How To Withdraw From A Country

In the run-up to the U.S. military's withdrawal from Iraq over the last few weeks, up to 60 convoys have been roaring across the country at any given time, hauling supplies south to Kuwait. But that's just the equipment the military is taking. Major General Thomas Richardson, the Army's chief logistician in Iraq, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that sometimes it's cheaper to leave it there.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

The military enterprise in Iraq is now officially over, but the withdrawal of supplies is expected to continue until the end of the year. It means long convoys of trucks have been heading south to Kuwait for the past few months.

Now, to put this into perspective, it is the largest military trucking operation since World War II. The U.S. will leave behind at least half a billion dollars in equipment and more than 90 military bases that the Iraqi army will use.

Major General Thomas Richardson is the Army's chief logistics officer in Iraq, and it's his job to figure out what to take and what to leave.

MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS RICHARDSON: So we have 928,000 pieces that we've done since last September. So some of it will go to an army depot, some of them may go to war reserves, some of them may go to be just scrapped as excess to the Army where it's unserviceable, and it'll also be scrapped. And then some of the items are also then designated to go to, like, Afghanistan or different locations that may need that equipment.

RAZ: So the things that are being taken out, of course, are electronic equipment, computers, obviously, military hardware, I'm assuming. Give me a sense of what else is being taken. I mean, office equipment and, you know, showers and housing facilities, things like that?

RICHARDSON: Well, we kind of categorize it in a couple of different categories, what we call FOB in a Box. So that's your normal living area in Iraq that the soldiers live in. So that's your containerized housing unit, the shower units, you know, the weights in the gym, dining facility, equipment that's all been used for seven years. Most of that will be left in place and transferred over the Iraqis for their use. And they'll fall right in on that equipment and use it for their base life support as well.

RAZ: What will the military absolutely not leave behind?

RICHARDSON: Well, we do not leave any military equipment. So anything that's up-armored or has high electronics value to it, even if it's Humvees, tanks, you know, Bradleys, those types of things, we'll take that, send it across the border or destroy it.

RAZ: Now, once a lot of this material arrives to Kuwait, especially the stuff that has to come back to the United States, back to these Army depots, all of that stuff has to be disinfected, right?

RICHARDSON: It does. So, for example, on a tank, they'll have to pull the tank engine out, wash it. And then you'll have an inspector who comes through, inspects all that equipment before it gets on a ship and sails off. So all that is done in Kuwait after we bring it out of Iraq.

RAZ: And this is to make sure that there's no bacterium or, obviously, any insects or anything on it they wouldn't want to introduce to the United States.

RICHARDSON: Right. Exactly. You know, I've been in the military for 31 years, and every time I've done an overseas either deployment, exercise and all that, you always have to have all your stuff agriculturally cleared and customs cleared before it can come back in the United States.

RAZ: Just from a personal perspective, General Richardson, presumably, this has defined much of your career, Iraq, for the last almost nine years. What are you sort of thinking or feeling right now as the military prepares to depart?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think we've done our job. We've done what everybody's asked us to do, so I feel good about this. You know, it's just not me. I've got a son that's been four rotations to Iraq. Between my two rotations and my son's four, that's a good chunk of our lives associated with just Iraq. So from my perspective, we've done what everybody's asked us to do. Now, it's up to the Iraqis to kind of finish it.

RAZ: So presumably, you're not going to miss Iraq.

RICHARDSON: I'm not sure I could say. I'll - I miss my family as much as everybody else does. I won't miss Iraq. No, I won't. I forged a lot of good friendships in Iraq with some great people. That's what I'll remember from Iraq, mainly is the great people and soldiers I've had the pleasure to associate with in my time here.

RAZ: That's Major General Thomas Richardson. He's the Army's chief logistics officer in Iraq. He spoke to me from Kuwait. General Richardson, thanks so much.

RICHARDSON: Guy, thank you.

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