Partnerships to Remain Keystone of Transcom’s Success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 3, 2012 The joint, interagency, international and commercial partnerships that have enabled U.S. Transportation Command to support a decade of wartime operations and other contingencies around the world will remain vital in the post-conflict era, Transcom’s commander told American Forces Press Service.
Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser III’s recently released five-year Transcom strategy recognizes the key role every contributor makes to Transcom’s global deployment and distribution enterprise. Meeting future challenges and requirements, particularly at a time of financial constraint, will require all to work together in unity, he said.
“We want to build on these relationships, and to build trust and confidence in one another,” Fraser said. “That, I think, is going to be key to the future -- building that trust and confidence and the relationships we have and what we are able to do together.”
Transcom’s partnerships cross a broad spectrum. As the command headquarters leads the enterprise, Transcom’s service components – Air Mobility Command, Military Sealift Command, Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and Joint Enabling Capabilities Command – execute the mission requirements.
But Transcom also relies heavily on its commercial partners to keep up with the massive transportation and logistics demands. Many have entered into formal agreements with Transcom, promising to dedicate additional aircraft, ships, cargo space or other transportation or logistical support as needed to meet wartime requirements.
These partners, for example, provide all the surface movement through the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan, and, when the supply lines there are open, through Pakistan. “We oversee it and manage the flow, but our commercial partners are the ones making it work,” Fraser said.
Transcom’s commercial partners rose to the call after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. Thanks largely to the command’s partners in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, the command was able to build an air bridge to evacuate more than 7,000 Defense Department members, family members and pets.
At the same time, Transcom never missed a beat as it supported relief operations during Operation Tomodachi, as well as ongoing operations for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in Libya.
“Adding combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, March 2011 became the first time in history that U.S. Transcom simultaneously supported priority one movements in all six geographic combatant commands,” Fraser reported. “Accomplishing that took every single member of the Transcom team.”
Although these organic and commercial partners provide the means to support Transcom’s missions, Fraser recognizes their hands would be tied without the international partners who allow access to their air and sea lanes and across their borders.
Air Force Col. Carol Johnson, a plans officer in Transcom’s strategy, policies, programs and logistics directorate, illustrated the importance of access. “There are 193 countries in the world, and in 2011, [Transcom] went through 175 of them,” she said. “That says a lot about the importance of international partnerships and access to support our missions.”
So in addition to its relationships with these governments, Transcom relies on its close partnership with the State Department and other U.S. government agencies to help overcome diplomatic or political hurdles along the way. Ambassador Dennise Mathieu, Fraser’s foreign affairs advisor, serves as a liaison in promoting closer interagency and international coordination.
To reinforce these relationships and forge new ones vital to Transcom’s mission, Fraser spends as much time on the road as in his headquarters. His engagements range from brown-bag lunches with his own staff to town hall meetings at Transcom’s service components to business sessions with transportation CEOs and visits to partner nations.
“He recognizes the importance of engagement,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Samuel Cox, Transcom’s director of operations and planning. “It’s not only the organic and commercial entities that support the mission, it’s also all these different countries that we engage with.”
These partnerships have been vital to the war effort in Afghanistan, Cox said, noting the success of the Northern Distribution Network that provided much of the logistical pipeline to deployed forces there.
Now, looking to the future, Transcom is committed to preserving and building on lessons learned through that effort, said Navy Rear Adm. Andy Brown, Transcom’s director of strategy, policy, programs and logistics.
“We learned that it takes a whole interagency approach to work through the challenge of access and get the permissions required,” Brown said. “It takes the State Department and Department of Defense working together at lots of different levels – not just at the combatant command level, but at higher levels across the U.S. government.”
That issue of “access” will remain critical into the future, regardless of where the United States operates, and whether it is providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response mission or supporting any other contingency, he said.
So even as the United States draws down in Afghanistan, Transcom is working to shore up the relationships that have enabled it to support warfighters there. Fraser recently traveled to Central Asia and Russia to thank U.S. partners there and explore ways to leverage the infrastructure improvements they have made to support retrograde operations.
Meanwhile, with a rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region embodied in the Defense Department new strategic guidance, Fraser and his team already are starting to build the relationships that will provide the foundation for future transportation and logistical networks there.
During a recent visit to the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters, Fraser said, he got Pacom’s blessing to engage on their behalf with regional countries.
“The question is, can we build a network in the Pacific like we have built in other parts of the world?” he said. “We are already talking with some of the commercial partners there to understand where they are, what their infrastructure is like, and then how we can work together with them as we look to the future movement of supplies and equipment in support of Pacific Command.”
The next step, Fraser said, will be to engage directly with regional governments to start building the relationships that would underpin future networks that could support any kind of mission.
“You have to have a little bit of imagination to look at all the different places where we might have some kind of contingency, whether humanitarian relief or the full spectrum of requirements,” said Cox. “So we have to look across the globe and make sure we have ways to get in and out of those places. And then, we need to develop multiple, redundant routes that would support our operations.”
Using the Northern Distribution Network as a model, Transcom planners are looking for ways to leverage alliances and partnerships in the Pacific to expand U.S. access in the region. Transcom is identifying where existing relationships need to be strengthened and new relationships should be forged, Johnson said. “The way we look at this is, ‘Who can we partner with now to ensure that we would have access, should we need it?’”
Fraser said he’s confident the Transcom team is ready to take on the challenges of the drawdown in Afghanistan, the rebalance toward the Pacific and other challenges to come its way in the post-conflict era.
“Our team of dedicated and trained professionals, working in unison with our joint, commercial and international partners, is ready to meet those challenges today and in the future,” he said.