Marcus Preasha began an eight-year enlistment with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1999, but it would be his future work in the private sector that would take him to Iraq.
Now the owner of a small business in Bellevue that provides logistics consulting to the Marines and others in the defense industry, Preasha (pronounced pre-shay) looks back on the experience as an odd one.
“I'd kind of stayed away from that place when I was in uniform and, as soon as I got out, I'm going there,” he said.
Preasha spent about five months at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, about 110 miles west of Baghdad, shortly after leaving the Marines in 2006. He was working for a contractor providing logistics support at the base, which for a time was home to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and was also a supply and maintenance base for the Marines' operations in Iraq.
After about five more years working for Marine Corps contractors, he launched his own business, Preasha Logistics & Consulting LLC, in 2011. He said he now grosses twice what he made working for corporations and many times more than what he made in the military.
Knowing where equipment orders are coming from and when they'll arrive has become especially critical in the past 10 years the U.S. has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that lasted longer than expected and required more supplies, stretching logistics capabilities in the region to the limit.
In turn, that led to higher spending and increased risk of vulnerability — especially for the Marines, who traditionally have relied on their logistical ability to rapidly enter conflicts, said Steve Geary, a military logistics expert and president of the Arlington, Va.-based Supply Chain Visions Inc. family of companies.
A rapid response to any situation means Marines need immediate access to supplies, and the old system wasn't always as fast and reliable as needed.
“Before, it might have taken weeks or months to ship stuff overseas,” Preasha said. “Now, you can get it there in a couple of days.”
Of course, military logistics is more than minimizing the time and expense it takes to get goods from their point of origin into service members' hands. It also means crunching data to help predict when something like a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle will be due for maintenance or how many are in service, for example.
That's where Preasha comes in.
For a contract that now accounts for the majority of his time, Preasha lends his expertise and IT prowess to support the Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps, or GCSS-MC.
The $1.1 billion program — which was fully implemented in March 2013 at almost 10 times its original cost estimate — aimed to consolidate about 200 separate systems responsible for things like inventory management, supply orders and maintenance information using Oracle software. Some of those have been used for more than 40 years, and their age had been showing for some time.
“Before, there were separate systems to do everything,” Preasha said. He said that contributed to serious problems such as outdated or inaccurate maintenance records for vehicles, weapons and equipment.
Sometimes, requests for supplies would go completely unfulfilled or were duplicated multiple times, clogging supply pipelines.
Now, the Marine Corps logistics platform is Web-based and provides near real-time access to supply information, meaning Marines are getting supplies faster than they ever have.
“Basically, it's a supply and maintenance system,” Preasha said. “It used to be spreadsheets and paper copies, and now we're working through the Internet, which gives us better ability to track things through mobile devices.”
According to Oracle, the program has reduced the time it takes for an order to be processed from three days to 10 minutes. It allows Marines to find out if a certain piece of equipment is available and in service, or to automatically place orders when supply levels hit a certain threshold.
Preasha's work with GCSS-MC is on the help desk, where he can access a queue of trouble tickets and find out why an order wasn't filled. He's the last stop before software developers try to identify and remedy problems.
In a way, he's come full circle to his Marine Corps days as a supply clerk, when he tracked equipment shipped from the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany in Albany, Ga., to the Defense Distribution Depot Kuwait on the Persian Gulf. Preasha now analyzes how clerks do the job he once had, even if it has changed significantly.
“Tracking inventory from a supplier meant I had to make a phone call,” Preasha said, “and whatever status they gave me was what I knew.”
Now, tracking Humvee parts is as easy as following a FedEx parcel online.
A later assignment near the end of his enlistment in 2006 brought Preasha to the Omaha area, where he put down roots with his wife and child while training troops learning logistics in the Marine Corps Reserve.
He left the service as a sergeant to work for defense-contracting corporations before opening his own business in his home.
It was a trade-off that eschewed the comfort of working for well-known corporate contractors and was not without risk.
“The names of companies like Lockheed Martin and ITT are great because they can prove past performance,” Preasha said, “but I felt like the contracts I was getting before were because of me being able to do the work.”
Turns out it was a risk worth taking.
In his first year as a small-business owner, Preasha grossed about $260,000, more than twice the annual income he earned in his previous job working for a Washington, D.C.-based contractor.
And it's much more than what enlisted members of the military are paid. Information from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service shows an enlisted service member with Preasha's experience earned about $27,000 a year in 2006.
The pay differential helps allay any discomfort associated with no longer getting a steady, biweekly check, and Preasha is now leveraging his military training in tandem with his college degrees in information technology and computer science.
His company focuses on the intersection of military logistics and IT, which coordinates the system tools and information the military needs for everything from combat operations to health care.
Even as the U.S. military winds down from prolonged wars and seeks to reduce its size, supporting enterprises with massive supply chains like the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Marines remains key.
In remarks delivered in late February on the Defense Department's fiscal year 2015 budget, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel described a “smaller and more capable force” with a “premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms.”
Logistics is key to achieving those ends, said Geary, the military logistics expert.
“The U.S. military could be anywhere in the world in 24 hours and to be able to support those troops they're inserting is absolutely amazing,” he said. “Logistics is an absolutely vital component of the military.”
Preasha said that since launching his company, business has been steady, and he wants to hire at least five people to work as associates this year. Provided that he can land additional contracts to merit expansion, he wants to move into an office space by the end of 2015.
He recently turned down a contract for government IT work because he is already spread thin.
“The hard part about running a one-man show is deciding when to start looking for people,” Preasha said. “Is it before you get contracts or after you get contracts?”