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‘Nothing Happens Until Something Moves’ Illustrates TRANSCOM Mission

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 4, 2006 – A Post-It note over one of the computers in the Deployment and Distribution Operations Center here says, “Nothing happens until something moves.”

You get a feeling for this saying and the mission of U.S. Transportation Command at the Balad Air Base-Anaconda Logistics Support Area complex in Iraq.

Located northwest of Baghdad, the complex is the heart of logistics for coalition forces in Iraq. In 2003, it was a runway, some bombed buildings and dust. Today, it is a military city, with C-17s offloading cargo, C-130s picking up goods, a full Level-3 trauma hospital and convoys bringing all the “beans and bullets” servicemembers need to operate in a challenging environment.

But scratch the surface and you realize it’s more than just the fact that goods are delivered to a combat area. What is the infrastructure behind the move? How do people on the ground know what is on the plane or in the convoy? How do they know where to send the goods once they arrive? How do they even know what is available in-country?

U.S. Transportation Command is a unified command that oversees military transportation around the world. Three service components work through the command: the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. In addition, the command coordinates commercial air and sea missions that help support deployments around the world.

TRANSCOM synchronizes the various means of delivering combat power. For example, an Army brigade moving to Iraq has certain transportation needs. Heavy equipment may leave the base via train. It moves to a port of embarkation and loads aboard a ship. The ship steams to the port of debarkation and off-loads. The equipment may then load aboard a heavy equipment mover for the trip to the staging base.

While this is going on, soldiers load transport containers with supplies, and trucks may haul those to ports for delivery to the staging area.

Finally, the troops themselves must move. Buses may take these soldiers to commercial aircraft that bring them to an aerial port of debarkation where they then marry up with their equipment.

But even this doesn’t capture all the complications inherent in moving 3,500 soldiers and all their equipment. Someone in Transportation Command has to assess whether runways are long enough for the transport aircraft and can bear the weight of the delivery, what kind of off-loading equipment is available at the seaport, what kind of diplomatic clearances the ships and aircraft need, what navigation aids are available, and what threats exist in the region.

And the ships and planes need fuel.

All this is with what TRANSCOM officials call a “mature” receiving area, such as Kuwait. And as people and supplies transit those receiving areas on their way to the front lines, usually a unit is redeploying to its home station at the same time.

Just for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, TRANSCOM has moved more than 3.4 million passengers and 8.3 million tons of dry cargo. It has moved more than 4 billion gallons of fuel. This has meant about 2 million truck and 143,000 railcar shipments, about 71,000 airlift missions and 709 shiploads.

And this still doesn’t capture the scope of the command, because the military operates in more than just the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Transportation Command has to meet the rest of the military’s needs as well.

Nov. 17 was as good a day as any for a snapshot of the command. The Deployment and Distribution Operations Center was tracking 20 ships carrying Defense Department cargo. Another 20 ships carried DoD cargo in addition to commercial freight. This does not include tankers.

On that day, the center tracked more than 300 airlift missions and airlifted 6,880 passengers and 1,368 short tons of cargo around the world.

“We don’t ever forget that we’re a supporting – with an emphasis on the ‘ing’ – command,” said Air Force Col. Doug Luhrsen, director of the operations center. “We work with the services and the combatant commands to get them what they need, when they need it.”

With all the transportation modes at its disposal, the command must make decisions on how best to send things. “It doesn’t make sense to ship Abrams tanks on C-17s,” said Craig Koontz, a spokesman for the command. “You ship those by sea.”

Airlift is the most responsive and flexible transportation medium, Koontz said, and sometimes a mix of modes is needed. When it became apparent that Humvees in Iraq needed to be armored, he explained, the command sent a certain number of sets via air to get the process moving forward. Once those were delivered, TRANSCOM dispatched a ship with hundreds of sets of armor. The airlifted sets allowed the process to start, the sealifted sets allowed the process to continue. There was no pause or hold-up in placing the armor on the vehicles.

“Everyone is intent on providing the best service we can for the men and women in the combat zones,” Luhrsen said. “That is our core. That is why we exist.”

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