Amazon vs USMC?

War Zone Equipment Delivery can get Complicated

There is no Amazon next day delivery available.  A USMC convoy is the next best thing when it absolutely has to get there overnight.

Helping a small marble factory purchase one manual marble grinder seemed simple enough.  The owner asked the local PRT and Marines if they would help purchase small marble grinding machine.  The factory was producing concrete floor tiles impeded with chips of marble left over from the marble polishing operations.  A simple inexpensive and attractive product for local homeowners and offices.  Concrete would be poured into a series of 12×12 inch forms and marble chips pressed into the concrete before hardening.  A worker would then use a polishing machine to grind the surface smooth.  With a second polishing machine the owner could double production.  The increase in production would employ a few more people at the factory and 10 or 20 more in town laying the tiles.  The owner wanted a basic polisher similar to the one in operation.  This wasn’t as simple as it sounds.

Alexander the Great
Fort built by Alexander the Great on the Helmand River near Lashkar Gah.

The only place where there is older equipment than used in the marble factory in Afghanistan!


Marble cutter.

Large block of marble from mine being cut down into slabs.

Polishing tiles
Primitive but effective.
stacked marble chipped tiles
Tiles stacked for processing.

The polisher in operation was a relic of earlier times.  If I had a do-over I would have built one rather than attempt to find one commercially available.  We located a similar machine from a manufacturer in China.  Cost of the machine and three months of grinding consumables was $19,000.  The ultimate cost of transporting the equipment from China to southern Afghanistan was another $6,500.  Purchasing this one item required the same amount of paperwork as a million dollar purchase through government contracting.

Polishing equipment
Polishing process on antique equipment.

Marble bowls

Ever wondered who made all those marble bowls and ashtrays?

This cost didn’t include my time or hitching a ride with a Marine convoy along with a specialized crane for unloading.

Hard to enforce INCOTERMS at destination.

The equipment was shipped by truck from China to Camp Leatherneck.  Just getting it onto the base was difficult with all the security measures in place.  They had to find me among the probably 15,000 military and civilians working on base.  I didn’t have a postal address.  The grinder was finally placed on the ground at our living compound.  All 650 pounds of it sat in the field next to the compound until I could arrange for transportation to the factory.  Where was Amazon when I needed them?

Things get complicated at this point.  I arranged a spot on the next Marine convoy going to Lashkar Gah.  I would travel with the Marines to facilitate co-operation at the marble factory.  After the previous challenges with delivery of the parts for the cotton factory the Marines included a mobile crane for this delivery.  The polisher wasn’t the only cargo.  Much of the cargo were supplies destined for the British base at Lashkar Gah.

Things don’t always go as planned when delivering equipment in a war zone.

The original plan was to deliver the grinder directly to the factory.  The shipper local connection couldn’t find or didn’t want to find the factory location.  It was much easier to stop at Camp Leatherneck next to the ring road.  Unlike Amazon it is a little more difficult to return items or complain about delivery in a war zone.

Keep this issue in mind when delivering equipment to remote locations.  See INCOTERMS

Using USMC for deliveries!

Even Amazon will tell you the last few miles of any delivery are the most complicated.  This was the last 60 Kilometers.  The convoy was scheduled to leave at dawn from Camp Leatherneck.  Dawn departure meant we attended a pre-trip brief around 0400 or 4 AM.  I was assigned to ride in one of the armor vehicles near the back of the convoy.

The new grinder loaded on flatbed for convoy to Lashkar Gah
The new grinder loaded on flatbed for convoy to Lashkar Gah

Next time I’ll take the helicopter.

The trip took nearly 4 hours for the 60 kilometers. The small 4 passenger compartment was air conditioned but with the machine gunner open to the outside the compartment remained hot and dusty the entire trip.  We had stops and detours for suspected IEDs along the route.  I couldn’t see much but on one occasion the Marines had to stop local police from using his rifle to shoot the suspected package in the road.   A practical way to detonate it but not the safest.  On another occasion the local police walked out and calmly picked up a suspicious case of bottled water that fell off a truck onto the road.  Fortunately, no real IEDs this trip.  Six months later when our agriculture expert took a similar convoy an IED did go off under the vehicle behind his killing the occupants.

Mine protection for war zone delivery
Note the IED/mine protection on front of flatbed.

Who has the map?  Marines get lost!

On arrival at Lashkar Gah base several of the vehicles split off with me, the polisher, and the crane to make the final journey through town to the factory.  We ended up at the cotton factory because the Marines had been there before.  Unfortunately, no one had discussed the location of the marble factory.  I knew it was nearby but couldn’t locate it looking out the small armor windows of the vehicle and didn’t have the coordinates.  I wanted to get out and speak with the cotton factory manager but the Marines were too concerned with security.  They evidently knew something I didn’t and weren’t sharing.

Equipment delivery equipment
Special equipment needed for loading and unloading in delivery of equipment.

The polisher ended this journey back at the British based to be delivered later when security wasn’t an issue.  Eventually the local PRT did get the polisher delivered.  The factory manager complained that it wasn’t the same as the antique currently in production but managed to put it to good use.  Can’t begin to estimate the actual cost of transportation and delivery.  It would have been much less expensive to depend on local delivery services than utilize a Marine convoy.

See the value of local partner blog.

Building and delivering equipment in a war zone.

Construction and sustainment of a produce packing house in Marjeh was more complicated and much bigger challenge.

Copyright 2016 MEA Trading, LLC.

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