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Moving our forces –- then and now

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- “We are ahead of the time line for a comparable force 12 years ago,” according to Air Force General John W. Handy, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, during a discussion comparing the current build-up of military forces with that for Desert Shield/Storm.

Many compare the current deployment to the six-months of preparation needed for the 1991 Gulf War. But, Handy says the current effort differs due to investments and improvements made in the defense transportation system.

On the heels of every operation, the military studies “lessons learned” to address ways for improvement. In 1992, the Secretary of Defense gave USTRANSCOM control of all strategic transportation assets during peacetime to ease the transition to wartime support.

The scope of USTRANSCOM’s command and control is only one of the many improvements made in the last 12 years.

“Our strategic mobility forces, with the addition of large Medium Speed Roll-On/Roll-Off (LMSR) ships, additional Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships, C-17 Globemasters, and infrastructure improvements are much more capable today,” according to Maj Gen William Welser, USTRANSCOM’s director of operations.

The actual number of strategic aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet is smaller today than during the Gulf War of 1991. But according to Welser, the introduction of the C-17 brings a modern, robust, versatile and highly reliable platform to the air mobility fleet.

“The C-17 has proven to be a real workhorse,” said Welser. “It brings greater capability and reliability, and provides a more flexible force in both strategic and theater airlift with access to smaller airfields and the ability to operate in areas with access problems.”

Airlift is not the only transportation platform to see vast improvements. Since Desert Storm, the Navy has taken delivery of 19 LMSRs adding five million square feet of sealift capability. Delivery of the 20th LMSR is scheduled for later this year.

The Military Sealift Command, the U.S. Navy component command of USTRANSCOM, employs these ships to move large quantities of equipment to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

“It’s often more efficient and effective to use sealift, or surface transportation,” said Welser. “One LMSR can move the equivalent of more than 300 C-17s and free up airlift for other missions.”

Thus far, for Operation Enduring Freedom, MSC has moved more than 12.7 million square feet of equipment and cargo. If this equipment and cargo were staged on land, it would cover more than 290 acres or 220 football fields.

All aspects of military transportation have seen improvements. Many new railheads are now in place at military installations. This has significantly improved how units move from home station to a port of debarkation.

In 1990, the 101st Air Assault Division needed 1,174 truckloads, each moving 780 miles, using commercial trucks to get from Fort Campbell, Ky. to the port for load-up on ships. This time almost the entire division was able to move via rail.

Information technology has also had a great impact on the way our forces are deployed. In 1990, 40% of containers arriving in theater had to be opened to determine contents and final destination. In-Transit Visibility (ITV) has greatly improved through Global Transportation Network (GTN), World Wide Port System (WPS) RFID tags, and MTMC’s Web-based Intelligent Road-Rail Information Server (IRRIS).

Since the global war against terrorism began in October 2001, and with another aspect of this war involving Iraq looming on the horizon, USTRANSCOM’s support to the warfighting combatant commands has greatly increased.

Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, USTRANSCOM averaged about 250 air missions a day. Now the average is much higher. “On Feb. 13, we flew 457 missions,” Handy said.

More than 464,000 passengers have been transported by air in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. That’s more people than the population of Long Beach, Calif., with a population of 461,000.

Airlift support to OEF has also accounted for some 830 million pounds of cargo.

The pace has picked up for all modes of transportation. The command used to manage 20-25 ships at a time. With the build-up in the U.S. Central Command’s area of operations, USTRANSCOM through MSC is now controlling more than 125 ships.

“I tell people to take a breath of air every chance they get,” Handy told a reporter recently for the Virginian-Pilot, a Norfolk area newspaper. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Handy pointed out proudly the fact that the Defense Transportation System has been able to do all of this safely.

“We have not had any incidents, or accidents, that have harmed anybody in this incredible move,” he said.

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