By Hq. SDDC Public AffairsFebruary 23, 2016
Twenty-five years ago today, at approximately eight p.m. EST, President George H.W. Bush launched the largest ground assault of American troops since the Vietnam conflict.
"The liberation of Kuwait has now entered the final phase."
With those words President Bush empowered Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), to use "all forces available," to banish the Iraqi army from Kuwait.
This was the time for the U.S. Army's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) -- then called Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) -- to shine and do what it does best; support America's warfighters by providing global deployment and distribution capabilities to meet our nation's objectives.
For you, the reader, to truly understand the impact MTMC had on that historic day, as well as the days that followed, we will need to turn the calendar back to August of 1990.
Adding to the stronghold:
On Aug. 2, 1990, MTMC port managers helped deploy the first group of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. This deployment was part of an effort by U.S. and coalition forces to deter a further attack by Saddam Hussein after Iraq overran Kuwait.
Five days later, Operation Desert Shield would begin, and so would the logistical challenges of trying to transport hundreds-of-thousands of troops and all of the equipment and supplies they would need to be a success.
The latter challenge would be tackled by the Surface Warriors of MTMC.
During the first 56 days of Desert Shield, MTMC loaded 103 ships, directly enabling 520,000 measurement tons -- which is a unit of weight equivalent to 2,000 pounds -- of equipment to reach Saudi Arabia.
But this was just the beginning…
Over the next two-and-a-half months MTTC Europe would load and ship to Saudi Arabia over 2.3 million measurement tons on 107 ships located in 15 different European ports.
Add to that 200,000 measurement tons of ammunition shipped from Europe and the 375,000 measurement tons of ammo that left Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina (MOTSU) and you have MTMC transporting the warfighter's equipment right to Saddam's doorstep.
A quick victory:
History has shown that the ground force operations of Desert Storm were a dramtic success.
Building off of 39 straight days of concentrated bombing runs, U.S. and coalition ground forces expelled Saddam Hussein's military from Kuwait in a diminutive four days --a radically shorter length of time than it took to even establish the air, ground, and sea forces.
The remarkable success of this operation was worthy of celebration for all members of the allied forces.
Due to their exhausting efforts during Desert Shield, MTMC shared in the surge of pride generated by the liberation of Kuwait, and MTMC's Commanding General, Army Maj. Gen. John R. Piatak, gave all the credit to the "crucial role [MTMC] played in Operation Desert Shield."
Pleased by the successful missions of Desert Shield/Storm, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney took the opportunity for some levity towards Saddam when he told reporters on Feb. 27, 1991, Iraqi forces were conducting the "Mother of all Retreats."
For the transportation and logistics community, the buildup of Operations Desert Shield into Operation Desert Storm became the gold standard for logistical excellence, and it was MTMC that stood at the forefront.
Schwartzkopf described the buildup as "an absolutely gigantic accomplishment" and added, "I can't give credit enough to the logisticians and transporters who were able to pull this off."
By the end of the ground offensive, MTMC was operating out of 33 ports worldwide and had already loaded over 945,000 pieces of equipment - equaling about 6.5 million measurement tons onto 564 ships bound for Saudi Arabia.
After the Storm:
The successes of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm brought MTMC, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), and USCENTCOM closer together. MTMC completed its monumental mission so successfully, the Department of Defense realized a strong and capable MTMC was needed for the nation to remain successful in its goal of land, sea, and air superiority.
This was achieved by MTMC senior leadership working closely with USTRANSCOM and Military Sealift Command. That new closeness also expanded MTMC's role in the operational theater, a role that remained important throughout the 1990s and dominated the first decade of the 21st century.
Desert Shield pushed MTMC at breakneck speeds in port operations - often at commercial ports like Jacksonville, Florida and Beaumont, Texas, locations that later became the home stations of the 832nd and 842nd Transportation Battalions.
On the other hand, MTTC then ended its ties with some ports that were not utilized in Desert Shield/Desert Storm - including Baltimore, New Orleans and Los Angeles.
The official command history suggests that MTMC's versatility in utilizing ports like Houston may have persuaded some in Washington that its traditional area command hubs of Bayonne, N.J. and Oakland, Calif., might be dispensable --an ironic observation, considering Bayonne was a very active port from 1990 to 1991 with 33 ships and 156,000 short tons loaded.
MTMC Eastern Area Commander, Army Brig. Gen. Hubert G. Smith, won praise for the Eastern Area's outstanding support of deploying units (in 1995 Smith would become Deputy Commander of USTRANSCOM).
MTMC reaffirmed its commitment to Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) after Desert Shield/Storm and also fashioned a long-term commitment to develop the ammunition terminal at Concord, California - the eventual home of the 834th Transportation Battalion - as the West Coast equivalent of Sunny Point, North Carolina.
In the end the history begins:
Some shortcomings of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, such as limited containerization, a need to upgrade the sealift fleet, faulty cargo documentation, and inadequate intransit visibility (ITV) received sustained attention in the following years.
Despite those shortcomings, Desert Shield and Desert Storm confirmed that MTMC is the leader in deployment and distribution operations and secured its place as the organization that will always employ a globally postured, professional workforce with the capabilities to meet our nation's objectives.
The Army, on Jul. 1, 1991, named MTMC the manager of all military ocean terminals in Southwest Asia.
The following year, MTMC was awarded the Army Superior Unit Award for its significant impact in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And it is an impact worth remembering 25 years later.
Dr. Kent Beck, SDDC Command Historian, contributed to this article.