About 50 Soldiers from the 689th Rapid Port Opening Element worked with about 130 Airmen with the Air Force's 621st Contingency Response Wing and a team from the Defense Logistics Agency during Turbo Distribution 16-3 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, July 18-22.
The contingency-based exercise, set up by the U.S. Transportation Command, tested the abilities of all to deploy and set up an Aerial Port of Debarkation in short order and provide humanitarian assistance for a fictitious country requesting help from the United States against a terrorist group in the area.
The 689th RPOE was tasked with moving and tracking cargo off-loaded from Air Force aircraft. Meanwhile the unit had to deal with injections (or injects) which were disruptions such as maintenance or supply issues, a broken ankle to a truck driver, movement of hazardous materials, and an in-transit visibility (ITV) system breakdown that tested the joint team's ability to adjust, overcome and continue operations under pressure.
"I think the integration of the Air Force and the team from DLA went really well," said Maj. Corinne Bell, 689th RPOE commander. "With the injects we were provided, we were able to learn about DLA's capabilities and how they can help us when we deploy into a new environment and provide humanitarian disaster relief into a new country."
While fighting through injects, the 689th took control of cargo that the 621st, based out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, loaded onto flat racks. The cargo was then registered and transported by 689th truck drivers from the clearance yard to the forward node.
"It's kind of like Fed-Ex," Bell said. "The Air Force logged equipment (commodity or humanitarian resource) from the aircraft." After the 621st off-loaded the equipment, the 689th would tie the cargo down on flat racks and sign for it.
"Our ITV system would then ping that piece of cargo so you have more than one person touching the equipment and accounting for it," Bell said.
The customer, in this case the host nation, would then ask for the equipment by a transportation control number, similar to a Fed-EX tracking number.
Pfc. Kenneth Gaud, 689th cargo specialist, was part of the team placing cargo onto flat racks and strapping it down before truck drivers hauled it off.
"When the planes landed, we helped strap it down," said Gaud, who was participating in his first TD. "I saw how our leadership worked and communicated. They helped us understand the exercise and how it flowed."
Spc. Charles Micalizzi, 689th transportation management coordinator, participated in a TD with his previous unit, but not with the Ghostriders.
"The exercise really showed me the benefit of an RPOE," Micalizzi said. He said the various specialties the unit has was beneficial during TD 16-3 and that the RPOE has the capability of sustaining operations for a long period of time.
"I was processing the cargo once it got in and identifying it before the cargo specialists got it on trucks to be moved out," Micalizzi said.
Pfc. Justin Parker, also a 689th transportation management coordinator, was Micalizzi's nightshift counterpart as everyone was putting in 12-hour shifts during the exercise.
"He would come off his shift and brief me on what happened during the day and vice versa for me coming off night shift," Parker said.
Parker, who worked last year's TD at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, said previous field training exercises, such as the one 689th conducted at Fort Eustis' Training Areas 5 and 18 in June helped prepared the unit for TD 16-3.
"I think the fact things were so organized allowed the (88) Novembers (transportation management coordinators) to get a lot of extra training that helped us know our equipment and jobs a lot better."
Parker worked with the 621st last year and complimented the unit on its organization.
"They are a really well-put-together and experienced team," Parker said. "They have good leadership and know what to do when they get out there."
Micalizzi echoed Parker's sediment.
"I've worked with the Air Force quite a lot before and they are subject matter experts in their specialties," he said. "They're right on everything they need to know."
Gaud, who hadn't worked with Air Force personnel previously, said it was good to see how another branch operated.
"They were good, they knew what they were doing," Gaud said. "It was a fun exercise."
Parker said TD 16-3 was a training good exercise that pushed everyone to their limits.
"It really built unit cohesion and allowed us to get out there, do our jobs and become a more coordinated, smooth-running machine," Parker said.