U.S. Army - Tuesday 12th December, 2017
On Oct. 4th, 2016, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti. More than 500 people perished in the Category 4 storm, and another 1.4 million people required humanitarian aid. The main bridge leading to the western Tiburon Peninsula, the hardest hit area, was destroyed, so relief to the area had to be delivered by air and water.
Haiti requested U.S. assistance, so the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) deployed a Joint Task Force-Port Opening (JTF-PO) aerial port of debarkation (APOD) joint assessment team (JAT) to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
On Oct. 6, 2016, the JTF-PO JAT departed for Port-au-Prince by C-17 aircraft to open an APOD in support of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations. The JAT consisted of personnel from an Air Force contingency response group (CRG) and the Army's 689th Rapid Port Opening Element (RPOE).
JTF-PO AND RPOE OVERVIEW
The JTF-PO provides a joint expeditionary capability to rapidly establish and initially operate a port of debarkation and a distribution node to facilitate port throughput in support of a contingency response. At the request of the supported geographic combatant commander (GCC), elements of a JTF-PO can be activated to rapidly deploy to facilitate crisis response.
According to Joint Publication 4-01.5, Joint Terminal Operations, the JTF-PO is designed to be in place prior to the deployment of forces, sustainment, or HA/DR supplies. A JTF-PO JAT can deploy within 12 hours of notification to conduct a detailed port assessment and coordinate with the supported joint task force and the GCC's staff to ensure movement and distribution.
The Army, Air Force, and Navy each provide integral elements to a JTF-PO. The Army's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) provides RPOEs for both JTF-PO APODs and seaports of debarkation (SPODs). The Air Force's Air Mobility Command provides CRGs and squadrons for JTF-PO APODs. The Navy's Military Sealift Command provides expeditionary port units and command representatives for JTF-PO SPODs.
The JTF-PO was created to address discrepancies between shipped and received materiel and shortfalls in rapid cargo clearance, distribution network and node establishment, coordination for cargo onward movement, and in-transit visibility.
The JTF-PO coordinates the logistics flow at the beginning of a major movement, which is essential for preventing the loss of high-priority cargo and ensuring the on-time delivery of supplies. The JTF-PO also streamlines coordination to establish or augment a deployment and distribution network. The capabilities required to open and operate these networks are dispersed among the Army, Navy, and Air Force in both the active and reserve components.
Previously, coordination was required between the GCC, the secretary of defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now the GCC can coordinate directly with USTRANSCOM, and the USTRANSCOM commander can authorize a JTF-PO mission.
The purpose of a JTF-PO JAT is to conduct an assessment of the port of debarkation, integrate with the supported joint task force and GCC staff to understand mission requirements and priorities, and coordinate with interagency counterparts. The JTF-PO commander calls forward elements for the JTF-PO based on mission requirements.
SDDC maintains the Army's only three RPOEs. As the surface component of USTRANSCOM's JTF-PO, RPOEs rapidly deploy to establish a port of debarkation and forward distribution node. RPOEs provide in-transit visibility and conduct clearance and distribution operations. They also receive and transload cargo as an initial-entry port opening force until they are relieved by (or are integrated into) follow-on sustainment forces.
The three RPOEs rotate through the alert cycle every 90 days. While on Ready 1 (alert), the RPOE is on a two-hour recall and the JAT should be able to deploy within 12 hours. During Ready 2 (training) the RPOE focuses on collective and joint training events. The RPOE in Ready 3 (reset) focuses on alert recovery and individual tasks.
RPOE OPERATIONS IN HAITI
In late September, as Matthew developed into a major hurricane in the Caribbean Sea, the 689th RPOE, on alert, began initial planning and coordination for a possible deployment in support of an HA/DR mission. The RPOE not only worked with its higher headquarters to identify requirements but also contacted the 621st CRG, its Air Force counterpart. Numerous bilateral engagements and joint exercises improved the units' deployment coordination.
After the JTF-PO arrived in Haiti, the 621st CRG commander served as the JTF-PO commander. As the JTF-PO JAT conducted its assessment and Hurricane Matthew began moving farther away from Haiti and up the U.S. East Coast, the remaining 689th RPOE personnel prepared to deploy.
The mission at the airport in Port-au-Prince was to transload HA/DR supplies from civilian trucks to U.S. military aircraft, which would deliver the supplies to remote locations. More CRG elements of the JTF-PO were deployed to Haiti immediately to conduct this mission; however, the mission was the RPOE's expertise. Unfortunately, with Matthew bearing down on the 689th RPOE's home station of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, the RPOE was unable to deploy until it passed.
On Oct. 10, 16 RPOE Soldiers with two forklifts, one humvee, and a small port operations communications kit deployed. Upon arrival, the 689th RPOE team got to work immediately tracking HA/DR supplies and transloading supplies onto helicopters.
