In Iraq, The Mother of All Moves

The U.S. military is leaving Iraq, and taking tons of equipment with it, including 40,000 vehicles and big weapons systems.

It's the Mother of all Moves, with 20,000 soldiers working on the biggest withdrawal of troops and equipment since Vietnam, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

During seven years of war, the U.S. military has shipped more than a million tons of equipment to Iraq, everything from tanks to toothpicks, and now the gigantic operation to pull it out again has begun.

For a start, more than 40,000 vehicles -- four, six and eight-wheelers -- have to be driven out of the country.

Moving all this hardware isn't cheap. The withdrawal is projected to cost more than $150 billion. So the military wants to collect and reuse as much as it can, right down to what shows up in the so-called Amnesty Yard, where troops can dump unwanted equipment - no questions asked.

Chief Anthony Potenzone is an Army logistician. He helps to decide what to do with things such as a $3 billion avalanche of gear -- what gets junked, what gets sent on to the war in Afghanistan, and what goes home.

"This stuff is all serviceable, mostly," Potenzone said. "Brand new air conditioners. Between here and Afghanistan, this stuff could be utilized."

Which is more than you can say for some of the things they had to get rid of, like a container full of snow boots and gerbil cages.

"Somebody must have ordered them, maybe for a school," Potenzone said.

"But the Army didn't need gerbil cages? You didn't put those back in the system?" Palmer asked.

"No, but we do find homes for them," Potenzone said laughing.

In the logistics headquarters computers give a bird's eye view of what's moving where.

On any given day there are 4,500 trucks on the road, travelling in huge convoys, equipped with electronic tags so they're visible onscreen.

Combat gear bound for Afghanistan gets priority. The rest -- moving at night to maintain a low profile -- goes to ports in Kuwait or Amman for shipping home.

Slowly, the U.S. military is erasing its presence. The base CBS News visitied in eastern Iraq is one of 280 due to be handed over to the Iraqi army soon. First Lt. Robert McGrath is doing a final check.

Only weeks ago, a mountain of scrap metal, lumber and waste oil covered one field. Now it is all gone.

But U.S. commanders are authorized to leave up to $30 million worth of gear behind per base, so the Iraqis can move right in. That means barracks, office furniture, curtains - even the gym.

Above all, the U.S. military is determined to make a graceful exit from Iraq.