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Army Transportation Unit Adapts to Growing Demand 


by Harold Kennedy  

The Military Traffic Management Command—the Army unit responsible for surface transportation for all of the armed services—is undergoing a major reorganization in order to streamline its far-flung operations and speed up the delivery of supplies and equipment to U.S. troops around the world.

The changes began before the September 11 terrorist attacks, but those events “propelled us much faster than otherwise would have been the case,” said Brig. Gen. Barbara Doornink, the MTMC’s deputy commanding general. Doornink sat down with National Defense in her new offices at Fort Eustis, Va., to explain the changes.

The MTMC, she noted, is the Army component of the U.S. Transportation Command, which manages the worldwide movement of all Defense Department cargo by air, land or sea. The MTMC is responsible for surface transportation of those goods, from the U.S. point of origin to the ship and from the oversea ports to the final destination, Doornink said. A total of 92 percent of all military cargo moves by surface transportation, she said.

During the first six months of fiscal year 2002, for example, the MTMC moved 1.3 million tons of material in 42,000 containers, Doornink said. Shipments to Afghanistan and the surrounding region have included Air Force munitions, Hellfire missiles and humanitarian supplies. The command even shipped water in plastic bottles by rail from Europe, across Russia into Uzbekistan.

The MTMC also shipped cargo to the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where alleged terrorists captured in Afghanistan are being detained, Doornink explained. The first shipment included a hospital and some buses to transport the detainees to Camp X-Ray.

As the war on terrorism spreads to other countries, such as the Philippines, the former Soviet republic of Georgia and possibly Iraq, the MTMC is likely to see a substantial increase in shipments in the near future, well above the level of activity in 2001, according to Doornink. In that year, she noted, the command transported 3.7 million tons of cargo, 26,000 passengers, 75,000 personal vehicles, 500,000 shipments of personal property and 95,300 containers.

The MTMC contracts with private industry to do the actual shipping. In 2001, it awarded $876 million in shipping contracts to companies in the transportation industry, including oceangoing, rail and trucking.

The command works with eight U.S. flag carriers to provide ocean-liner services for U.S. military units in 130 countries. As part of the war on terror, service was expanded to include Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. To reach that region, cargoes are shipped by sea to the port of Bremerhaven, in Germany, then by rail to the destination.

The war—and the increasing activity associated with it—came at an awkward time, when the MTMC was downsizing, Doornink said. In 1999, as a result of Base Realignment and Closure Commission decisions a few years earlier, the command closed port facilities at the Oakland Army Base, in California, and the Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne, in New Jersey.

Many of the functions of those two ports were transferred to Fort Eustis. MTMC units at Fort Eustis—the home of the Army’s Transportation Corps—had been responsible for military shipments within the United States and Puerto Rico.

In the summer of 2001, the Army announced what was called “a sweeping reorganization” of the MTMC. The command’s Operations Division and the Joint Traffic Management Office at MTMC headquarters, in Alexandria, Va., were to be moved to Fort Eustis and combined with the Deployment Support Command, creating a new worldwide MTMC Operations Center.

Originally, the reorganization—which eventually will trim 250 personnel spaces, 9 percent of the MTMC’s 2,346 worldwide force—was scheduled to take place in November of this year.

Accelerating the Pace
After 9/11, however, the pace of change was accelerated, Doornink said. The Operations Center was established in November of 2001—a year early—and Doornink was put in charge. From its base at Fort Eustis, the center coordinates the work of four subordinate units:

The MTMC works with the Transportation Corps, Doornink said. Both the Transportation School and the 7th Transportation Group are located at Fort Eustis.

The command has personnel at 24 seaports throughout the world, she said. They handle not only military equipment and supplies, but also the personal effects that U.S. service personnel take with them when stationed abroad.

Shipments move through strategic U.S. ports, such as Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Beaumont, Texas; the New Jersey Port Authority; Tacoma, Wash., and San Diego, Doornink said. They are received by MTMC units at ports across Europe, Southwest Asia and the Pacific Rim.

To handle rapidly erupting contingencies in places where the MTMC has no representatives—such as Afghanistan or the Balkans—the command dispatches deployment-support teams, made up of active-duty military, civilians and foreign national personnel.

