aerial delivery and mortuary affairs.
"A lot of Soldiers coming through here are headed for units that are already in Iraq or Afghanistan, so we spend a lot of time mentoring them for deployment," said SFC Michael Nichols, NCO in charge of the logistics training department.
Petroleum-supply specialists acquire, stock and issue fuel to keep the force moving. Before the product is pumped into customers' tanks, petroleum-laboratory specialists test for contaminants, oil, water and sediment, and also analyze chemicals for strength, purity and toxic qualities.
"Bad fuel affects the entire operation. It can increase the risk of a stall, and static buildup can cause aircraft to explode," said SSG Osbert Okebata, an instructor. "Ultimately, it can lead to a loss of combat power when the force can't move forward."
In field environments where units need fuel daily, petroleum-supply specialists must ensure product that's pumped out is steadily replaced with incoming fuel. They must also be able to connect hoses and valves when refueling tanker trucks, aircraft, ships and rail cars.
Quartermasters supported the Army's energy needs with fuel, kerosene and wood long before the arrival of motor vehicles, according to Luther Hanson, museum specialist for the Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee.
"We even provided candles. We've been doing this mission all the way back to the industrial revolution," Hanson said.
Water-treatment specialists ensure Soldiers get water for drinking, washing clothes and bathing. They also provide water to engineers for construction purposes, as well as to hospitals. Using several filtrations and reverse osmosis, water-treatment specialists can sanitize seawater, saltwater, creek water and even pond water.
Unit-supply specialists request, receive, issue, store and account for all equipment--ranging from ammunition and gas masks to spare parts--in their units' inventory. They also schedule and perform preventive maintenance on weapons.
Meeting the Demand
Business is fast-paced for supply specialists following their units to the field, where the demand for supply and parts often escalates. Orders are processed in the field and parts come in from the rear. In such places as Iraq and Afghanistan, supply specialists work with in-country storage depots to get the parts Soldiers need.
"When supply specialists go into theater, they take only the parts that are in high demand, such as batteries or starters, things that are considered a basic load. It also depends on the type of units they're supporting," said Nichols.
"We don't want to cut the company short even though we're out in the field," added Nichols, who helped train the Afghan National Army to maintain its own supply system.
Automated-logistical specialists run the Army's supply warehouses. They unload, unpack, inspect, separate and store incoming supplies. When parts are requested by unit-supply specialists, they pack, crate, weigh and band equipment for shipping, if necessary, all while maintaining records and ordering replacement stocks.
Identified by red baseball-style caps, parachute riggers pack and inspect personnel parachutes, pack cargo parachutes and rig cargo for airdrop.
Riggers must be airborne qualified and serve in jump status in order to hold their jobs. They must also be detail oriented, able to detect rips and tangled lines.
"When I pack a guy's parachute, his life is in my hands," said CW5 Arthur Waldo, a senior airdrop systems technician. "I need to be sure that parachute will operate properly, and in order to really understand that, I need to jump that parachute myself and know how it functions."
The chance of a personnel parachute malfunction is about one in every 250,000, he added.
"The outcome usually depends on how the jumper reacts. Most Soldiers activate their reserve 'chutes and are okay," Waldo said.
When Soldiers head for the field, shower and laundry specialists install and operate field showers and mobile laundry systems. They can process and wash bulk laundry, sew shoulder insignia and name tapes on organizational clothing, repair damaged sleeping bags, set up 12-head shower units and operate water heaters.
Laundry and shower operations began during World War I out of concern for Soldiers' health. "Back then a Soldier might be lucky to get one shower a month. But cleanliness became a priority because of lice and diseases Soldiers were getting in the trenches," said Hanson.
After nine weeks learning the basic techniques of cooking and baking, food-service specialists feed the force in garrison dining facilities, hospitals and field environments using mobile kitchens.
"When we feed Soldiers downrange it really lifts their morale. They look forward to their breakfast, lunch and dinner," said SSG Kimberly Liu, noncommissioned officer in charge of the craft-skills training branch.
Today's cooks are encouraged to experiment and stretch their creative skills--some ultimately earn distinction as culinary artists after completing advanced training.
While the Army's first cookbooks were penned during the Civil War, the first cooks weren't exactly volunteers for kitchen duty, Hansen said.
"Sometimes Soldiers were ordered to do the cooking. They weren't trained, practical cooks back then. Or, if you were on a permanent post, you'd have an assigned team of Soldiers, spouses or contractors," he said.
Mortuary-affairs specialists perform the most somber of quartermaster duties. They conduct searches for deceased personnel, recover remains and personal effects, establish tentative identification and evacuate remains.
* Combat Ready
Quartermasters were once thought safe from harm.
"Traditionally, we were positioned in the rear and provided functional support from a safe location," said Silva. "But 9/11 forever changed the way we fight. We have a new enemy with new tactics now."
The reality of today's war seeps into Soldiers" minds during a four-day exercise that tests their vigilance and combat readiness. They face such scenarios as sniper fire, ambushes, minefields, explosive devices, civilians on the battlefield, protestors and medical evacuations.
One scenario checks quartermasters' ability to fire on the move.
"We had a squad shoot 113 times with only five hits. This shows Soldiers that firing their weapons is more than just pulling the trigger. They have to aim and engage with some type of accuracy," said LTC Micky Martin, commander of Fort Lee's 262nd Quartermaster Battalion.
The life-and-death need for tactical finesse is marked by the fact that many combat-service-support Soldiers deployed to Iraq have been tasked to perform duties other than those required by their basic MOSs. The contracting of dining facilities has led food-service specialists to the gates of troop compounds, where they provide security, for example. And some foodservice Soldiers assigned to the 1st Calvary Division have found themselves piloting the Raven, an aerial-reconnaissance vehicle.
Automated-logistical specialist SGT Cameron Newsome recently attended the quartermaster school's basic noncommissioned officer course after serving as a squad leader in Iraq. He helped acquaint initial-entry Soldiers to the complexities of combat during field training.
"We have to do convoy runs and guard perimeters just like every other Soldier. It's good to be up on the technical part of your job, but being a Soldier first is what keeps you alive," Newsome said.
For those who disbelieve, Liu can testify.
"Feeding the Soldiers in Iraq was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. As cooks, we were defending ourselves and holding a perimeter, getting down in the trenches. We got mortared every night," said Liu.
More than 677 purple hearts have been awarded to quartermasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.