You can’t deploy a large military force thousands of miles from home without some serious attention to feeding, watering and clothing them, slapping band-aids on their boo-boos and keeping them in bullets, body armor and parts for their trucks and helicopters. Logistics might be boring, but they are very very important and usually neglected in the press and when it comes time to hand out medals. Of the 1,200 Australian and New Zealand troops patrolling East Timor, more than 200 are dedicated logisticians: mechanics, truck drivers, engineers, supply officers, etc. That might seem light compared to large U.S. formations, which often have as many logisticians as trigger-pullers.
But the military “logie” types are only half the story. Like the U.S. in Iraq and especially Great Britain, Australia has farmed out a lot of the routine and back-end logistical functions to a private company: in this case Patrick Defence Logistics operating out of Darwin in northern Australia. PDL manages barge runs loaded with water, food and fuel; and daily flights with chartered Bombardier Dash-8s carrying people, mail and priority spare parts. When the battlegroup needs something built – something that isn’t a fighting position or a barbed-wire obstacle, that is – PDL hires local contractors to get it done. PDL even has a subcontractor that manages the battlegroup’s hospital.
Now, weapons, ammo and some of the specialized parts for choppers still come through military channels – but only as far as Darwin. Even these PDL hauls on its barges or Dash-8s bound for Dili. In short, Diggers (as Aussie soldiers are called) would be screwed without their civilian logies.
This is good and bad. Good because private firms are often nimbler and can, in some cases, be cheaper than dedicated military supply organizations, especially for “operations other than war” in places where the threat level isn’t too high. Bad because, as seen with myriad U.S. contractors in Iraq, leaving your logistics to for-profit firms opens the barn door for all kinds of abuse and corruption. The trick is to have uniformed officers minding the contractors, auditing their books and making sure they’re delivering the goods at real value: something the Aussies in Timor say they’re doing. There are several officers in the battlegroup headquarters whose jobs it is to keep an eye on the civilian logies.