Dexter Jennings demonstrates how the larger crates open, allowing Soldiers easier access to the contents. (Photo by Shawn Nesaw, CCDC Chemical Biological Center)
Readiness is the U.S. Army’s top priority. For the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Chemical Biological Center, readiness takes many forms, one of which is supporting the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Command.
Recently, the Center, in collaboration with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) and Pine Bluff Arsenal (PBA) embarked on an effort to provide consumable materials in a more reliable, organized way to support the 20th CBRNE Command.
Previously, the 20th CBRNE Command procured supplies through local purchases or supply systems which posed a host of issues for obtaining materials, the least of which meant competing with nationwide first responders for available inventory of highly advanced, limited quantity items. Warfighters would wait weeks, even months to receive some items.
The 20th CBRNE turned to the JPEO-CBRND for help in obtaining the equipment and commercial support products needed for the unit’s various missions. This request ultimately led to the effort, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Mission Configurable Loads (MCL). For support in this effort, JPEO-CBRND called upon the CCDC Chemical Biological Center and its proven record of excellence regarding military packaging.
Military packaging requirements are stringent. They require expertise to ensure not only the Army’s requirements are met but that items packed can withstand various modes of transportation in the military distribution systems, survive a wide range of storage time frames, stand up to varying environmental conditions, and can be accessed easily by the end user.
The Army relies on seven prepare-and-design activities to manage all its packaging and shipping needs. One of those seven activities is located at the Center. Known as the Packaging Handling, Storing & Transportation (PHS&T) Branch, it’s the Army’s only prepare-and-design activity specializing in chemical and biological packaging.
The Devil is in the Details
Execution of the project was initiated, coordinated and managed by JPEO-CBRND, but as of May 2019, Joint Product Leader for Rapid Acquisition, Integration and Fielding (JPL-RAIF) assumed the lead for the project. The project is being approached in four phases — planning, procurement, packing and shipping.
One of the key tasks conducted to get this effort started was to form an integrated product team (IPT) of pertinent stakeholders across the CBRN community. This IPT, in addition to personnel from the Center, PBA, and the 20th CBRNE Command, included representatives from the TACOM Lifecycle Management Command and the Defense Logistics Agency, among others.
Planning for the packaging, preparing load plans, and assembling technical data documentation were the key responsibilities of the Center’s team. Early on, warfighters from each 20th CBRNE unit listed the consumable materials they require for their unique missions based on their operational needs and shelf life. Once the lists were refined and agreed upon, the Center’s packaging specialists got to work scrubbing through the list of over 200 items to determine how exactly they would package everything.
While the team has plenty of advanced technology at their fingertips, their brainstorming started classically, on a chalk board. Sketches, calculations, ideas and more covered the 15-foot office chalk board from top to bottom.
“Here is where we really figured things out from the ground up,” Jorge Christian, packaging specialist said. “Once we got all our ideas down we started refining the concepts and were able to hone in on the best plan, making sure every item was not only accounted for, but packed in a strategic way so the warfighter could access it easily.”
Items included everything from office supplies like pens and tape to specialized suits and hard–to-find technology. Each item was looked at from a variety of regulations to ensure it was packaged in the proper container and at the proper level in the container.
“Personal protective equipment (PPE), worn by warfighters when chemical or biological agent threats are apparent, have inspection guidelines we had to consider when designing the load plans,” said Dexter Jennings, HAZMAT Certifier. “If we placed all the PPEs at the bottom of a container with other things that didn’t have inspection guidelines, a warfighter would have to dig through the container every time an inspection was scheduled. We made sure items with inspection guidelines were grouped and easy to access.”
One challenge the team faced was how to segregate HAZMAT items from non-HAZMAT items. Jennings managed the packing plans for all HAZMAT-related materials during the effort.
“Complying with regulations alone was a huge effort,” Jennings said. “HAZMAT has a set of strict regulations we needed to adhere to. We identified, referenced and planned properly, then determined where they would fit into the larger load plans puzzle.”
