Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. It honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
FreightWaves salutes all the men and women who have served in the U.S. military, and honors all those who have died in the service of our nation.
The history of military logistics in the modern world does not go back very far. Until the 17th century, most armies lived off the land, taking what they wanted and laying waste to the rest, a cruel and wasteful practice.
In the Thirty Years War, Sweden’s Gustavus Adolphus attempted to coordinate supplies in order to eliminate looting and win the “hearts and minds of the people,” but was only partially successful. Imperial General Wallenstein, his opponent, was able to establish munitions magazines and depots that fed and clothed Imperial troops. Imperial transportation was handled by contractors, a common practice until the end of the 18th century.
At the end of the 17th century, most standing armies had a wagonmaster in their military organizations. In 1645, a “Waggon-Master-General” was appointed to the New Model Army in England.
The British Commissary General was responsible for arranging transportation throughout the 18th century. This was the heritage that the new Continental Anny adopted during the War of Independence. A quartermaster general became the chief supply officer and transportation officer of the Continental Army. However, the 18th century version of quartermaster was very different from today’s definition, because the quartermaster was not a supply officer; rather the chief of staff responsible for operational requirements.
“Where are the men? Where are the provisions? Where are the Cloaths?”
– George Washington to Gouverneur Morris,
December 10, 1780
(Photo: U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center)
In “Spearhead of Logistics” authors Benjamin King, Richard C. Biggs and Eric R. Criner wrote: “Today’s U.S. Army Transportation Corps has proved itself a winner on every battlefield and peacekeeping operation since its establishment in 1942. However, Army transportation began with the birth of the Quartermaster function in the Army in 177 6 and continued in that role until World War I. In every war of the 18th and 19th centuries, a corps of transporters was created from whole cloth to meet the Army’s transportation needs, and after each conflict, it was disbanded. Routine transportation matters were assumed by contractors supervised by the Quartermaster Department. In the First World War, the responsibility for military transportation was combined in the hands of a single group of specialists dedicated to the mission of transporting the myriad of requirements of a modern army from the manufacturer to the soldier in his foxhole.”
Whether it is the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force or U.S. Coast Guard, logistics are critical for the men and women of these service branches to accomplish their myriad missions.
San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans, joined by the Royal Australian Navy’s Anzac-class frigate HMAS Parramatta, the French Navy’s amphibious assault helicopter carrier FS Tonnerre and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Ōsumi class tank landing ship JS Ōsumi, transit together during exercise Jeanne D’Arc 21 off the coast of Kagoshima, Japan, May 14, 2021. (Photo: USMC/Lance Cpl. Justin J. Marty)
The officer-only Logistics branch of the U.S. Army was introduced as part of the creation of a Logistics Corps encompassing the three long-established functional logistics branches of Quartermaster, Ordnance and Transportation. Established on January 1, 2008, all Active, Reserve and National Guard Ordnance, Quartermaster and Transportation Corps officers who had completed the Logistics Captains Career Course or earlier versions of an advanced logistics officers course were transferred to the new branch.
A convoy of U.S. Army vehicles. (Photo: Association of U.S. Army)
The Navy Supply Corps is the U.S. Navy staff corps focused on supply, logistics, combat support, readiness, contracting and fiscal matters.
Supply Corps officers are found throughout the Navy and Department of Defense. Typically they are assigned to an operational command’s or shore activity’s supply department, or to a supply unit or command, such as Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Groups, Fleet Logistics Centers or Navy Special Warfare Logistics Groups, which support the U.S. Navy SEALs.
The official motto of the Supply Corps is “Ready for Sea” – reflecting the Supply Corps’ long-standing role in sustaining warfighting.
U.S. Marine Corps
The Marine Corps Logistics Command began in a canvas tent on the grounds of the Philadelphia Naval base that served as a Marine Corps supply depot in 1798.
In 1804, the depot was assigned a function that was to become one of its main tasks for the next 158 years. The Secretary of the Navy designated the depot an “establishment in barracks for the making and mending of clothes” for Marines.
For the next 100 years, clothing manufacturing was carried out in the barracks aboard the Naval Base and in a building in downtown Philadelphia. Work was contracted out to local tailors, as well as distributed to local housewives, who made it into uniforms in their own homes.
Marines load a USMC helicopter. (Photo: USMC/Staff Sgt. Frans Labranche)
In 1908, the Marine Corps Supply Activity was established. In 1917-18 it outfitted/equipped 36 expeditionary units, including four regiments of 4,000 men each for service in Europe.
World War II witnessed a significant expansion of the Supply Activity’s capability and responsibility. Throughout the conflict, more than 6,000 employees worked around the clock making uniforms, tents, tent poles, lockers and bunks.
After World War II, the activity supported Marines in Korea, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. During this period, the historic clothing manufacturing function of the activity was transferred to a Department of Defense agency that procured uniforms for all military services.
In 1952, an installation was established in Albany, Georgia. In 1954, the command was renamed the Marine Corps Supply Center Albany, managing supplies at storage/issue locations in the eastern U.S., the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
In 1978, the name was changed to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. The entire spectrum of logistics support functions required to sustain Marine Corps weapons systems and equipment was performed here.
In 1999 the Headquarters, Marine Corps Materiel Command (MATCOM) was established in Albany. MATCOM combined the acquisition and sustainment capabilities to provide the most effective materiel lifecycle management of ground weapon systems. In 2003, the MATCOM headquarters was merged with the Albany Base headquarters to establish Marine Corps Logistics Command.
The Marine Corps Logistics Command executes its global mission with a specific objective: “to ensure that Marines in harm’s way have every measure of logistical support to accomplish their mission.”
(Photo: US Air Force Logistics Readiness Facebook page)
U.S. Air Force
The heritage of Air Force Materiel Command goes back to 1917 at McCook Field, an experimental engineering facility in Dayton, Ohio. When the U.S. Air Service was formed in 1918, the organization was named the Engineering Division and it included responsibility for the Air Corps’ logistics functions. It was renamed the Air Corps Materiel Division in 1926. The largest Air Corps branch, it was responsible for “all aircraft and equipment research, development, procurement, maintenance, supply and flight tests.”
During World War II the research, development and logistics functions were separated, but were brought back together during the late 1940s under the Air Materiel Command (AMC). The Air Research and Development Command became a separate organization in 1950. AMC was renamed Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) in 1961; the Air Research and Development Command was given responsibility for weapon system acquisition and was renamed Air Force Systems Command (AFSC).
AFLC and AFSC were combined in 1992 to form Air Force Materiel Command, a single organization with an expanded mission. It combined AFLC’s expertise in providing worldwide logistics support, including weapons system maintenance, modification and overhaul, and AFSC’s science, technology, research, development and testing expertise.
AFMC controls about one-third of the USAF budget. It supports nine host bases and is responsible for the Air Force’s medical and test pilot schools. About 87,000 Air Force men and women are assigned to AFMC.
U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Logistics Directorate is responsible for acquisition, sustainment and contingency/ surge logistics for the service branch. The development and procurement of systems/assets throughout the asset’s life cycle is the responsibility of acquisition logistics. The refinement of supply and maintenance support, anomaly investigation, technical information support and personnel support (training) are among the responsibilities of sustainment logistics. Contingency logistics supports the requirements of dealing with natural or man-made emergencies that threaten lives, property, the environment, national security or other national interests.
“Victory is the beautiful, bright colored flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.”
– Sir Winston Spencer Churchill