JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va —
The 597th Transportation Brigade and 7th Trans. Bde. (Expeditionary) conducted a Joint Task Force Port Opening familiarization training exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Aug. 13-17, 2018.
The training, held at Fort Eustis’ Third Port, is meant to prepare JTF-PO forces to rapidly deploy, open and operate an airfield or a seaport in any location where there is little or no port infrastructure. This provides the Department of Defense and joint partners an immediate strategic capability in moving equipment or personnel, such as for humanitarian relief efforts.
The training exercise also included members of Fort Eustis’ 511th Dive Detachment, who serve as medics; Military Sealift Command’s Expeditionary Port Unit 109 from Jacksonville, Fla., who provide communications equipment for managing port operations; and Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One from Williamsburg, Va., who provide expeditionary cargo handling and logistics capabilities.
“[They] came down here to support us and do a joint operation to make it more realistic,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Troup, 832nd Trans. Battalion operations NCO in charge, who organized the weeklong training. “We’re hoping to [exercise together] a lot more.”
The exercise tested the units’ ability to move cargo to remote locations across the globe. But much coordination takes place before a single piece of cargo begins moving, said Troup.
Once cargo is identified as needing transport, each piece is tagged with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) device, which allows tracking systems to trace the identity, status and location of cargo from origin to destination. The tag allows anyone within the transportation process, including the customer, to look up the location of the cargo anywhere in the world, said Troup.
In this exercise, the customer was the 7th Trans. Bde. (Ex.), who owned the vehicles being transported. To simulate a real-world port opening, the 597th established a joint operations center at Third Port, then practiced shipping and receiving cargo via Landing Craft Utility vessels.
Once arriving at its destination, cargo is unloaded, processed and logged, and moved to a location nearby, known as a forward node. This allows cargo to be stored until being delivered to the customer, as to avoid congregating at the port, said Staff Sgt. Kevin Hall, 689th Rapid Port Opening Element, 832nd Trans. Btn., 597th Trans. Bde. clearance platoon sergeant.
“Our main focus is to unload and facilitate any tracking of cargo that comes off of either a vessel or aircraft,” said Hall. “The clearance platoon is the surface element for the JTF-PO commander by assisting that commander in assessing an airfield or a port, to determine square footage, help with traffic flow and [storage locations].”
In a real-world environment, the 689th RPOE’s efforts could support other DOD branches, federal agencies, or allied partners.
Having himself deployed to Haiti in support of hurricane relief efforts, Hall said training exercises such as this help prepare units for one of the most rewarding aspects of the port-opening mission: humanitarian aide.
Over the last eight years, several RPOE units from the 597th Trans. Bde. have been called to support various humanitarian efforts across the globe: Haiti in 2010 following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake; West Africa in 2014 to help combat the spread of Ebola; back to Haiti again in 2016 in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and most recently in 2017 to Puerto Rico to provide relief efforts after Hurricane Maria.
“It’s just knowing that because of what you’re doing, you are going to be helping somebody,” said Hall. “Those are the missions that make this job worthwhile.”