Once the team had their plans in place, Mike Holt, Center Engineering Drawing Development Branch chief, built out layered drawings called load plans from the biggest container to the smallest.
“The load plans show how each box is configured and gives the assembly team at PBA their guidebook for packing the containers properly,” said David Vincitore, Center supervisory packaging specialist.
Once the plans were in place, it was up to the team to develop a clear and concise labeling system anyone could follow. “It’s hard to say which stage of planning was more important than another but the label planning was up there,” Vincitore said. “We’re not going to be on the ground when these containers are unloaded from the trucks halfway around the world, so if we missed the mark on these labels, it would greatly impact all the hard work we put in elsewhere.”
The labels had to be easy to read and interpret, and robust enough to handle environmental conditions when stored outside. To accomplish this, the team developed a labeling code consisting of numbers, letters and colors. Each element of the label, references a specific part of the container. Colors help minimize mix ups as well. All the green kits go together, for example.
Once the load plans were complete and approved, the team could assemble the baseline container set which would serve as a practice run to confirm the load plans and allow the team to make minor changes if necessary. The baseline also served as the example from which all other containers for each of the four teams would be based.
As a designated joint service logistics center of excellence for CBRN, Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, was selected to complete the assembly piece of the effort.
Assembly of the crates depends on two major parts – procurement of all 200-plus items and physically assembling the containers with all the items designated for each unit.
To do this, once the baseline containers are complete, a team at PBA, led by project manager Jordan Freer, will assemble the containers specific to each unit, following the load plans to a tee.
“We’ll take our time on the first few containers to make sure we work all the kinks out with the Center’s team, but once the baseline is solid, we’ll assemble the rest of the kits quickly,” Freer said. “We have past performance experience with efforts similar to this. Due to that experience and our team’s flexibility, we’re able to confidently support the warfighter’s needs.”
The team is looking for ways to expedite parts of the assembly process through “pre-kitting.”
“Some items from the list, like batteries, are easy to get so once we procure all the batteries on site per the load plans, we will package all the batteries accordingly and check batteries off the list,” said Freer.
Pre-kitting could pose issues logistically so the team is careful how much pre-kitting they do.
“We’re pre-kitting to a point,” Christian said. “But what we won’t do is send out partial containers to teams and then have to send additional shipments to complete the effort. That would defeat our entire plan in terms of ease of access and ease of use over time,” Christian continued.
The timeline for completion of the effort is fluid for now as procurement of some items is a challenge.
“Some of the items like personal protection equipment suits, medical items and infrared chemical lights, are hard to come by or are on a production timeline by the company who produces them that doesn’t mesh with our needs timeline,” Vincitore said.
Mission Support Readiness
“Our team, both here at the Center and at PBA, are perfectly suited to support the mission,” said Christian. “This is definitely a true team effort in which we work together with all the stakeholders to address the particular challenges of this project. Like so many things we do here, this effort has been a truly collaborative one. We have a unique capability that has been proven through the years, to be effective in terms of packaging and design, but also defining the configurations which prove effective for future acquisition.”
The team has a track record that has been effective in competitive acquisition and in terms of sustainment.
“When this all goes according to plan, which we are confident with, and a client comes back asking for more kits, we’ll be the team that everyone leans on to get the job done right. We’re setting a precedent for future packaging efforts,” Christian said.
“This isn’t a one-shot-and-we’re-done type of project either,” Jennings said. “We are anticipating this effort is going to help sustain and facilitate future procurement of these kits.”
Those future efforts may also incorporate augmented reality (AR) into the mix, an area in which ADM is already at the forefront.
“The technical documents may be translated into an augmented reality program that allows the user to don AR glasses and navigate through the containers virtually,” Vincitore said.
The team hopes to have everything onsite at PBA this fall and aims to ship the first crates to warfighters a few months later.