Jan - Feb 2012: Article

Joint Task Force-Port Opening Comes to the Pacific

During a training mission in Thailand, a joint task force-port opening unit demonstrated its ability to establish a port of debarkation, conduct cargo-handling operations, and facilitate throughput.

The deployment in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991 was a monumental undertaking that demonstrated the strategic reach of U.S. military power. More than 148 million cubic feet of dry cargo and 3.1 million tons of petroleum products were moved over a 7-month period. This was an incredible accomplishment by any measure.

As impressive as this movement was, it revealed several gaps in the Army's ability to provide expeditionary rapid port-opening and distribution support to its forces. Specifically, it highlighted the Army's need to develop a more effective means of keeping track of shipped cargo (in-transit visibility) and distributing it to end users in a timely manner.

835th Transportation Battalion

Developing the Joint Task Force–Port Opening
The U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) filled this need in 2005 when it developed a plan to address the backlog of cargo at aerial ports. The Air Force Air Mobility Command's tactical airlift control element combined with a newly developed Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) rapid port-opening element (RPOE) to form a joint task force–port opening (JTF–PO). This joint expeditionary organization can rapidly establish and initially operate a port of debarkation, conduct cargo-handling and movement operations to a forward node, and facilitate throughput. It has been tested several times and has proven very successful over the years.

After the JTF–PO was successfully employed at air ports of debarkation (APODs), TRANSCOM examined using the new concept to fill the gaps in logistics support that existed at sea ports of debarkation (SPODs). The idea for the JTF–PO (SPOD) was developed in 2008 using the JTF–PO (APOD) as a model.

The capabilities of SDDC's deployment and distribution support team (DDST) and RPOE were combined with the Military Sealift Command's expeditionary port unit (EPU) to form a JTF–PO (SPOD). The addition of the EPU gave the organization the ability to conduct port assessments, provide ship movement control and husbandry, and act as the port liaison between ships and port support facilities.

A very essential element that the JTF–PO (SPOD) brings is a contracting component that significantly expands the overall capability of the JTF–PO. The contracting component provides cargo handling, cargo transfer, and port clearance through the use of contracted stevedore support and materials-handling equipment from the supported country.

A JTF–PO (SPOD) was effectively employed during a humanitarian mission in Haiti. On 12 January 2010, Haiti experienced a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that caused incredible destruction and displaced more than 200,000 people. In response, the 832d Transportation Battalion's DDST combined with the 689th RPOE to execute the JTF–PO (SPOD) mission in support of this enormous humanitarian effort. The unit's ability to provide rapid port opening, set up accurate in-transit visibility (ITV), and establish a robust distribution network in Haiti provided a proof of concept for the JTF–PO (SPOD).

Employing the JTF–PO in the Pacific
Operating in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility (AOR), the 599th Transportation Brigade uses three transportation battalions to support roughly 53 percent of the world's geographical area. The Pacific AOR provides a unique opportunity for a JTF–PO (SPOD) to demonstrate its ability to deploy a great distance to an area that has seen more than 80 natural disasters since 2000.

Until 2010, only two transportation battalions had experience with the JTF–PO (SPOD). The 832d Transportation Battalion from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the 833d Transportation Battalion from Seattle, Washington, received extensive training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Soldiers from the 832d Transportation Battalion provided support during the Haiti humanitarian civil assistance mission as well.

The 599th Transportation Brigade identified the need for its battalions to conduct joint integration training that included "crawl, walk, and run" phases. All battalions under the 599th Transportation Brigade conducted the "crawl" phase of training in May 2010. The 835th Transportation Battalion was designated to conduct the "walk" phase of the training. This training was conducted in conjunction with the execution of reception and onward movement of humanitarian civil assistance cargo in support of Cobra Gold 2011, an annual joint exercise that takes place in Thailand.

The following objectives were derived from the joint mission essential task list and established with the assistance of TRANSCOM for the training exercise:

  • Familiarize all stakeholders with JTF–PO operations.
  • Establish the 835th Transportation Battalion commander as the JTF–PO commander.
  • Integrate all elements of JTF–PO, including the 835th Transportation Battalion DDST and com-mand and control element, the 113th EPU, and the 689th RPOE.
  • Conduct a port assessment using the joint assessment team.
  • Operate the joint operations center.
  • Establish communications, including secure and nonsecure Internet.
  • Provide mission command using ITV capabilities.

