By James Marconi
Director of Public Relations, NDTA
In an era where consumers can click a button online and get products in mere days or less, it’s easy to ignore the complexity of the system that permits that doorstep delivery. When it comes to the U.S. military, the requirements to move materiel and people halfway around the world get even more complicated.
It takes significant effort to move thousands of U.S. Army soldiers and thousands more pieces of equipment – including tanks and other vehicles – from a place like Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., to Europe. The 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team recently did just that, arriving at Bremerhaven, Germany, in January and continuing to Poland to participate in U.S. European Command’s Operation Atlantic Resolve. The ongoing operation “is a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to collective security through a series of actions designed to reassure NATO allies…in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine,” according to the Army.
What kind of organization and planning are behind moving a unit like the 3rd ABCT across the Atlantic? I had the opportunity in early December to talk with transportation and logistics experts at Fort Carson about the then-upcoming deployment. The following interview includes perspectives from Maj. Colton Kinninger, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team; Maj. Johnny Ward, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), 4th Sustainment Brigade; Mr. Jim Will, Installation Transportation Officer, Logistics Readiness Center; and Mr. Danny Visitacion, Logistics Readiness Center lead transportation specialist. The excerpt below is lightly edited for length and clarity. The full interview appears in the February issue of our Defense Transportation Journal.
DTJ: Thousands of vehicles and firearms, not to mention the personnel involved – it’s a massive amount of equipment and people moving from Colorado to Europe. How do you start to plan the transportation aspects of a move on that scale?
Maj. Kinninger: So, obviously we get the directive from the national command authority to execute said movement. However, once that order is made, identifying the requirements falls within the unit that’s deploying.
We identify all the way down to the company level what equipment is deploying, what equipment is not and package all that up. We then work with a team of teams – the individuals here representing the Installation Transportation Office and Logistics Readiness Center at Fort Carson, of course the 68th CSSB, 4th Sustainment Brigade, and units outside of the installation. [These include] the 16th Sustainment Brigade, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), our own 4th Infantry Division [4 ID] headquarters here at Fort Carson, our Mission Command Element from 4ID in Baumholder in Europe, and the two transportation brigades within SDDC (Surface Deployment and Distribution Command) – the 597th and 598th.
We work in coordination to try to sync those multiple players across multiple time zones. My mobility warrant officer started this planning before they returned from the last deployment to Kuwait. So we’ll work with units that have already been there, coordinating with them and getting some lessons learned.
Mr. Will: We start off by getting with the unit mobility officers, identifying the equipment that’s going to need to be shipped, and then start planning what we’re going to need for rail, what we’re going to need for line haul, and we go from there.
DTJ: So when we’re talking about the movement of equipment, are we talking principally about rail?
Mr. Will: The majority of it is rail, however we have quite a large amount of line haul [trucks]. And that includes containers and other equipment that is not going to be able to load by rail, which we go ahead and line haul down to Beaumont.
DTJ: Got it. And from there I imagine that it’s shipped over.
Mr. Will: Correct, from Beaumont right now we have three vessels that will be shipping the equipment over to Europe.
DTJ: So, what is the role of unit movements personnel in the move? How do they interact with your office and with commercial shippers?
Maj. Kinninger: So, all of the company level unit movement officers are responsible for identifying the requirements – what pieces of equipment are going and their types, dimensions, weights and proper documentation. They’re ensuring that’s all complete, and synchronizing that within their companies. And then they interact on a daily basis once we get underway with Mr. Will to get the nuts and bolts worked out, and to work out any kinks as we actually execute rail, line haul, or strategic airlift operations.
Mr. Will: We are very much responsible for units who ensure all the correct documentation for getting this equipment to overseas locations. We do several different inspections prior to it getting onto a rail car, so once it gets down to Beaumont, everything’s ready to go and ready to get out to the ship and move overseas.
DTJ: Clearly transportation on this scale depend upon a lot of different factors coming together, hopefully smoothly. From your perspective, what’s the single most overlooked aspect that contributes to a successful move?
Maj. Kinninger: I think probably the single most overlooked aspect is time, making sure that you synchronize that finite resource of time with all of the associated tasks for moving an entire brigade combat team from one part of the world to the next. The silver lining to this is sometimes we end up ahead of schedule. Our overall plan had us finishing rail load this week, but we were able to shift that to the left and we finished loading out rail on Friday.
Mr. Will: Very important to me is leadership involvement. Leadership involvement is when you’re at the rail head or if at the container yard and leadership is there to make sure documentation is correct, deficiencies are corrected immediately so we can get the equipment moved out of here on time and efficiently.
Maj. Ward: Just one additional note and that is preparation at the unit level. So, if unit executive officers and unit movement officers and hazmat certifiers are prepared, if they have their stuff squared away prior to executing a deployment, it will lead to success without a doubt.