These teams manage, document and synchronize the cargoes moving through the ports where they are assigned. They are “probably our most used assets,” Doornink said.

Increasingly, the teams “are going into places where we’ve never been before,” she noted. “One team is going to Peru next week. It is just now beginning to load.” Another team is in the Philippines, helping prepare for an annual exercise there.

The teams run between three and 17 people, “depending upon the amount of cargo,” Doornink said. “They don’t necessarily wear uniforms, and they hire local employees who know how to do business in that arena. That’s very important to us.”

The center maintains three shifts of employees per day, with one watch focused on the continental United States, one on Europe and one on the Far East. “We have to be able to talk to our deployed forces in real time,” Doornink said.

The command also is working to keep better track of its shipments while in route, she said. With use of such technologies as radio-frequency tags and bar coding, Doornink said, “we know an awful lot, for example, about those containers headed toward Uzebekistan.”

Countering Pilferage
Such tracking systems are helpful in countering pilferage, which was “a big concern before 9/11,” according to Doornink. Last summer, for example, six late-model BMW automobiles—property of U.S. service personnel returning from Europe—disappeared from the Port of Charleston. They were recovered within days. Police arrested a suspect with the ignition keys for all six cars.

Since 9/11, Doornink said, the MTMC’s security focus has shifted from fighting theft to countering terrorism. The command is increasing its cooperation with other U.S. organizations, such as the Coast Guard, the Customs Service and the new Transportation Security Administration, to protect shipments at dockside.

The MTMC has taken new steps to protect the shipment of ammunition within the United States, Doornink said. Up to 50,000 rounds, ranging from small-arms munitions to missiles, are shipped every year, mostly by commercial trucks, she said. Security for the trucks was regulated by state, not federal, law.

After 9/11, military units took over the shipments, Doornink said. Truck drivers were required to have secret clearances, and they were taught to use M-16s, if needed.

Meanwhile, the MTMC is working to make its operations more efficient. To make it easier to operate ports in locations with little or no infrastructure, for example, the command is developing three mobile port operations centers. Each of these centers will feature automated, secure command, control, communications and information technology, mounted in two humvees for quick deployment. The first of these centers is scheduled to deploy this summer.

To simplify movement of material between trucks and aircraft, the MTC worked with the Air Force to come up with an “intermodal pallet,” which can travel both on C-130 air transports and under Europe’s bridge suspension systems. Traditional pallets used by MTMC were too thick, when stacked on high truck beds, to fit within many European bridge structures. To get around that problem, the intermodal versions are built thinner.

To improve its ability to meet the surge requirements of major deployments, the command has turned over management of its railroad cars to a private firm. In December, it signed a two-year, $1.9 million contract with IntelliTrans, of Atlanta, to oversee all car movements, tracking, maintenance management, repairs and records for the 2,200 railroad cars in the Defense Freight Railway Interchange Fleet.

Included among the fleet are 556 heavy-duty flatcars, each capable of carrying two 7-ton M-1 tanks. IntelliTrans also will track military customers’ shipments aboard commercial railroad cars, making it easier to integrate military and commercial rail cars during wartime.

The MTMC and its contractors will go to considerable lengths to accommodate cargo. Last summer in New York City, regulations prevented a Swedish-owned vessel—the MV Express—from using its stern ramp to load 20 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters bound for Bosnia.

The ship’s operators solved the problem by using welding torches to enlarge the vessel’s side hatch and using it to stow the helicopters. Then, the hatch was repaired. When the ship arrived in the Balkans, the MTMC was able to use to stern ramp to discharge the Blackhawks.

The command also is using innovative methods to increase the amount of cargo that ships can carry. Standard stow plans for the Navy’s large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships use 75 percent of the available space.

In April, MTMC personnel in Charleston came up with a plan that used 78 percent of the space aboard the USNS Dahl, which was bound for the Indian Ocean. They loaded 1,740 individual pieces of equipment, occupying 347,593 square feet in the Dahl’s cargo hold. It is the largest amount of cargo ever loaded on such a ship, according to the MTMC.

Ramping up to keep up with the post-9/11 surge in shipments has been a strain on MTMC personnel, Doornink said. To augment them, more than 600 Army reservists have been mobilized, she said. “We may end up mobilizing one more round.”

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