Stories from The Birmingham News
Alabama Army Guard unit from Birmingham to oversee troop, supply moves across Afghanistan
By Tom Gordon — The Birmingham News
October 26, 2009, 12:30PM
Gen. Reynold Hoover.jpg
Alabama Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Reynold Hoover is commander of the Homewoodbased 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. (Bernard Troncale/Birmingham News) An Alabama Army National Guard unit is about to take on a huge mission that could become even bigger: Overseeing the movement of parts, supplies, food, mail and troops throughout Afghanistan.
About 270 soldiers with the Birmingham-based 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command will have a send-off ceremony on Saturday. They will do a few more weeks of training at Fort Hood, Texas, and are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan in early December.
By that time, they should know if President Obama has decided to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which now already total about 60,000.
If that increase comes, the 135th and the units that will be supporting its mission will have even more on an already crowded plate. They not only will have to get the new troops and their equipment where they need to go, but also keep them supplied once they are there.
"It is a gigantic mission," said the 135th commander, Brig. Gen. Reynold Hoover, a 48-year-old West Point graduate who will be the first one-star general in the Alabama Guard to deploy in either the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
How gigantic a mission? To start with, Afghanistan is five times the size of Alabama. And not counting about 9,000 British troops who have their own supply system, the nearly 100,000 U.S. and other coalition troops now in Afghanistan eat more than 210,000 meals per day. Each month, they also use more than 2 million gallons of fuel and consume more than a million cases of bottled water.
"The very basics of it is bottled water," Hoover said.
"Soldiers need water to drink and . . . they can't go to the local supermarket and buy water. And then at the high end, we have to make sure that the ammunition is there for them to do their mission and then (supply) fuel for the trucks and fuel for the vehicles and then all the spare parts to make sure that all the vehicles continue to run and operate."
The 135th won't be hand delivering the supplies or troops to their final destinations. It will assign a lot of that heavy lifting to several thousand other service members and civilians who will be under its command. Most of those will be soldiers from the Army's 82nd Sustainment Brigade from Fort Bragg, N.C., and from a number of combat support battalions.
"From our headquarters, we're not so focused on getting
you a bottled water," Hoover said. "We're focused on making sure that the theater has bottled water enough for my sustainment brigade and the battalions under them to be able to do that last-mile distribution out to the soldiers."
While its role will be to direct the movements of troops and supplies, the 135th will not be a centrally located group of spreadsheet specialists looking at computer screens.
"We'll have folks all over the theater," said Hoover, a former Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who spent part of his career in Birmingham.
Here, he met and married his FBI agent wife, Lucy Ann. Qualified in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), he also helped investigate the 1989 mail bombing death of U.S. Circuit Judge Robert S. Vance.
A member of the Alabama Guard since 1988, Hoover has commanded its 111th EOD Group, and he also commanded the first Army EOD unit to get into Kuwait City during the first Gulf War. One of that unit's tasks was removing explosives that Saddam Hussein's forces had left on oil wells.
In Afghanistan, some of Hoover's soldiers will have one of the most important jobs in the 135th's mission, what he calls "the mortuary affairs piece."
Simply put, that job involves getting a fallen service member's remains and his personal belongings accounted for, and arranging for those remains to be shipped home.
"We have some very specific timelines and requirements to move our fallen hero remains back to the States," Hoover said. "I will have an officer and some folks . . . in Kuwait helping coordinate that movement . . . and we will have people located throughout the theater who are working specifically mortuary affairs."
Since 9/11, about 75 percent of the Afghanistanbound 135th members have had at least one tour in and around Iraq or Afghanistan. For Hoover, the coming deployment will be his first.