Forklifts were used to move supplies from one staging area to another. One forklift became not mission capable during the operation. Though the RPOE team had planned to deploy with additional maintenance parts, that container did not deploy because a lack of available aircraft. The RPOE's communication with the CRG ensured that the mission was still accomplished.
After tracking and loading over a million pounds of humanitarian aid to the hardest hit areas of western Haiti, the 689th RPOE completed its mission and redeployed all personnel and equipment on Oct. 20, 2016.
The 689th RPOE identified best practices regarding equipment, personnel, and joint readiness that can be helpful to future JTF-POs and other Army units.
EQUIPMENT. Command emphasis on preventive maintenance checks and services is crucial in order for a unit to be ready for rapid deployment. RPOE equipment must meet meticulous joint inspection standards to ensure no equipment becomes frustrated prior to airloading. While on alert, RPOEs must strike a balance between using equipment for day-to-day training requirements and maintaining a high state of equipment readiness. When alerted, RPOEs must have a full fleet ready to deploy.
To ensure equipment readiness, RPOEs should implement these practices. First, they must coordinate for Air Force joint inspectors from the nearest power projection platform air terminal to conduct courtesy joint inspections on a regular basis. This not only ensures that RPOE equipment is airload ready but also teaches the RPOE Soldiers the correct process to prepare and inspect each type of equipment for deployment and redeployment.
Second, RPOEs must be prepared to maintain themselves. When not deployed, RPOEs rely on the logistics readiness center to conduct repairs and services. When deployed to an austere environment, RPOEs have no external maintenance support. In order to overcome this shortfall, RPOEs should identify the most common equipment faults and required repair parts. The RPOE must be able to repair those faults and maintain a deployable 'go package' with common repair parts in order to quickly fix equipment and operate without support for up to 60 days.
PERSONNEL. RPOEs must ensure Soldiers can rapidly deploy by aircraft with only 12 hours' notice. While most units will dedicate the weeks or months prior to a deployment to ensuring Soldiers are cleared administratively and medically, an RPOE must maintain flexibility to deploy a small team or all 54 Soldiers to any environment immediately.
Personnel readiness requires a complete understanding of the GCC's deployment requirements. The RPOE command team must focus on personnel readiness and dedicate time on the training calendar to ensure all requirements are met.
To ensure personnel readiness, RPOEs should conduct weekly personnel readiness reviews that include a detailed look at all administrative and medical issues in the unit. RPOEs and their battalion headquarters should also conduct monthly medical management meetings with the installation medical community to discuss individual Soldier readiness and resolve any issues requiring external support.
The battalion headquarters and RPOEs should build relationships with supporting organizations on post to ensure that they can get immediate support to rapidly deploy. Units should make a list of the personnel or organizations that they will need to coordinate with for deployment and then regularly communicate with those entities to build rapport.
When it comes to physical training, units should ensure that they prepare Soldiers for various missions in the most austere environments and under the most extreme weather conditions. Soldiers should also cross-train on a variety of jobs to ensure mission gaps are filled.
The 833rd Transportation Battalion headquarters and its RPOEs developed a unit leader certification program that ensures that assigned leaders have a firm understanding of the unit's mission and requirements. This program ensures leaders are prepared and, in turn, ensures Soldiers are ready to rapidly deploy and conduct their mission.
JOINT READINESS. A unique readiness challenge for a JTF-PO is that each element deploys from a different location. Mission success depends on close coordination across service components within USTRANSCOM and the Defense Logistics Agency. For an RPOE, consistent communication and training with counterparts are essential.
To ensure joint readiness, RPOEs should conduct regular bilateral engagements with joint partners, to include joint communications exercises, joint operation center exercises, and weekly readiness component teleconferences. RPOEs should also align alert cycles across the components to ensure that Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors who deploy together are from the same units that trained together.
To provide a common operational picture, JTF-PO components should use Intel Share as a knowledge management platform. The program keeps all units informed with the most current data.
These best practices can be adapted to most Army organizations to ensure they are ready to perform their missions at the highest level. No matter the type of unit, it is essential that readiness remain the number one priority.
Lt. Col. Stacy M. Tomic is the commander of the 833rd Transportation Battalion, SDDC, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. She holds a bachelor's degree in behavioral sciences and leadership from the U.S. Military Academy and an MBA with a focus in logistics from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, Support Operations Course, Division Transportation Officer Course, Joint Planning Course, and Intermediate Level Education at the Command and General Staff College.
Capt. Adam M. Grover is the commander of the 689th RPOE, SDDC, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. He holds a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the College of William and Mary. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Logistics Captains Career Course, and Support Operations Course. He is also a Lean Six Sigma green belt.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.
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