Never before in the history of the U.S. Army have our logisticians been so challenged, and subsequently risen to the occasion so fervently as during the past three years.Following more than a decade of war, a deliberate retrograde, reset, redeployment, redistribution and disposal (R4D) process began in 2012 to move tens of thousands of pieces of equipment out of Afghanistan. December 2014 marked the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, and while equipment still remains in theater in support of the troops there, the vast majority has quietly and successfully reached its postwar destination.Unprecedented in complexity, the retrograde mission required innovation and creativity that could have been accomplished only by a team of highly skilled materiel experts. R4D required that we capitalized on the entire robust logistics network.Success meant accountability of equipment from the factory to the foxhole to final disposition, velocity through the entire process and, ultimately, good stewardship of our nation’s resources. Drawing on lessons learned from the Iraq retrograde, our Army and joint professionals overcame significant challenges to accomplish the mission.A Coordinated EffortAn operation of this size and complexity necessitated seamless collaboration across multiple DoD organizations, including U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC), U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Central, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and 1st Theater Sustainment Command, among others, all in support of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Each organization contributed unique capabilities and strengths to the process.As the Army’s Lead Materiel Integrator, AMC maintained oversight of the entire retrograde effort with tentacles in every phase of the operation. AMC’s subordinate commands and reporting activities executed important missions from transportation to contracting. The command’s Logistics Support Activity managed the systems used to track equipment. The 401st Army Field Support Brigade operated the redistribution property accountability team yards in Afghanistan. Army Contracting Command administered contracts for support needed in theater. Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command coordinated transportation of all equipment out of theater, and U.S. Army Security Assistance Command was involved in Foreign Military Sales cases to divest equipment not being returned to the states. AMC’s role was expansive and critical.USTRANSCOM did the heavy lifting of evaluating transportation and distribution networks to develop the best method of exodus. Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, USTRANSCOM’s Army service component command, moved equipment by land, air and sea. Often using a multimodal approach, the command considered various factors—including velocity, cost and safety—to accomplish the massive mission. USTRANSCOM commander Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva explained, “AMC takes receipt of, prepares and figures out the distribution and ultimate destination of all the cargo coming out of Afghanistan. We actually deliver it to those locations.”U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Central, in support of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, determined in-theater requirements, ensuring warfighters had the equipment they needed at all times throughout the retrograde operation.DLA disposed of battle-damaged materiel, unserviceable or unintended for return to the U.S. The organization’s excess property arm, DLA Disposition Services, facilitated retrograde with innovative stewardship through forward operating base teams that demilitarized scrap on-site to allow local sale of the residue and reduce the number of trucks and soldiers facing ground travel risk. DLA processed over 1.1 billion pounds of scrap through 2014, while regional sales of used and unneeded nonmilitary equipment helped the Afghan economy and returned millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury.Finally, 1st Theater Sustainment Command synchronized efforts across the various units and commands for the drawdown, providing command and control for logistics units in theater. Under their command, the U.S. Central Command Materiel Recovery Element (CMRE) worked tirelessly to sort through equipment, vehicles and containers and properly determine their disposition.Incomparable ChallengesThe retrograde out of Afghanistan was unlike any our Army and our nation had faced before. Our team confronted and overcame monumental challenges moving equipment under enemy fire in one of the world’s harshest environments. Understanding the enormity of the retrograde mission is essential to truly appreciating the success achieved by our dedicated team of professionals.Afghanistan’s terrain presented the primary challenge of the operation. A landlocked country forced the transportation of billions of dollars worth of Army materiel through narrow and winding mountain roads, the vast majority unpaved. Extreme weather conditions presented additional challenges: Soldiers moved equipment to centralized CMRE sorting facilities at Kandahar and Bagram Air fields through freezing winters and sweltering summers.At the beginning of the retrograde mission, the infrastructure was simply not in place to handle the volume and diversity of materiel. Before the equipment could be returned, it had to be prepped—evaluated, washed, often stripped apart and sorted. For example, only two wash racks to custom clean and wash thousands of vehicles were in operation when I visited Afghanistan in January 2012. We quickly remedied the situation and ultimately shortened the retrograde turn-in process from 70 days to four.Unlike the Iraq retrograde, which allowed us to move