USTRANSCOM at 35
On Oct. 1, 1987, U.S. Transportation Command, “a command born out of need,” was established. Gen. Duane Cassidy, our first commander, described and understood that need better than anyone. “Our nation needed a unified combatant command to move America’s fighting force across the globe via air, land, and sea,” Cassidy stated.
From their inception, the U.S. military services enjoyed near total independence in logistical support and owned and operated their own transportation assets. Following World War II, partial unification of the armed forces and the growing interdependence of the services called into question this arrangement. For four decades of independent commissions, congressional committees, and defense study panels validated the need for central direction of defense transportation.
Finally, on April 18, 1987, President Ronald Reagan ordered the secretary of defense to establish a unified transportation command, a directive made possible in part by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which revoked the law prohibiting consolidation of military transportation functions.
“It did not happen overnight, which explains why we celebrate our birthday on the first day of the new fiscal year in October each year,” Dr. Joseph Mason, command historian, stated. “You don’t turn on a switch and say, “here you go” — you have to move the parts in place once the okay was given.”
This involved the activation of USTRANSCOM in July of 1987. “It takes time to organize and move the core pieces to Scott Air Force Base, and to move us from IOC (initial operational capacity) to FOC (full operational capacity) and it took a few months to get us there,” Mason stated.
So that is why this command celebrates its birthday day each year on Oct. 1 It is the date that we attained full mission capacity as a combatant command – 35 years ago.
Initially, the command’s mission was to provide global air, sea, and land transportation to meet national security needs in wartime only, and the commander was dual-hatted as the air component command commander. Following USTRANSCOM’s successes in operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm, on Feb. 14, 1992, the secretary of defense expanded the command’s mission to be the single manager of transportation for the Department of Defense (DOD) in peace and war.
Over the next several years, USTRANSCOM received additional transportation-related responsibilities, including providing common user air refueling and global patient movement and regulating.
Since Desert Shield/Desert Storm, USTRANSCOM has continued to prove its worth during contingencies and peacekeeping endeavors. Likewise, the command has supported numerous humanitarian relief operations transporting relief supplies to victims of natural disasters in at home and abroad. After terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, USTRANSCOM became a vital partner in the United States’ Global War on Terror supporting the warfighter as part of Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and southwest Asia) and Iraqi Freedom (Iraq).
On Sept. 16, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld designated the commander of USTRANSCOM as the Distribution Process Owner (DPO) to serve “as the single entity to direct and supervise execution of the strategic distribution system” in order to “improve the overall efficiency and interoperability of distribution-related activities — deployment, sustainment and redeployment support during peace and war.” This was the most dramatic change to USTRANSCOM’s responsibilities since the command received its peacetime mission in 1992.
“We never sat on our laurels from OEF/OIF,” Mason stated. “We supported the 10 other combatant commands in their peacetime missions – training and execution of smaller but just as important missions.”
In 2004, USTRANSCOM became the portfolio manager and acquisition authority for procuring for DOD logistics information technology systems, carrying out research projects, and obtaining services to transform the DOD supply chain.
The appointment of Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz as commander of USTRANSCOM in September 2005 signaled that the command, ever-evolving, had achieved a new stature. For the first time since its inception in 1987, USTRANSCOM had a full-time commander. This change facilitated the continued transformation of the command from a transportation to a distribution organization.
In 2006, the Secretary of Defense designated USTRANSCOM as the mobility joint force provider to identify, recommend and supervise implementation of global sourcing solutions. More recently, USTRANSCOM became the DOD’s single manager of the Defense Personal Property Program on Oct. 1, 2017, overseeing DOD’s household goods and privately-owned vehicle shipment programs.
In 2011, the Joint Staff inactivated the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and reassigned the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC) from USJFCOM to USTRANSCOM, giving USTRANSCOM the new mission as the Joint Enabling Capabilities Provider with the ability to facilitate the rapid establishment of joint task force headquarters.
After decades of combat operations in Southwest Asia, preserving readiness and recapitalizing the sea fleet became one of the command’s top priorities. In 2014, the command created the Readiness Driven Allocation Board to balance organic and commercial readiness, and the director of acquisition and component commands incorporated readiness factors into contracts. USTRANSCOM teamed with the Navy and Maritime Administration to develop strategies to recapitalize the organic sealift fleet and maintain a strong mariner workforce and U.S. flag merchant fleet.
Throughout its 35 years, however, the command’s top priority has been warfighting readiness. The command continues to home its warfighting skills through training, internal and external exercises, and advocating for tomorrow’s capabilities. To that end, in 2017, the USTRANSCOM Commander changed the Command’s DPO authorities to the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise Coordinator (JDDC). As the JDDC, the USTRANSCOM Commander oversees globally integrated mobility operations and provides enabling capabilities to project and sustain the Joint Force in support of national objectives.
The command’s major exercises – Turbo Challenge, Turbo Activation, Turbo Distribution, and Ultimate Caduceus — focused on stressing the roles of the command, its components, and our commercial partners and tested the command’s ability to conduct dynamic force employment in support of globally integrated priorities.
The focus on readiness paid off during contingency operations. In 2021, USTRANSCOM played a key role in the Afghanistan retrograde, leading to the largest non-combatant evacuation airlift in U.S. history, which included the third-ever activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
USTRANSCOM Commander Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost reflected on the command’s accomplishments while addressing the workforce. “From our initial mission of global transportation during only wartime, to now the organization responsible for conducting globally integrated mobility operations, leading the broader Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise, and providing enabling capabilities to project and sustain the Joint Force during peacetime, crisis, or combat…one constant remains true—we deliver for our Nation!”
By Mike Walton, US Transportation Command Public Affairs