New Leader Takes Reins of U.S. Transportation Command
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2008 The U.S. military command responsible for moving troops and materiel across the globe came under new leadership today.
In a change-of-command ceremony here, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb took the reins of U.S. Transportation Command, an infrastructure that has carried out 100,000 airlift missions and transported 5 million passengers during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
McNabb replaces Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who left the command to become the Air Force’s acting chief of staff last month.
“When [Schwartz] said, ‘A promise made is a promise kept,’ it [became] the foundation of the command,” McNabb told reporters today, referring to his predecessor’s guiding principle. “[The command] has built up over time, and what we want to do is make sure we keep that momentum.”
Inside a massive airplane hangar, hundreds watched a symbolic tradition as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates handed McNabb the Transcom flag, which features a winged seahorse -- an image that reflects the command’s air, sea and land capabilities.
“With all these moving parts, and with the critical importance of every single mission, there is no doubt that this command requires a special kind of leader -- one who can maintain a focus on details within the context of massive and myriad operations,” Gates said. “General McNabb is the right man for this job.”
The promotions of McNabb and Schwartz come in the wake of recent turbulence in the Air Force. The service’s acquisition process came under fire in June when a congressional investigation found flaws related to a $35 billion contract for refueling tankers.
Two earlier incidents committed by the Air Force sparked international concerns -- one involving the erroneous shipment of nuclear missile trigger components to Taiwan, and another in which a B-52 bomber flew across the United States carrying six armed nuclear cruise missiles.
By accepting their respective appointments, McNabb and Schwartz are helping the Air Force “move forward,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“[It] will continue to remind us that our Air Force is the best Air Force in the history of the world,” said Mullen, drawing applause from the crowd.
The admiral said he endorses the latter part of an old maxim that says, “Amateurs worry about strategy, dilettantes worry about tactics, but professionals worry about logistics.”
“All of us who have participated in these operations for the last six-plus years, have only been able to do that and accomplish our mission because of this command, and the so many tens of thousands of people who make those operations possible,” he added.
The ceremony’s speakers also cited the humanitarian, disaster relief and medical missions coordinated through Transcom, like the recent relief effort following Hurricane Gustav, which lashed the Louisiana coast this week.
“Whether providing relief operations to Pakistan’s earthquake victims in 2005 or delivering hundreds of tons of aid supplies to the Republic of Georgia just last month, Transcom’s reach extends the world over to help those in need,” Gates said.
The command, which was established in 1987, also has transported more than 50,000 sick or injured troops out of current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due in large part to Transcom’s efficiency, a medical evacuation back to the United States takes only a fraction of the amount of time it took in Vietnam, McNabb said.
“That is one of the true transformational impacts we’ve had,” the new commander said. “In Vietnam it took 30 to 40 days to get somebody from the theater back to home. Today that average is three days, and it can be [done] in 18 hours if we need to bring them all the way back.”