SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill, Oct. 17, 2014 —
U.S. Transportation Command Joint Task Force-Port Opening teams are widening the pipeline necessary to move forces, humanitarian aid, medical supplies and portable hospitals into Liberia in support of the U.S. government’s response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, Transcom officials reported.
It marks the first time Transcom has deployed multiple JTF-POs in support of a geographic combatant command, officials said.
Working mostly in the background as part of Operation United Assistance, airmen from the 817th Contingency Response Group, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and soldiers from the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., are handling airfield operations at Roberts International Airport, Monrovia, Liberia.
In addition, Air National Guard members from the 123rd Contingency Response Group, Louisville, Ky., and soldiers from the 689th Rapid Port Opening Element, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, are operating an intermediate staging base at Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport, Dakar, Senegal.
Deployment demonstrates command’s unique capabilities
Transcom officials said the deployment was a true demonstration of the command’s unique capabilities covering rapid assessment, port opening and initial operations.
“Once U.S. Africa Command requested we assist with assessing strategic ports in West Africa, we rapidly planned with our transportation components, Air Mobility Command and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, and alerted our forces,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz Jr., Transcom’s director of operations and plans.
Within 12 hours a joint assessment team was ready to deploy with its equipment. Flying by C-17 aircraft, the team arrived in Monrovia a few days later.
“When we had a similar request come in for the airfield at Dakar, the second set of ready forces stepped up to the plate and we had that assessment team on the ground within 96 hours,” Schatz said.
Assessment teams move rapidly
Each joint assessment team rapidly evaluated airfield suitability for missions and reported their findings to operational planners at U.S. Africa Command and Transcom.
Immediately, additional JTF-PO forces deployed to “open” the airfields to military traffic, as well as establish airfield operations and initial surface distribution capability.
Within the initial two weeks, Transcom deployed 177 JTF-PO forces and equipment to Monrovia and Dakar to receive, stage, and conduct initial cargo clearance on behalf of the joint forces commander, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and partner nations. To date, they have successfully handled 90 airlift missions, including moving Air Force Expeditionary Medical Support Systems and critical supplies.
“Our JTF-PO teams provide a key link in the global mobility chain, flowing vital equipment and supplies into the affected regions to build their capacity to deal with the devastating effects of EVD,” said Marine Corps Col. Andrew Reagan, chief of Transcom’s East Division, which leads Transcom support for the operation.
Working with other organizations
“We work with many other military, government and civilian organizations to get the job done,” Reagan said.
Each JTF-PO commander and his team coordinate daily with Africom, host-nation airfield personnel, the joint forces commander, U.S. embassy officials, USAID representatives and deployment teams from the Defense Logistics Agency to manage priorities and conduct operations safely. In Dakar, the JTF-PO has the additional opportunity to work with French, British and coalition partners.
As initial response forces, JTF-PO deployments last about 60 days to give the supported combatant command time to transition operations to follow-on forces.
“I am extremely proud of our JTF-PO forces and the unique capability they bring to a combatant commander faced with an unexpected contingency or humanitarian response, as we have for OUA,” Schatz said. “We help set the conditions for success.”