TRANSCOM ‘Blocks and Tackles’ for Military Touchdowns, General Says
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2006 Providing for the Defense Department’s transportation needs isn’t the sexiest of military endeavors, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command readily admits.
“It’s mostly blocking and tackling,” explained Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz. “It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world, but the last time I looked, you can’t score many touchdowns without a block or two.”
TRANSCOM moves people and materiel from place to place by land, sea or air, Schwartz told American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel here yesterday.
“Our mission is to bring troops and supplies to the fight (and) sustain them while they are engaged,” he explained. “It’s recovering those injured on the battlefield, and then returning troops and their equipment home. Whenever there’s a requirement to move people or stuff, that’s our area of expertise -- that’s the thing we do for the department and the joint team.”
The command, with headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., also has been active in supporting humanitarian missions. TRANSCOM helped bring relief supplies to Indonesia after the late-2004 tsunami, and more recently the command coordinated the evacuation of Americans from war-torn Lebanon. “In the Hurricane Katrina scenario, we evacuated some 1,700 patients from the Gulf Coast,” he said.
Schwartz described TRANSCOM as a supporting command. “Our fundamental approach is trying to make others successful,” he said.
In 2003, TRANSCOM was assigned as the Defense Department’s “distribution process owner,” with the goal of orchestrating the distribution process for the department’s supply chain. “We’re working hard to make this as rational, reliable and efficient as we possibly can,” he said.
TRANSCOM is doing many things to improve the military’s supply chain, Schwartz said. One example is improved command and control. In 2004, TRANSCOM began to create new regional commands, known as deployment and distribution operations centers, he said.
“The idea here is that we were pretty good at the strategic level, of moving stuff, and the theaters were pretty good at getting stuff delivered to forward locations in theater,” he said. “But it was the connection between the strategic and tactical distribution that wasn’t quite as mature. This element does that connecting.”
Information technology is another key area the command is engaged in. “We’re almost as much about moving information as we are about moving stuff,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said TRANSCOM is trying to reduce DoD’s 300-plus IT systems to fewer than 100. “In the end, what we want are programs that provide functionality that are built joint from the beginning,” he said.
The command also works extensively with commercial partners in its Defense Transportation Coordination Initiative. “It’s an important transformation undertaking,” he said. “Transportation is expensive. What we’re talking about is a program which will bring on third-party logistics firms."
Certain categories of freight will be excluded from being moved under this initiative, such as household goods, arms, ammunition and explosives, and sensitive and classified shipments, for example.
“The U.S. government could never own all the assets it needs to operate, particularly in a surge scenario,” he continued. “So what we do is have commercial partners. The idea is that we provide business to our commercial partners in peacetime, so that they’ll be ready to respond to our call if we have to surge in a crisis. The idea fundamentally is to give the department better value for its transportation dollar.”
Commercial partners deliver about 90 percent of military personnel, and about 40 percent of cargo, the general said.
Schwartz said he is proud of TRANSCOM’s medical evacuation mission. “It is one of the more, if not the most satisfying thing,” he said. “We have a contract with our troops, fundamentally. That is that if one of our youngsters gets wounded or injured on the battlefield, that we will get them to the best medical care on the planet as quickly as possible in order to mitigate their injuries.”
He told the story of a Marine who was injured near Balad, Iraq, last year. The Marine almost lost sight in one eye after a makeshift bomb struck his convoy. “It turned out that only two physicians in the department could do this very specialized kind of work, and both happened to be at Bethesda naval hospital (near Washington),” he said. “Less than 28 hours after that young man was in the dirt … he was in the hospital under the care of one of these two very capable surgeons, who in the end saved his eyesight.”
TRANSCOM has evacuated more than 6,000 people from Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years. “We do it well,” he said. “We have only lost one patient in the air since 9/11.”
The command also has a good working relationship with U.S. allies, he said.
“When it’s required and arrangements made, we support our allies by providing the same kind of support we provide our own troops,” he said. “In many cases we even deploy elements of nations.”
For instance, TRANSCOM deployed Italian troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO agreement. “Not every nation is as fortunate as we are in terms of lift capabilities,” he said. “So use of those capabilities to support our allies is significant part of the way we partner with others.”