SDDC's RPOE brings rapid response capability to disaster exercise
August 8, 2013
More than 40 members of Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 689th Rapid Port Opening Element from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., teamed up with the U.S. Air Force at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., this week honing their rapid response and assessment skills during a Joint Task Force -- Port Opening exercise.
The exercise, Operation Gateway Relief, is based on an earthquake disaster scenario effecting five states throughout the Midwest. The team's objective is to make the airport viable as a logistical hub for arrival of cargo, equipment and relief supplies. This exercise also allows participants to conduct operations at a civilian airfield with limited infrastructure, strengthening a joint planning team concept and allowing for coordination with local authorities and first responders.
RPOE members worked jointly with Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group for an initial assessment of capabilities at the airport and surrounding area and manage the surface transportation and tracking of arriving cargo and commodities to include temporary storage and forward distribution.
U.S. Transportation Command's JTF-PO program is designed to provide a quick reactive command and control force to a contingency anywhere in the world.
"We provide continuity and management of cargo and supplies via surface transportation for JTF-PO," said Army Capt. Charles Greene, 689th RPOE commander. "This also includes locating and managing a forward distribution node for cargo storage and tracking all cargo that comes into and out of the airport.
Both Army and Air Force first responders, or Joint Assessment Team, arrived at the airport and were tasked to assess infrastructure and transportation capabilities and report their assessment and recommended follow-on JTF-PO package to USTRANSCOM within 24 hours. The team provided their assessment and recommendation this week in about four hours.
"We look at all the infrastructure the airport and surrounding area has to offer," Greene said. "We take into account roads, rail and areas available to us for temporarily cargo and equipment storage, and how often aircraft can arrive, depart, and be parked and base our assessment on that."
Greene mentioned elements the RPOE unit considers when looking for a potential cargo holding area are proximity (within six miles), suitability of terrain, how easy or hard it is to defend and operability of locations before a selection is made.
Along with completing an initial assessment and management of cargo and supplies, the RPOE is also responsible for the tracking process of JTF-PO cargo by setting up a network of in-transit visibility, or ITV, systems at entry and exit points around the airfield and the forward distribution node. The unit's objective is to provide 100 percent accountability and location of all cargo and supplies arriving and departing the area.
"We are capturing ITV using two different systems -- three Portable Deployment Kits and two Early Entry Device Service Kits," Greene said. "The difference between the two systems is the PDK is a more mobile ITV system while the EEDSK gives us a more permanent ITV solution."
"This is relevant training for our unit," said SPC Antoinette Wright, transportation management coordinator for the 689th, "It's a continual learning process on receiving and distributing cargo and efficiently managing the process."
"This is definitively a great training scenario for all of us," said Air Force Col. Mark Heiniger, 123rd CRG and exercise commander. "We are learning a lot from the active duty and they are learning things from us. Without a doubt, if my unit gets tasked for a real-world contingency, I would want the RPOEs with us."
JTF-PO reduces historic ad hoc nature of port opening with a jointly trained solution and a 12-hour deployment response at an aerial port of debarkation, or APOD. The last real-world contingency RPOE units responded to occurred in mid-January 2010 after a devastating earthquake struck the nation of Haiti.
The 689th RPOE has two sister units -- the 688th and 690th RPOE, also at JBL-E. At any given time, one of the three RPOE units are on alert providing around-the-clock ability to deploy worldwide at a moment's notice. The mission of the 689th RPOE is to provide a joint expeditionary capability to rapidly deploy, establish and initially operate an aerial port of debarkation and distribution node in support of a combatant command contingency, humanitarian aid or disaster relief operation.