Soldier uses radio frequency technology to track Army shipments worldwide
By Teresa Mikulsky Purcell
FOTF: What do you do in the Army?
LEONARD: I recently returned from Afghanistan, where I was responsible for logistical tracking of all Army shipments in and out of the war theater, including Southwest Asia. I managed 221 Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) read sites and 477 write sites. RFID tags are powered sensors that are attached to Army shipments, allowing us to track items as they transit through the Defense Transportation System. We have the ability to “write” data on the tags, telling us what the containers hold, and “read” (or scan) them at various locations worldwide. As the lead government representative for PD AMIS in Southwest Asia, I was the liaison between leadership on the ground and our headquarters in Alexandria, Va. I was also responsible for training Soldiers and leaders on the use of the Remote Frequency In-transit Visibility Server (RF-ITV), the system used to track inbound and outbound shipments.
FOTF Editor’s Note: RFID isn’t new technology; you’ve seen the tags on DVDs and other items you buy. They are being used more and more commercially, and the Army is effectively using the technology to manage its assets. All other military branches also use the Army’s RFID tracking system.
FOTF: Why is your job important?
LEONARD: My job gives combatant commanders and logisticians the capability to track and determine the last known location for their shipments. Previous liaison officers had been posted in Kuwait, but I requested to be posted in Afghanistan because the center of gravity of the war shifted from Iraq. Based on the Presidential mandate to reduce the force to 68,000 troops by Sept. 15 of this year, the PD AMIS program manager decided that the logistics involved in reaching that number and meeting the RFID infrastructure requirements of the combatant commanders warranted a full-time liaison in Afghanistan. Because of the lack of infrastructure in Afghanistan (e.g., roads), I needed to be embedded in-theater to provide government support to the commanders and contractors so all of the logistics tracking could be effectively carried out. By the way, we did meet the troop reduction mandate on schedule.
FOTF: What has your experience been like?
LEONARD: I visited all 88 RFID read and write sites in Afghanistan and discovered that they need two things to keep them running: power and communications. Those requirements are crucial so that information can be uploaded via satellites or local networks to the RF-ITV national server. On any given day or time, a number of sites could be down, and trying to keep them running in austere environments at remote locations with little infrastructure and security concerns, is a great challenge. Supporting the field service engineers is critical. There were times when the backlog was serious enough that I had to fly out to a forward operating base to be the liaison between the engineers and the commander. Luckily, we have the finest field service engineers anyone could ask for, and the credit goes to them for doing an amazing job.
FOTF: Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
LEONARD: I joined the Army because I wanted to serve my country and lead Soldiers. My greatest satisfaction comes from knowing I helped improve the operational readiness state of the RFID network in Afghanistan from 95 to 99 percent. That may not seem like a lot, but the Army needs to know exactly where its supplies are at all times. Every operational improvement, no matter how small, contributes to mission success.
FOTF: What’s next for you?
LEONARD: Since returning from Afghanistan, I’ve been managing a program to track 14,000 of the Army’s new T-11 parachutes. Believe it or not, Army parachutes have been tracked by individual, hand-written log books since 1943. If an inventory is required, each parachute and log book had to be pulled manually. We’re now automating the tracking system, using passive RFID tags. We’re in the process of capturing all of the historical data in the log books into a database so that future inventory activities will be much more efficient.
FOTF: Tell us a little about your personal interests and how they dovetail with your work.
LEONARD: Before I was deployed to Afghanistan, I was going to run in the Boston Marathon. I had run it twice before, and since I wasn’t stateside to participate this year, I decided be a part of the Military Shadow Run in Bagram. I trained every morning with some good runners. The snow and wind were a real challenge along with adjusting to the altitude in Afghanistan, which is 5,000 feet above sea level. The race started at 3 a.m. on April 16, and a few of us got lost and had to run an additional two miles to get back on course, but we finished, and my adjusted time was 2:15. I’m currently on the Army 10-Mile team at Fort Belvoir, Va., and I try to run at least two marathons a year. Physical fitness is one of the Army’s tenets, and this activity keeps me in shape.
For more information on PD AMIS, visit http://www.tis.army.mil/.
- “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.