Inside Logistics

Supply Chain Canada: Herculean task for Operation ATHENA

Canadian Forces undertakes major logistics operation before leaving Afghanistan


Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle System (AHSVS) is loaded onto an ANTONOV 124-100M aircraft for return to Canada at Kandahar Airfield

May 17, 2012
by Carolyn Gruske

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario: After ten years in Afghanistan, the main mission for the Canadian Forces finally concluded in 2011, but leaving the country wasn’t as simple as putting the troops on a plane back to Canada.

A decade’s worth of equipment and supplies had to be accounted for, evaluated, and either disposed of or shipped home. The responsibility for that task fell to The Mission Closure Unit (MCU). The MCU was component of the Mission Transition Task Force that was primarily responsible for the logistics of closing Operation ATHENA.

MCU commanding officer Colonel Virginia Tattersall presented a keynote speech at Supply Chain Canada’s 45th Annual Conference and Trade Show and gave the audience some insight into the scope of the task.

“I started the planning in September 2009, was nominated as commanding officer in 2010, so I did all the planning at the Ottawa level, then got to repeat all the planning at the unit level to actually get ready to deploy soldiers in mid-April 2011. So for me it seemed like this was a never-ending task, but for my solders, it seemed like it went by like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.

“Although if you talk to them, they’ll tell you it was like Groundhog Day every single day in Afghanistan because they did the same tasks over and over.”

She had a team of 1,600 under her command who not only counted every item “once, twice, thrice”, but sorted and checked all items to ensure their condition was such that they could be re-used, and therefore worth returning to Canada.

Although they’re not conventional measurements by any means, her staff calculated they had 132 football fields of equipment to ship back, and that they applied 51km of barcodes to the returning items. They repatriated 245 aircraft loads by CC-177 (C-17 Globemaster IIIs), 62 aircraft loads by CC-130Js (Hercules) and 184 aircraft loads by ANTONOVs sent through both Cyprus and Kuwait.

The Forces also shipped 2,700 sea containers, some of which became part of a national news story, as they were found to have been pilfered and returned to Canada carrying rocks and sand.

“We did have a small percentage of the containers that made it back that were broken into, but it was about 0.4 percent, which is about the average the Alllies experienced, so it wasn’t really that big a deal. Losses are acceptable and you have to realize there is a certain degree of that.”

Not all of the Forces’ sea containers are home. Some are still waiting for the Pakistan border to open so they can be transported over land to the nearest port.

Not only did the MCU have to clean up equipment, it was was responsible for performing an environmental clean-up on all of the Canadian bases.

“We wanted to ensure above all, Canadians left on a high note—well regarded by our Allies—and that we didn’t leave a giant garbage dump with a Canadian flag on it,” she said.