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Intermodal Distribution Comes of Age in Europe

Although several initiatives in the Department of Defense (DOD) are improving end-to-end supply chain distribution to support the warfighter, none has been more successful recently than European Intermodal Distribution (EID), which was adopted by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) in March 2004.

EUCOM teamed up with each of its service components, such as U.S. Army Europe, and the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) to establish the first intermodal distribution system to support forces stationed in EUCOM’s area of responsibility (AOR) and EUCOM forces forward-deployed to support the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Intermodal” refers to the transfer of cargo from one mode of transportation to another (for example, from a ship to a truck).

Under EID, the joint logistics community has taken advantage of ways to optimize intermodal operations between military lift and military and commercial trucks. The results have been increased distribution effectiveness and efficiency, reduced delivery times, and decreased operating costs.

The EID concept of support is the product of several EUCOM Distribution Conferences. The conferences are held quarterly at locations throughout Europe and are sponsored by each of EUCOM’s service components. All representatives of DOD agencies, commands, and service components attending these conferences have agreed that the EID concept, developed by action officers from three commands in EUCOM, should at least be given a chance.

Implementing EID was no easy undertaking. Skeptics questioned if it would actually work and if it would benefit the overall distribution pipeline. In the beginning, several service component objections and service-unique requirements had to be satisfied, but persistence achieved success. On 4 March 2004, an agreement to conduct a proof of concept was executed.

The action officers responsible for getting the EID concept off the ground and running successfully were a Canadian logistics officer, Major Pat Paquin, assigned to the EUCOM J–4; a Department of the Army civilian employee, Mike Mamer of the 21st Theater Support Command (TSC); and an Air Force senior noncommissioned officer, Senior Master Sergeant John McAllister of the 723d Air Mobility Squadron.

Why EID?

More than 4 years ago, Mamer concluded that the theater’s air cargo clearance process and onward movement of Air Force 463L pallets at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, were slow and unresponsive to customers’ demands. The reason was that each service component maintained its individual operations. While intermodal transportation did exist, a joint effort to optimize and maximize the capabilities of intermodal transportation to deliver cargo to customers did not. At the same time, critical Air Force in-tratheater airlift assets (C–130 transports) were in high demand to support the Global War on Terrorism. Because no relief was in sight, Mamer recommended that the Air Force’s 723d Air Mobility Squadron, located at Ramstein, authorize the 21st TSC to clear and distribute air pallets by surface transportation after they arrived at the air base. His recommendation was rejected.

Approximately 2 years later—as TRANSCOM was becoming the DOD Distribution Process Owner, with the goal of improving the overall efficiency and interoperability of distribution-related activities (deployment, sustainment, and redeployment support during peace and war)—decisionmakers attending a EUCOM Distribution Conference decided it was time to do an EID proof of concept. After only 3 months of testing, EID was given the green light by all DOD service components and commands to fully execute. The rest is history.

How Does EID Work?

EID is, in the simplest of terms, the shuttling of military air cargo arriving at Ramstein Air Base, for any destination that can be reached by surface transportation, to the Joint Theater Distribution Center (JTDC) located 20 minutes away at Panzer Kaserne in Kaiserslautern. The cargo is reconciled and processed through the JTDC in time to arrive at its destination the following workday during normal hours of operation.

Before March 2004, military cargo airlifted to Ramstein Air Base was shipped to the customer from one of two major hubs after arrival. Either cargo was trucked straight to the customer from Ramstein itself, or it was forwarded to the JTDC and then trucked to the customer. As a result, cargo often was delivered to the same destination on two trucks, even if the cargo arrived on the same plane, with one truck arriving at the customer from Ramstein and the other arriving from the JTDC.

Loads were not consolidated, inefficiencies abounded, and the costs of intermodal transportation and distribution-hub operations were unchecked. At times, even high-priority cargo awaited transportation and in-transit visibility was lost. The EID system was implemented to alleviate these problems.

This entire process has been changed. Now, cargo is being consolidated at the JTDC, where in-transit visibility now is perpetuated throughout the entire distribution network. Cargo movement does not depend on priorities: It is all moved once it arrives at Ramstein. Customers can plan their daily workloads and train better because they can count on their cargo being delivered at the same time every day that they operate. Joint cooperation can benefit all aspects of supply chain management. A dramatic reduction in the number of routes used to deliver cargo has meant a reduction in the assets needed to deliver that cargo. Transportation and hub-operation costs have been reduced, and cost savings have been passed on to all service components in Europe.

Every air cargo pallet that arrives at Ramstein, destined for a customer in EUCOM’s AOR that can be reached by military or commercial truck, goes directly from the airplane arriving at the air base onto a 37th Transportation Command trailer, is shuttled to the JTDC, and is delivered by truck to the customer by 0900 the next workday. Some cargo is not delivered the next day for various reasons. Either the customer is closed for inventory, training, or some other purpose, or the customer is located outside the regulatory 24-hour delivery timeframe. (Such locations include Mildenhall, England; Aviano, Italy; and Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo).

In the first year of operation, approximately $8 million was saved by operating under the EID concept. The process has been so effective that Air Force cargo arriving at Ramstein now is delivered to customers in less than 24 hours, compared to the previous 5 to 7 days. Port-hold time also has been reduced dramatically, from 5 days to 1/2 day.

Because of its successes, the EID concept has been expanded to Sigonella, Italy. Other sites also are being considered. The EID concept works on a temporary basis as well. Last year, when Ramstein Air Base was closed for runway repairs, the EID concept was moved from Ramstein to Mildenhall Air Base without any interruption of service to customers. This successful adaptation demonstrates that the EID concept can be set up at any aerial port of debarkation in the world. DOD now can logistically support on a global and joint basis. Combatant commands now not only are fighting the war but also are being supported by other combatant commands. The EID brings DOD one step closer to building an efficient and effective logistics distribution network that gets the warfighters exactly what they need, on time, in the right quantities, and configured to best meet their lift, reception, and onward movement capabilities.

Mark S. Paun is the Deputy Chief of the Deployment Distribution Management Center at the 200th Theater Distribution Brigade in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He also is a retired Transportation Corps major. He holds a B.S. degree from Montana State University and attended the Pennsylvania State University Supply Chain Management Certification Program. He has 28 years of global logistics operations experience.