Georgia Transportation Plan Demonstrates U.S. Flexibility, Responsiveness
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2008 The transport of more than 1,800 Georgian soldiers from Iraq to Tbilisi and humanitarian supplies from Germany to Georgia highlights the flexibility and responsiveness the U.S. military manifests, a senior U.S. Transportation Command officer said today.
“When this requirement came up, we had to figure out how do we make this happen quickly,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael C. Gould, TransCom’s director of operations and plans, aid in an interview today. “We had to get the Georgian troops back, and sustain what we have going in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
When the Russians attacked into South Ossetia last week, U.S. planners around the world quickly surged into motion and TransCom coordinated plans to accomplish these missions.
The Georgian government had sent a brigade’s worth of troops to Iraq as part of the coalition. The U.S. government had promised Georgian leaders that the troops would be transported home quickly if needed. The Russian invasion of Georgia fit that bill.
Gould said TransCom leaders worked closely with planners from the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and with the operators at U.S. Central Command. Within 36 hours, the Air Force began flying the Georgians back to their capital at Tbilisi. Some of that time was spent collecting the Georgians from their duty stations in and around Baghdad and from Baqouba.
“In the 36 hours from notification to when we started flying missions, it all came together,” Gould said. Fourteen missions were required to fly the Georgians and their equipment home.
“It was a total teamwork effort from a planning perspective,” Gould said. “It was also a great team effort on the part of aircrew members, maintainers and loaders.”
Gould said the cooperation the command received from the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi was outstanding. This was a time when news outlets were saying the airport was closed and that Russian aircraft ruled the skies over Georgia. The last Georgian soldier based in Iraq reached Tbilisi Aug. 10.
The operation was barely completed when the command received another order: get ready to transport humanitarian relief supplies to Georgia. “I think we had about 36 to 48 hours to plan this,” Gould said.
The command was leaning forward and had begun planning efforts without receiving orders. “We got wind of the mission and began working closely with our contacts at U.S. European Command,” he said. “Again, it was on very short notice.”
Usually, the command can take months to plan “big muscle movements” like this, Gould said. TransCom officials worked closely with EuCom to decide what needed to be moved, when they wanted it, and how to get it there.
The command chose a C-17 Globemaster III to get the first two loads of humanitarian supplies to Tbilisi. Since then, two C-130 Hercules airlifters have flown to Tbilisi with supplies, and TransCom planners are in constant contact with their counterparts at EuCom and the Joint Staff to find out what type of sustainment lift is needed.
“We wanted the missions to be fast, visible and effective,” Gould said.
As the situation unfolds in Georgia, TransCom officials are looking at other ways to get humanitarian assistance to the country.
“We work with our customers across the globe, and depending on what needs to be moved and how quickly it needs to be there, we will find the right mode of transportation,” the general said. “Sealift is a possibility, and we are working with [the Navy’s] Military Sealift Command to examine the possibilities.”
The command is working with military and civilian agencies in the effort. Gould said the State Department has been actively involved on all fronts.
TransCom didn’t just drop everything else it was doing to concentrate on this crisis. The command has worldwide responsibilities that include keeping hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemembers fighting two wars supplied.
“In this case, in a two-day effort, there was hardly any impact on sustainment operations or deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Gould said. “Had it been a longer-term operation, over time there would be some degradation, but that would not happen to troops in contact.”
Gould said he is pleased with the successes of both operations.
“To my mind, the real beauty of it was our young men and women who maintain and launch and load and fly these airplanes – that they were able to respond and make this move happen,” he said.
“The aircrews flying in [were] pretty brave guys,” Gould said, noting that at the time there were safety questions about landing in Tbilisi. “They took a chance because that’s what they were called to do, and they did a phenomenal job.
“It all boils down to we have a mission to do, and we do it,” the general continued. “Our motto out here is ‘A promise made is a promise kept.’ In this case, America made a promise to an ally, and we kept that promise."