MICHELE NORRIS, host:
As the military prepares to ramp up in Afghanistan, it's getting ready to withdraw from Iraq. The top U.S. commander, General Ray Odierno, said plans are on schedule to start that withdrawal in May of next year. But months before troops start coming home, the effort to move massive amounts of equipment is already underway, that means everything from tanks to telephones, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
COREY FLINTOFF: With characteristic understatement, General Odierno acknowledged that he is facing a problem that's bigger than just putting troops on a plane.
General RAY ODIERNO (U.S. Commander, Iraq): Because I will admit that we have six years worth of stuff that we've gathered here as the U.S. military.
FLINTOFF: Much of that stuff is inventoried at the giant Balad military base, north of Baghdad. The officer who is coordinating big parts of the move is Colonel Gust Pagonis.
Colonel GUST PAGONIS (Logistics Coordinator, U.S. Military): Imagine if you never went through your garage or attic for seven years. Well, that's kind of where we are in Iraq.
FLINTOFF: Actually, imagine that instead of broken lawnmowers, your garage accumulated machinery like this.
(Soundbite of engine)
Specialist RONNIE WILLIAMS (U.S. Army): This thing weighs 58,500 pounds.
FLINTOFF: This thing is called an MRAP, for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. It's the big, armored truck that was developed to protect soldiers from roadside bombs. And the military now has thousands of them in Iraq.
(Soundbite of hammer)
FLINTOFF: Specialist Ronnie Williams, an Army engineer is dwarfed by his ride.
Spec. WILLIAMS: I drove a Ford Explorer before truck here - felt like five times as big as my little baby Ford Explorer.
FLINTOFF: Quite a bit more than five times bigger, actually. Williams could drive his Explorer out of Iraq. The thousands of MRAPs will have to be carried out on flat-bed trucks. But the MRAPs are probably among the last things that will have to be moved. Colonel Pagonis' problem right now is sorting out equipment that's no longer needed and figuring out what to do with it.
Col. PAGONIS: And so that's really what we're going after right now, is getting all that extra stuff out, because most of it is good stuff, and we could use it the next time our nation calls upon us.
FLINTOFF: And then, there's the not-so-good stuff.
Col. PAGONIS: You know, eight-year-old computers that you can't buy repair parts for anymore, maybe we don't move that. And that's - it's got to be looked at in each individual case.
FLINTOFF: In all, military logistics teams will have to move an estimated 1.5 million pieces of gear taken from some 300 bases around the country. Some of the equipment will go to the Iraqi military, but that's a process that's above Pagonis' pay grade.
Col. PAGONIS: Making sure that what the Iraqis want is something that we are able to give them - because we have a lot of rules on what we're allowed to give and what we're not allowed to give.
(Soundbite of machine)
FLINTOFF: In the meantime, a lot of gears are already on the move. Captain Jason Vivian runs the yard where the equipment is loaded up.
Captain JASON VIVIAN (U.S. Military): We're looking in an LMTV which is a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle. It's getting picked up by Terex. It's going to loaded on through this flatbed for movement to its next destination.
FLINTOFF: The Terex crane picks up the armored truck like it was a baby brontosaurus and deposits it so gently on the flatbed that you can't hear its tires touch down. The truck's destination might be Afghanistan, if it is needed there, or it might be on its way back to the States to be reconditioned and rebuilt. Vivian is one of about 18,000 people who work on the military's sustainment and logistics programs. Their problem, says Pagonis, is compounded by the fact that there is still around a 100,000 American troops in Iraq.
Col. PAGONIS: And they still have to eat, they still have to get fuel. They still have to - all the stuff that goes along with supporting soldiers.
FLINTOFF: For now at least, the colonel isn't pulling his hair out. The timetable is based on President Obama's mandate to have combat troops out of the country by September, and General Odierno's take on whether the country is secure enough after the national elections.
Gen. ODIERNO: And then when they tell us that its time to send the rest home, we'll get the rest out of here.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
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