FORT EUSTIS, Va. (Feb. 1, 2016) -- As the U.S. Army works to reshape itself to meet its global obligations with fewer dollars and even fewer personnel, it continues to look for ways of working smarter and increasing efficiency.A recent initiative by the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command is aiming to do just that and the 597th Transportation Brigade is at the forefront.The 597th Trans. Bde., its three transportation battalions and three Rapid Port Opening Elements are responsible for the air and sea movement of most military hardware from the continental United States to foreign ports throughout the world.With its headquarters located at Fort Eustis, Va., the brigade has the personnel and expertise to manage these ports, but coordinating and scheduling deployment support services was done by a team at SDDC headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.These duties will now be assumed by the brigade and relinquished by SDDC.Vickie Spencer, Ocean Cargo Clearance Authority Chief for the 597th Trans. Bde. says there are many benefits to this new arrangement."Our cargo specialists are the boots on the ground at the various ports and who are loading and unloading military equipment on and off of the ships. Our OCCA personnel provides surface deployment and distribution services to project and sustain the forces throughout NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM area of operations and globally," Spencer said. "We are the ones interacting face-to-face with the customers and units who own the equipment. Now that we will have the capacity to book cargo and initiate contracts for services, it will eliminate the middle man and puts us closer to the customer for all their transportation needs.."To make this happen, SDDC and USTRANSCOM ordering and contracting officers arrived at Fort Eustis Jan. 25, to begin training brigade civilian transportation specialists to become ordering and contracting officers."By the end of the four week training course, we will have eight ordering/booking officers and five contracting officer representatives who will be responsible for scheduling the cargo movement and providing quality assurance for all DoD cargo that is moved by sea out of the continental United States," said Spencer. The ordering officers will identify and schedule the surface assets needed by the customers and the contracting officer representatives will then initiate the proper contract documentation and monitoring the contractor work performance to ensure contract compliance is met. It's important we get what we pay for."In the initial stages, these new teams will be working cargo deploying within the military's Northern Command. In 30-day stages, the team will then become responsible for deployments to Europe/Africa Command, Central Command, Pacific Command and Southern Command. Ultimately, the brigade will be responsible for deployments around most of the globe.Besides now being a "one stop shop" for the customer, Spencer noted other advantages."Previously, the work was shared between us in Virginia and SDDC near St. Louis. We and the customer had to deal with complications inherent to multiple time zones," Spencer said. "One hour time difference means there are two hours per day when we could not communicate with the schedulers and contracting officers. This really is a smarter, more efficient way to work." Last year alone, the 597th Trans. Bde. moved more than 51,471 pieces of individual equipment across the globe.