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News   Defense News

U.S. Transportation Command Kicks Off Operation Fly Formula

May 23, 2022 | BY SCOTT D. ROSS, U.S. TRANSPORTATION COMMAND

"Together, we deliver" is U.S. Transportation Command's motto, and it played out in real time. The first airplane importing 132 pallets of specialty infant formula arrived Sunday at Indianapolis International Airport. The C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft was loaded with 78,000 pounds of cargo the day before at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, kicking off Operation Fly Formula. 

A uniformed service member driving a forklift removes pallets containing boxes of infant formula from the back of a truck.
Unloading Formula
Air Force Sr. Airman Arterius Cochran, 721st Aerial Port Squadron cargo specialist, unloads infant formula from a semi-truck at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 21, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexcia Givens
VIRIN: 220521-F-LO261-0080

"Whether the needs are in Ukraine, India, or even right here at home, from deploying combat-credible forces, to providing vaccines, food, water and supplies during a pandemic or natural disaster, USTRANSCOM will deliver," said Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, commander of USTRANSCOM. "Together with our industry partners, and allies and partners, we not only project and sustain the joint force to help ensure national security, but we continue to deliver hope, whenever and wherever." 

Typically, the process to transport this product from Europe to the U.S. would take two weeks. President Biden announced Operation Fly Formula on May 18, when he requested the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to "work expeditiously to identify any and all avenues to speed importation…." Biden further requested that over the next week to work with the Department of Defense to use contracted airlifts to import the needed formula. Planning started immediately. 

Hours before the president's announcement, Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, deputy commander at USTRANSCOM, learned of the impending mission. "There is an emerging requirement to move baby formula into [the continental U.S.], and it is anticipated that [authorizing paperwork] will be signed tonight or tomorrow to have formula moved via DOD-procured airlift,"  he shared via correspondence to staff. "These moves will look similar to the moves we did for COVID[-19] vaccine needles/syringes."  

The logistics planners in U.S. Transportation Command's J3 and AQ, the directorates responsible for operations planning and execution and in acquisition, knew a requirement was imminent but didn't know any of the requirements for planning, such as quantities, source/destination locations, timelines for delivery and methodology for engaging the assistance of commercial carriers. 

Several uniformed service members place infant formula onto wooden pallets.
Building Pallets
Air Force airmen assigned to the 721st Aerial Port Squadron build pallets of infant formula during Operation Fly Formula at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 21, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexcia Givens
VIRIN: 220521-F-LO621-0408

Some pieces of the puzzle were learned the next day, May 19, when Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack sent a request for assistance to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III that requested "DOD provide support by establishing a dedicated, contracted air-bridge to move infant formula from Zurich, Switzerland, to Plainfield, Indiana, in the U.S. The company manufacturing this formula reports it takes approximately 21 days through commercial aircraft for the formula to ship and clear customs so it can enter distribution." 

Navy Cmdr. Michael Sargent, a planner in U.S. Transportation Command's J3 Sustainment Division, was selected to lead the planning efforts. With a draft Action Memo in hand, he assembled the necessary players from across the U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise and multiple federal agencies, from DOD, to State, to Agriculture, and Health and Human Services to places like Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, to multiple agency headquarters in Washington D.C. and airmen in Europe.   

One of the things USTRANSCOM does best is to provide leaders with options to meet strategic mobility challenges.  

With the team assembled, virtual planning meetings began in earnest. Every roadblock was mitigated, and alternate solutions were discussed until resolution. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together and approvals were in hand, but the sense of urgency led to another course of action, because the long pole in the tent was the time to contract the flights. 

Hundreds of pallets of infant formula in the cargo holding area of an airplane.
Infant Formula
Air Force C-17 Globemaster III loaded with 78,000 pounds of infant formula bound for Indianapolis International Airport, Ind., May 22, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force 1st Lt. Emma Quirk
VIRIN: 220522-F-MA528-1070

Robert Brisson, deputy J3 director at USTRANSCOM, stated during one of the virtual meetings, "we've got two C-17s [Globemasters] on Bravo Alert at Ramstein, Germany. If we can get the cargo from Switzerland to Ramstein, we can have wheels up Saturday (May 21) night." 

Due to the urgency of the situation, Austin approved U.S. military aircraft for this mission, shortening the timeline by a couple days that would have been required for contract acquisition, showcasing once again USTRANSCOM's motto, "Together, we deliver!" 

USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power at a time and place of the nation's choosing. Powered by dedicated men and women, USTRANSCOM underwrites the lethality of the joint force, advances American interests around the globe, and provides our nation's leaders with strategic flexibility to select from multiple options, while creating multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.