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Logistics plays an important role in Ukraine getting weapons from the U.S.


It's been 71 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. In order for Ukrainian fighters to fend off Russian forces, they, of course, need lots of weapons, and many of them are being supplied by the West. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia is attempting to stop his troops from getting those weapons by targeting critical infrastructure targets, including electrical power facilities and transportation hubs like railroads. But the Pentagon says it's not working. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. is still able to flow weapons systems and other materials into the region. And those shipments have been happening nearly every day. The U.S. and its NATO allies fly military equipment to Eastern Europe, where it's trucked into Ukraine - billions of dollars' worth of drones, armored vehicles, Howitzers, shoulder-fired missiles, even helicopters and tanks. And more is on the way to help give the Ukrainian military an edge as it continues to fight Russian forces.

Some of that equipment will fly out of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman went there and has this report.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The warehouse squats on a remote edge of the base behind a chain-link fence. Inside, it's all bustle. Front-end loaders dart about, lifting up pallets of Howitzer rounds. They look like massive green bullets. Each one weighs 90 pounds.

DAN ROMAINE: As fast as we can push it.

BOWMAN: Airmen tie down the pallets with thick nylon straps so the shells don't shift when they're heading across the Atlantic. Technical Sergeant Dan Romaine records it all in a clipboard. Today's load will total some 1,300 shells, just a small amount of the 190,000 rounds promised for Ukraine.

ROMAINE: Last month we moved a lot of the Stinger and the Javelin missiles. I think it was something like 800 javelins or so.

BOWMAN: Eight hundred of the tens of thousands of shoulder-fired missiles the U.S. and NATO are sending over. They all work 12-hour shifts round the clock. Pallets come in and quickly go out on a waiting aircraft. There are three flights each day bound for an air base in eastern Poland. There's an address sticker on the pallet, a military district in western Ukraine, right down to the street address. Ukrainian military has been desperate for the Howitzers and the shells to help push back the Russian forces.

Senior Airman Jordan Duquette tugs on the nylon straps.

JORDAN DUQUETTE: It gets very repetitive, but I think with that, we can get the process down very smoothly.

BOWMAN: He reflects on the horrific videos from Ukraine - the loss of life, the destruction, desperate people on the move.

DUQUETTE: I think it's very heartbreaking that people are - have to go through that. People are being displaced from their homes.

BOWMAN: Moving shells and missiles in a warehouse might not be the stuff of war movies, but Sergeant Romaine says it's his warehouse and the daily flights of armaments that could be a deciding factor in the Ukraine war.

ROMAINE: Logistics is - will make or break the war. Logistics is going to get it there, and it's going to sustain it.


BOWMAN: The C-17 has just landed. It came from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. And we can see the pallets out there, pallets loaded as the pilot, Air Force Captain Jonathan Sollender, completes his flight check in the cockpit. Nine hours from now, he'll touch down in Poland.

JONATHAN SOLLENDER: Nice to meet you.

BOWMAN: Nice to meet you.

He's about to turn 28.

SOLLENDER: And some people have gone their entire careers not actually doing missions that matter. So here I am, you know?

BOWMAN: Last summer, he flew four missions from Kabul, Afghanistan, rescuing hundreds of refugees. They were crammed elbow to elbow in the vast cargo bay. He remembers what happened as a plane rose off the runway.

SOLLENDER: As soon as, like, they were able to get the wheel liftoff feeling, they were cheering and excited.

BOWMAN: Now his plane is stuffed with 18 pallets of Howitzer shells. It's his first mission to Poland. He says it likely won't be his last.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Dover Air Force Base, Del. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.