Feeding, equipping, and moving troops: Logistics on Operation UNIFIER

Building-sized containers in a row
Joint Task Force-Ukraine Combat Support Services compound houses “Seacan alley” that stores the majority of the JTF-U supplies, Starychi, Ukraine. March 09, 2018. Photo by Cpl N. Clarkson, © 2018 DND-MDN Canada

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By: Captain S.F. Turner, Joint Task Force-Ukraine (JTF-U) Contracts Officer, Rotation 4*

What comes to mind when you think about what it takes for a training and mentorship operation to succeed? You need skilled soldiers, to be sure. But how are those soldiers equipped? How are they fed? How do they move around to different locations?

For an operation to succeed, you need a strong network of talented and dedicated logisticians.

In 2014, in the face of instability in Ukraine, Canada took a number of measures to offer assistance. A large component of this is Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s military contribution to training the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

Operation UNIFIER is evolving from a centralized mission—primarily focused on training based out of the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Yavoriv—to a “Hub and Spoke” mission with operations occurring at multiple centres throughout Ukraine. These changes, along with other idiosyncrasies inherent to operating in Ukraine, have created a challenging and exciting mission for our logisticians to sustain.

There are different levels of combat service support for the approximately 200 troops deployed on this operation. A group of 22 personnel from Garrison Petawawa are responsible for supply, transport, movements, maintenance, contracts, ammunition, and food services. Members of 3 Canadian Support Unit and the Operational Support Hub in Germany provide support for more complex requirements. Sustainment flights occur on average once every two months. This means that the logisticians need to plan far ahead and rely heavily on local resources for support.

These local resources come from agreements with Ukraine, contracts with industry, and local procurement. Doing business with Ukrainian companies has proven to be very different than in Canada. For one thing, the Canadian contracts are based upon Canadian laws, not Ukrainian. Ukrainian businesspeople also highly value doing business with people who they trust. It is therefore imperative that business be conducted face-to-face.

Providing the task force with its supplies has also proven different than in Canada. The supply section continually adapts to what is happening in the local industry. For instance, a store could run out of commonly purchased items, or the prices could fluctuate with the value of the national currency (the Hryvnia). The supply section is kept very busy with ensuring a reliable supply of goods while maintaining materiel accountability. As the task force decentralizes, getting supplies to the right place at the right time will mean more reliance on local procurement and continued oversight on Task Force holdings.

A small team of three provides transportation and movement support. They are responsible for managing the task force’s fleet of military and rental vehicles, refueling the camp, receiving and retrograding shipments, and postal services. With the mentoring and training of Ukrainian troops occurring more and more outside of IPSC, the reliance on rental vehicles has overshadowed our supply of green fleet vehicles.

Food services are primarily provided through the Host Nation Agreement. JTF-U has an embedded kitchen officer responsible for ensuring food quality meets Canadian standards. In addition to this task, our kitchen officer has made excellent progress in mentoring and advising the Ukrainian cooks. New initiatives such as North American meal nights and a 21-day menu cycle have improved the skills of the Ukrainian kitchen staff and boosted the morale of JTF-U’s soldiers.

The logisticians on Operation UNIFIER have the unique challenge of not only sustaining a mission, but also enabling reform within Ukraine.

For example, an ammunition technician is teaching NATO ammunition storage procedures at the Odessa Military Academy. A weapons technician is also exchanging knowledge about the repair of AFU weapons with his Ukrainian counterparts. Another example is the head of the logistics team delivering a presentation on the Department of National Defence supply chain and Canadian Armed Forces support structure to the Ukrainian general staff senior logistics officers. Working alongside the AFU while providing world-class combat service support to our own mission gives Ukrainian soldiers the opportunity to pick up on our methods of sustainment, making them a more effective force on operations.

*Rotation 4 of Operation UNIFIER has now returned home. Their work is now being continued by Rotation 5.

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