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"They Asked Us To Make It Happen, and We Did."

CMOs join forces to deliver identification panels for Operation Iraqi Freedom

Anyone who's fought in a war will tell you - the battlefield is dangerous on both sides, regardless of who's winning. Confusion in battle, caused by anything from garbled communications to unidentifiable troops and weaponry, has contributed to friendly-fire casualties throughout America's history. In fact, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, approximately 24 percent of U.S. fatalities were caused by friendly fire.

In America's most recent war, military commanders in Operation Iraqi Freedom were determined not to repeat history, but this was no small feat. Imagine hundreds of ground vehicles stealing in the night toward Baghdad, engulfed in swirling sand storms that caused limited visibility. Even with night vision equipment, how could the U.S. distinguish its fighting forces from those of Iraq? The answer arrived in the form of low-tech solutions called thermal identification panels (TIPs) and combat identification panels (CIPs). The panels were designed to emit a bright rectangular marking that is easily identifiable through night vision goggles. The original panels have a thermal side with the reverse side in fluorescent orange. These panels could be installed on all combat vehicles, troop and stationary assets and all troop formations, non-combat vehicles and allied infrastructures prior to mobilization to Iraq. This was a vast improvement over the inverted "V" decal's and thermal paint markings that were used during Operation Desert Storm. The solution seemed easy, but there was one huge problem - 18,000 panels had to be manufactured, shipped, and installed before President Bush declared war on Iraq. Adding to the problem was that production of the fluorescent orange side of those panels required additional manufacturing time.

On Feb. 20, 2003, Army Lt. Col. Beatrice Dukes, DCMA St. Louis commander, received an urgent e-mail from Army Col. Andy Mills, commander of Central Pennsylvania, asking for a production review at the TIPs manufacturing facility, Eagle Industries. Dukes realized that her organization would be performing a capabilities study at a second-tier subcontractor facility and although this wasn't business as usual, they understood the customer's requirement and made it happen. Under Dukes's leadership, St. Louis dispatched a special task force to Eagle Industries to assess the company's ability to meet its customer's requirements. During its assessment, the team learned that Eagle was a just-in-time production facility; that is, it could not produce the panels quickly because it didn't maintain a large inventory of materials. Although panel fabric was enroute from NightVision, Inc., a lack of panel materials was only part of the problem. The team further discovered that in order to become fully operational, Eagle needed additional materials like webbing and binding material, hardware and manufacturing equipment and plant equipment maintenance in order to obtain surge capacity and meet delivery dates.

After obtaining supplier information, Dukes asked our CMOs in Philadelphia and New York, where the raw materials were coming from, to help expedite production. Chicago assisted in arranging transportation for the materials from the supplier to Eagle. Army Reserve Capt. Michael Patterson, St. Louis, said there were some discussions with contractors as to who would pay to expedite the materials. Patterson spoke with Wayne Callebretta, program manager for Navigation Systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to arrange funding and transportation for the materials.

During this process quick-thinking employees, contractors and vendors teamed up to find solutions for supply, shipping and manufacturing glitches encountered in making the TIPs.

According to Dukes, it was important to recognize the extraordinary efforts of the contractors. "One lady at Eagle was injured while manufacturing the panels, so we went to her home in Fenton, Mo., and recognized her for supporting our warfighters. In a way, it was like being a company commander again," Dukes said. "We kind of went outside the box in order to accomplish this mission. Our multi-functional task force was customer focused, flexible and responsive. We were there when they needed us the most!"

Meanwhile, Indianapolis was helping Crossroads Industries, the producer of the CIPs, ramp up its operation as well. Although there are 43 configurations and variations of CIPs for each vehicle type, they all have one primary component - a flat or Venetian style panel covered with a low-emission thermal tape. According to Army Lt. Col. Carl M. Ellis, commander, DCMA Indianapolis, Crossroads went on extended hours and days to produce the panels. "Despite our time restrictions, the team did an exceptional job," he said.

Producing the panels was only part of the story. The Army still needed them shipped and installed before the start of the war. Patterson said the original contract was set up so that George Nearpass, quality inspector at Indianapolis would accept the shipments there. Debbie Bowers, Indianapolis transportation officer, would reroute the panels to New Cumberland Army Depot, Pa., but this was before hostilities started. So Bowers suggested the panels move directly to Dover Air Force Base, Del., and not re-route through New Cumberland.

According to Bowers, radio frequency tagging for the Defense Transportation System was required to track the shipments; however, the only tagging office was located at New Cumberland. She said Indianapolis would have lost two or three days in shipping if the panels were moved through New Cumberland which would have delayed shipping to Kuwait. So, Bowers contacted Paul Kretzing, transportation management specialist at Headquarters, who contacted the Army, who in turn created a team of Army personnel to set up a tag staging area at Dover. "In this way, tagging was done at Dover which saved time. Once tagging was completed, the shipment was on its way to Kuwait within 24 hours of receipt," Bowers said.

Everything seemed to be humming along until late February, when a storm hit Dover, dumping heavy snow on rooftops and collapsing one of the terminal hangars. Bowers once again sprang to action and re-routed the panels from Dover to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Bowers said that time was of the essence as she diverted shipments to Charleston. RF tagging procedures were once again established, and loaded onto military airlift command flights and sent to Kuwait. With several tracking programs at her disposal, she said she prepared spreadsheets on the panels' whereabouts and distributed them to various Pentagon military personnel, CECOM personnel and key personnel in Kuwait each day. She and Ellis went to Charleston to make sure the panels were being tagged properly.

By March 14, 2003, 18,000 panels had been manufactured, shipped, and in Kuwait. The panels were mounted on vehicles and were on key assets before the invasion began on March 20, 2003. Was it worth the trouble?

"During Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were no reports of U.S. ground-on-ground friendly fire incidents resulting in anyone being killed in action," Patterson said.

"If credit goes anywhere, she (Bowers) and our quality assurance representative, George Nearpass, did a really outstanding job," Ellis said. "The customers developed such confidence in Debbie's ability to get things to Kuwait that they started shipping commodities from other parts of the country to Indianapolis to go over with the panels. She has great knowledge of the system and was able to track and give them the information they wanted, by a secure means, on a daily basis," he added. For her success in moving the identification panels and so much other materiel into Kuwait, Bowers received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

According to Ellis, the DCMA effort was transformational. "It represents a tremendous ability by our employees to be where customers want us to do the work, and when they want to be involved. It is one of the things we need to continue to work on because with downsizing, our customers have asked us to back off from resources," Ellis said. "But at the same time, we have to be where they want us to be, when they want us to be there. We were able to do that."

page last updated on: 04/03/2009 15:30