From Afghanistan to Sandy, Transcom Synchronizes Support
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Nov. 6, 2012 As Hurricane Sandy hurtled menacingly toward the New Jersey shore last week, the staff in U.S. Transportation Command’s sprawling fusion center weren’t resting on their laurels waiting for a call for help.
Army Maj. Charles Ward, U.S. Northern Command joint military operations officer with U.S. Transportation Command, mans his station in the Transcom Fusion Center Nov. 2, 2012, as Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Shouse checks a map location. U.S. Transportation Command photo by Bob Fehringer
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The center serves as the central point for synchronizing, collaborating, monitoring and executing Transcom’s global transportation and distribution network, explained Air Force Col. Rob Brisson, who oversees its day-to-day operations.
The staff – more than 300 representatives from throughout Transcom, all 10 divisions within its J3 operations directorate, every service component, every other combatant command and several Defense Department agencies -- ensures the smooth, timely and uninterrupted flow of troops, equipment and supplies around the world, Brisson said.
Meanwhile, they keep a close eye on what’s happening around the world to anticipate and prepare for the next requirement, even before a combatant commander has issued it. That, Brisson said, ranges from the drawdown in Afghanistan, an effort already begun and expected to intensify leading up to December 2014, to less predictable events such as Superstorm Sandy.
A recent visit to the classified fusion center proved to be a relatively “quiet day,” by Transcom standards, Brisson said. Members of one of the largest divisions, dubbed “J3 East,” peered into computer screens or gathered in small groups to discuss Transcom’s highest operational priority: supporting the mission in Afghanistan.
As Transcom’s Sustainment Division focuses on keeping deployed forces throughout Southwest Asia -- and around the globe -- supplied with everything from food to ammunition, the J3 East team concentrates on deployments and the daunting task of redeploying troops and their equipment, Brisson explained.
The J3 East team also has responsibility for planning Transcom support U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.
Across the room, its sister division, “J3 West,” is dedicated to planning transportation and logistics support to U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Strategic Command.
Several of the division staff had been participating via computer in Exercise Global Thunder 2012. The annual Stratcom exercise, with an emphasis on nuclear command and control, is designed to train forces to deter, and if necessary, defeat a military attack on the United States.
But as a different kind of adversary – the largest Atlantic hurricane on record – roared north on a trajectory targeting New Jersey, J3 West’s Northcom branch quickly turned its attention there.
Anticipating a role if the states turned to the federal government for help, Transcom already had stood up a joint planning team to project what Northcom might request. Based on past disaster responses, the team knew Transcom could be called on to do anything from providing airlift support to delivering military forces, supplies or water, distillation or sanitation capabilities, Brisson said.
“This is not just us back there going, ‘What if?’” he said. “It is a bunch of people sitting back there, looking at lessons learned from the myriad of other hurricane support efforts that we have done, and putting together a coherent initial plan to provide support.”
The order ultimately came down when the affected states turned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which in turn approached Northcom for U.S. military support. Based on its planning, Transcom already was ready to move out when Northcom issued the requirements.
The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, Transcom’s airlift component, was called on beginning Oct. 31 to fly sorties in support of relief efforts, delivering personnel and equipment as well as Department of Health and Human Services personnel, reported Army Maj. Charles Ward, the Northcom joint mobility operations officer at Transcom.
Transcom’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Element also deployed its Joint Public Affairs Support Element and Joint Communications Support Element.
As of today, Transcom has conducted 78 air missions, delivering more than 630 personnel and 3,000 short-tons of vehicles, equipment and relief supplies in support of relief operations, command officials reported. Included in Transcom’s deliveries to the stricken region were about 200 line, bucket, drill, digger, pickup and work trucks; pump equipment and generators; and more than 30,000 blankets.
In addition to HHS employees, Transcom transported search-and-rescue, public utilities, and dewatering experts, as well as engineers and veterinarians, officials said. In addition, Air Mobility Command has postured aeromedical evacuation support forces for rapid deployment, if required.
“The value Transcom brings is that we maximize the pace of the response to alleviate suffering and help those affected get back to a normal state of life as soon as possible,” Ward said.
As the fusion center’s J3 West division focused on support for Super Storm Sandy and J3 East, on Centcom’s ongoing requirements, the rest of the staff went about its daily business overseeing the rest of the massive Transcom mission around the world.
During any given day, they oversee operations as Transcom’s organic and commercial partners move 26 ships and load and unload another nine ships. They conduct 100 railcar shipments, 2,000 truck cargo shipments, 2,000 household goods movements, 900 airlift sorties, 97 operational air refueling sorties, seven air evacuation sorties and 30 courier deliveries.
To Brisson and his staff, it’s all in a day’s work. “We do a lot around here. But you can see the enthusiasm behind it, and the fact that we are all very proud of what we do,” he said. “We are the peaceful professionals who sit back behind the supported commander and do what we need to do to effect a mission that needs to get done.”
(Bob Fehringer and Christine Pesout of U.S. Transportation Command contributed to this article.)