equipment to a partnering nation in Kuwait where our teams had time to sort and direct access to a seaport for shipping, in Afghanistan we had no partner neighboring nation to stage vehicles and equipment for onward movement. In addition, we had no direct access to a seaport. Equipment had to be moved across difficult land routes using the Northern Distribution Route through unpredictable nations, including Russia, or the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication, which was often closed by Pakistan and frequently faced attack when open. Equipment could be airlifted out—a more expensive option—but sequestration and budget constraints required additional prudence.Afghanistan also required that we retrograde equipment during ongoing combat operations for the first time. The CMRE commander in Afghanistan in 2013, Col. Douglas McBride, called it a culture shift, explaining in a Time magazine article, “If we’re knee-deep in combat operations, the natural tendency is to hold on to materiel for contingency operations, just in case.” Close coordination with U.S. Forces-Afghanistan was crucial in balancing retrograde as an operational mission and priority while continuing to ensure our warfighters had the advantage on the battlefield. Ongoing combat operations also created a volatile environment for logistics professionals, as retrograde convoys were under constant attack and targeting by the enemy.The challenges in Afghanistan were exacerbated by simultaneous requirements for support to contingencies across the globe, including Operation United Assistance in West Africa, countering Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State group in Iraq, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan. Through the myriad obstacles, the materiel and sustainment enterprise executed the retrograde mission while supporting operations on multiple continents and always providing support to warfighters when and where needed.R4D AdvancementsOvercoming the challenges and successfully executing the retrograde mission required new processes and strategies. In addition to the transportation obstacle, several different variants of equipment were in theater as our Army reacted quickly to upgrade our warfighters’ capabilities throughout the war, many of which would not be used again. To address this, we committed early in the operation to identify the most appropriate disposition of each piece of equipment, bringing home what was economically feasible and usable for future operations, selling other equipment to Afghanistan and our allies, or divesting in place.The process required that we inventory equipment in theater, determining the appropriate disposition and prioritizing what was needed for the nation’s future defense—a task largely handled by the newly created CMRE. Then-Brig. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, who served as deputy commander of 1st Theater Sustainment Command in 2013, said it best: “The fact that the CMRE exists speaks to the major difference between the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.”While requiring more work in theater, this new process ensured we remained responsible allies and stewards of our nation’s equipment and resources. Our Afghan partners also benefited from the deliberate process: We left behind only equipment and materiel that Afghan forces had the funds, skills and logistics processes in place to maintain in order to build their forces and strength.We also significantly advanced automation with the Afghanistan retrograde. Working behind the scenes was a highly sophisticated set of tools and applications, managed by the Logistics Support Activity, which allowed the Army to track movement through the entire R4D process.The Logistics Support Activity’s Logistics Information Warehouse provided visibility of equipment, from tracking theater-provided equipment as it was laterally transferred or declared excess, to providing decisions on organizational equipment requiring reset. The Theater-Provided Equipment Planner within the warehouse automated the lateral transfer, redistribution and disposition process. The Decision Support Tool within the warehouse managed the accountability and location of all cargo and created a transportation requirement, smoothing the retrograde process. Selva noted, “That single tool alone is worth its weight in gold.”All stakeholders in the materiel and sustainment community have unprecedented visibility of equipment, saving valuable time and resources. The systems behind the effort were pivotal in the success of the mission.Reducing the LoadWhile equipment remains in Afghan-istan in support of Operation Resolute Support, our logistics experts have moved tons of materiel worth billions of dollars—from communications devices, generators and cots, to ammunition, vehicles and helicopters—across mountains and seas. Since 2012, we’ve closed more than 795 NATO bases and moved or disposed of around 44,000 vehicles and more than 107,000 containers full of all types of equipment.In all, the retrograde of equipment will cost the U.S. less than the $5.7 billion initially estimated in 2012. Our military will have moved more than 13 years’ worth of accumulated gear, much of it heavy armored vehicles and equipment, halfway across the world in a dangerous and exceedingly complicated environment for less than half of what UPS spent in transportation expenses in a single year.This herculean effort was accomplished only through the efforts of absolute military professionals and Army logistical experts. Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson recently said, “The comparative advantage of the U.S. military is in logistics and sustainment.” This monumental operation demonstrated the advancements and incredible capabilities of our U.S. Army materiel enterprise.