Training the JTF–PO in Thailand
Once the battalion received its orders for the mission, it began to determine its course of action, task organization, resource requirements, and personnel requirements. The staff needed to determine how to meet the established training objectives given the constraints of operating out of a commercial port. Battalion operations personnel began coordinating with the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the commercial carrier, and the port authority at Laem Chabang Port in Thailand.

After several meetings and many discussions, it was decided that some preliminary training was necessary to ensure a seamless transition to a joint operation. The joint assessment team, consisting of key personnel from each component of the JTF–PO (SPOD), conducted a port assessment. The TRANSCOM subject-matter expert conducted initial classroom training, which was called JTF–PO 101. This training ensured that everyone began with the same understanding of the JTF–PO (SPOD).

The DDST personnel provided hands-on training on three cargo management and tracking systems: the Worldwide Port System (WPS), Integrated Computerized Deployment System, and Integrated Surface Distribution and Data Cleansing. The RPOE and EPU provided feedback that was instrumental in fostering the integration of the JTF–PO (SPOD). A rehearsal of concept (ROC) drill was conducted to familiarize the team with the concept of operation. The ROC drill focused on a discussion of the cargo flow and maintaining ITV throughout the process.

These initial training opportunities opened the lines of communication, provided a base of understanding, and facilitated a dialog that was beneficial to the execution of port operations.

The accountability of all containers was established in the staging yard using handheld scanners and manual backup sheets for further processing in WPS. To maximize the training value, the cargo flow was staggered over a 3-day period from the cargo staging area to the forward node.

Portable deployment kits were placed at the staging yard and forward node to ensure that ITV was maintained throughout the process. Once the forward node received and accounted for all cargo, it released the cargo for delivery to the final destinations before the required delivery date. Constant communication throughout the execution of port operations enabled the integration of the individual components and ensured that the JTF–PO met its objectives.

Lessons Learned
The value of collecting lessons learned from an exercise cannot be overstated. The 599th Transportation Brigade employed an independent observer to compile after-action feedback and to facilitate an after-action review.

Overall, the mission was a success. Working together for the first time required patience and a willingness to share and listen to ideas that had proven successful on previous missions. The JTF–PO met all established objectives, but it also took note of a few areas that could be improved to make future operations more effective. Listed below are some significant points from the after-action review.

Reception and integration. The battalion performed well in establishing life support and sustainment for arriving personnel. However, on a couple of occasions, deploying personnel were not aware of the immigration procedures for arrival at the airport in Bangkok. Many Soldiers did not know if a passport was even required. Much of the responsibility for ensuring personnel are prepared to deploy falls on the unit or its higher headquarters, but the gaining headquarters also has a stake in ensuring that everyone comes prepared.

Port operations. When a unit deploys, it must bring all of the resources that make it fully functional. One of the units arrived relying on power from local commercial vehicles to operate its portable deployable kit, even though the equipment had a power inverter that would have allowed it to operate independently. The unit's plan did not work, but fortunately another unit deployed with its power inverter, which allowed the JTF–PO to function as planned.

Joint manning document. Currently, no official joint manning document (JMD) exists to provide a basis for building a JTF–PO headquarters. As a result, manning a headquarters became a trial and error process. A JTF–PO is designed to operate for 45 to 60 days. Having a full, functional staff, including an S–1, S–2, S–3, and so on, would have been beneficial. In this case, the deputy commander and the S–3 fulfilled the functions of the other staff members. That would likely be more difficult during a longer, more involved mission.

The JTF–PO proved itself when it supported the relief effort in Haiti. With the JTF–PO's training base and the RPOE located at Fort Eustis, supporting operations in the Pacific region presents some challenges, including time and distance. Gaining familiarity with the battalions of the region and developing an understanding of the culture will make a great idea even better.

The "run" phase of the 599th Transportation Brigade's JTF–PO training is planned for this year. Based on the experience and lessons learned from this initial engagement of the 599th Transportation Brigade with JTF–PO, the Pacific region will benefit significantly from using this expeditionary logistics asset.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Walker was the commander of the 835th Transportation Battalion in Okinawa, Japan, when this article was written. He holds a bachelor's degree in geology and a master's degree in urban and regional planning from Ball State University. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Army Command and General Staff College, and Joint and Combined Warfighting School's Joint Professional Military Education–II.

Captain Alethia Reynolds was the S–3 of the 835th Transportation Battalion when this article was written. She holds a B.S. degree in business management from Columbus State University. She is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Support Operations Course.

Aviana Gutierrez is the chief of the 835th Transportation Battalion Detachment, Singpore. She holds a B.S. degree in supply chain management from Arizona State University and is a graduate of the Logistics Management Specialist Intern Program.


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