That time an Army supply clerk accidentally ordered a $28,000 anchor at Fort Carson

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Editor's note: This story first appeared in March 2020.

In the words of Hannah Montana — everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days. Nobody's perfect!

But not everybody's mistake costs over $28,000, which was unfortunately the case for one Army supply clerk of an armor company at Fort Carson in 1985. The story of the accidental order recently made the front page of the Army's subreddit.

Army Col. Neal Bralley, a retired Army supply officer with the 704th Maintenance Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, who was at Fort Carson at the time of the incident, recalled the situation in Army Sustainment, a bimonthly magazine published by the Army Combined Arms Support Command out of Fort Lee, Virginia. 

As Bralley tells it, he was eating lunch one day when a warehouse supply technician told him he needed to come look at something. 

"Chief, I'm eating my lunch; I'll be out in a minute," Bralley recalled himself saying. 

"No sir, you need to come out now and see this," the supply technician responded. Bralley agreed, and walked outside. 

"We rounded the corner to find a commercial tractor-trailer parked by our receiving dock. A tractor-trailer being parked at this location was not particularly unusual," Bralley wrote. "What was unusual was the one and only item it was hauling on its flatbed trailer: a rusty, 14,500-pound ship anchor." 

Nobody seemed to have answers to crucial questions like, where did this come from? Who ordered this anchor to Fort Carson — which, for those who may be geographically challenged, is not anywhere near water. Bralley said he told the truck driver that he was going to get a transportation order for him to take the anchor back to wherever it came from. 

But the driver had things to do, and told Bralley he needed it gone so he could be on his way to Denver to pick up another load.

So there they were, the folks of the 704th maintenance battalion, trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get this 14,500-pound anchor off the truck when their biggest forklift could only manage 10,000 pounds. Bralley wrote that they ended up using an overhead crane to unload their new (relatively useless) cargo.

The DD Form 1348-1, Single Line Item Release/Receipt Document, helped piece together the rest of the details — like who ordered it and when, how much it cost, and more.

"Although I certainly cannot recall all of the minor details of the event of the item," Bralley wrote. "I do clearly remember its cost — more than $28,000 dollars."

It cost around $2,000 just to get the anchor from the Sharpe Army Depot in California to Fort Carson, per the Associated Press.

Bralley reported the delivery to the commander of the division support command, he wrote, who "laughed it off," saying someone probably sent the anchor to Fort Carson as a joke, knowing he worked there. 

It wasn't a joke.

Turns out, the prescribed load list (PLL) clerk behind the mistake was just one digit off in typing in the order number of a much cheaper item. The AP says it was a lamp, while Bralley said it was a lightbulb for a vehicle — either way, it wasn't supposed to be an anchor.

According to the AP, the last four digits of the intended purchase order number were "4972."

The last four digits for the anchor were "4772." 

A spokesman for Fort Carson at the time, Maj. Tom Barnum, told the AP that the order "slipped through" the requisition review, but that the installation put in an "override management system." The new system would "kick out any order for a single item costing more than $2,000," per the AP.

Ultimately, the anchor was moved from Fort Carson to the Pueblo Army Depot, where it sat until the Navy requested it be sent to Norfolk, Virginia. 

"So now, if you ever hear supply soldiers talk of an anchor that went to an Army mechanized infantry division, you can know it to be a true event," Bralley wrote. 

"And you also know some of the unintended consequences of trying to outsmart the Army's supply system."