Army Training Centers Enlist RFID to Help Track Uniforms

The Fort Leonard Wood Recruit Training Center (RTC), in Missouri, is the first of three U.S. Army recruit training center to adopt a radio frequency identification system to manage items for uniforms it receives from a warehouse near Atlanta, Ga., operated by Lion-Vallen Industries (LVI) on behalf of the Troop Support branch of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID solution, provided by AdvanTech Inc., enables the RTC and DLA Troop Support to automatically track when clothing items are received at the center, and when they are issued to a soldier.

The DLA has been using similar uniform-tracking RFID systems at some other recruit training locations for approximately four years, beginning with Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas (see USAF Boot Camp Tracks Boots), and Marine Corps sites in San Diego, Calif., and Parris Island, S.C. This was followed by uniform-tracking RFID deployments at the U.S. Army training centers at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., and Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., as well as the U.S. Navy’s Recruit Training Command facility in Illinois. Fort Leonard Wood’s RFID installation was taken live in October 2014, with Fort Jackson’s and Fort Benning’s going live in the subsequent months. The DLA soon plans to deploy the technology at the Army’s training center in Fort Sill, in Lawton, Okla.

Each year, Fort Leonard Wood processes uniforms for about 20,000 recruits, both male and female, who are issued uniforms at the training center’s Clothing Initial Issue Point (CIIP).

Vendors to the DLA have been phasing into the RFID system by tagging products they ship to a warehouse operated by LVI or some other DLA Troop Support third-party logistics provider (3PL), where the items are stored and eventually forwarded to RTCs to be issued to recruits. Initially, says Monique Williams, DLA Troop Support’s clothing and textile (C&T) army recruit cell chief, the RFID deployments are in what the Army recruit training centers call Phase 1, in which suppliers attach RFID tags (with the make and model tag of the vendor’s choice) to all day-to-day uniforms that soldiers wear during training, including boots, trousers, T-shirts, and button-up shirts. Some smaller, low-cost items are not being tagged, such as belts, insignia and socks. In fact, tags on some socks—due to their moisture-wicking features that include metallic fiber—would have been difficult to read, says Doug DeLoach, AdvanTech’s program manager. The next phase will include the tagging of dress uniforms that recruits wear at formal events.

When filling orders from the DLA, DeLoach explains, clothing vendors have used the agency’s Virtual Item Manager-ARN Supply-chain Automated Processing (VIM-ASAP) Web-based software to view which goods were needed. Suppliers then enter the items being shipped into the VIM-ASAP system, in which DLA personnel can view when those goods were shipped. That method had been in place for more than a decade, he says, before the RFID system was included. Now, vendors also input the unique ID number of the tag attached to each item, married to the ID of the RFID label attached on the carton in which those goods are shipped.

More than a year ago, the DLA issued contract modifications requiring that the goods packed in cartons, as well as the cartons themselves, be tagged, explains Angela Richwine, DLA’s business process analyst for the clothing and textile supply chain. According to Richwine, about 99 percent of the Phase 1 items are now coming into LVI’s warehouse in Pendergrass, Ga., already RFID-tagged by vendors, while stock previously received by the warehouse had been tagged by the site’s workers.

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