The 597th has much to be proud of from its headquarters, three transportation battalions -- 833rd, 841st and 842nd Trans. Bns., and its three rapid port opening elements -- 688th, 689th and 690th RPOEs, which fall under the 833rd.
One of its biggest accomplishments came right off the bat in January as 597th began the process to assume the duties of the Ocean Cargo Clearance Authority from a team at its parent command, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
OCCA, which coordinates and schedules deployment support services, is a vital part of the 597th's operations and having it located at the brigade, is one of many benefits that resulted from the move.
"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 provide surface deployment and distribution services to project and sustain the forces throughout NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM areas of operations and globally," said Vickie Spencer, OCCA chief at the time of the transformation. "We are the ones interacting face-to-face with the customers and units who own the equipment."
OCCA has already executed 7,865 bookings and processed 22,253 pieces of cargo in Fiscal Year 2017. OCCA took over the entire booking mission in July, but that's not all that placed the brigade in the limelight.
Twelve Soldiers and civilians of the 597th accepted SDDC Excellence Awards in mid-February for their outstanding contributions to the success of SDDC's global deployment and distribution mission during an awards ceremony at Scott AFB, Illinois.
The awardees competed in 66 distinct categories. The 597th Transportation Brigade brought home 16 of the awards with seven awards going to the 841st Transportation Battalion, four to the 842nd Transportation Battalion and the remaining going to the brigade headquarters staff.
The awards ceremony marked the culmination of SDDC's 50th Anniversary as a military command.
In March, the 597th and 833rd's 688th RPOE participated in joint operations Exercise Turbo Distribution 16-2 Aerial Port of Debarkation alongside the Air Force National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, Kentucky National Guard at Sierra Army Depot, California.
TD 16-2 marked the first, but not last major exercise 597th personnel and equipment were intricately involved with in 2016 as the spring and summer approached.
The 597th and 833rd's 690th RPOE participated in a Joint Task Force-Port Opening Seaport of Debarkation exercise in April with elements of the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and Military Sealift Command. The 690th RPOE provided support to the 101st's mission in unloading the USNS Benavidez.
The 833rd's former commander, Lt. Col. Alexander Arnold, and 1st Lt. Bryan Diffley were highlighted in a news story in the Port Arthur area for their roles during the exercise.
In the article, Arnold said the deployment readiness exercise with the 101st Airborne Division and 3rd Sustainment Brigade was to test the military's ability to project combat power through the sea and/or air.
"We turn data into knowledge about the current operational picture for everyone observing the operation," Arnold said. "It's a holistic effort."
The 597th was a key player in the exercise which involved the movement of 891 pieces of equipment, including 674 vehicles with the remainder being cargo containers, with 524 personnel.
The pinnacle of 597th's success arguably came in May and June as it became the first SDDC brigade to provide mission command for a Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore exercise -- JLOTS 2016 Acadia Rising - in Washington/Pacific Northwest. The JLOTS was a scenario-based exercise which tested the ability of numerous military, federal, and civilian organizations to work together to provide humanitarian assistance in the event of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which caused mass-scale disruption.
"We've never been the mission command for a JLOTS," said 597th Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Smalls during the exercise. "The team has grown very well together."
Perhaps equally as telling about the 597th's outstanding efforts as the mission command in Pacific Northwest was that it was executed with a staff of junior officers, noncommissioned officers, and junior enlisted Soldiers holding positions, which in a real-life scenario, would have been carried out by more robust, senior-ranking personnel. The feat stood out to Col. Stephen Riley, 597th commander.
"It's been great," Riley said during the exercise. "This staff should be much more senior in rank. It's really remarkable what you guys have done."
One of those staff members was Capt. Charles Hill, former 690th RPOE operations officer, who was working out of the Port of Tacoma during JLOTS.
"There were 300 containers of the classes of supplies (food and water, medical supplies, building materials, shelters and blankets) that we offloaded here (Port of Tacoma) and up at Naval Magazine (Indian Island) ?- split with 150 at each site," Hill said during JLOTS. "Our job was to track the cargo and make sure it got from the ship to the right place without losing visibility of it."
Hill said the 690th worked with the 841st, 842nd, and 11th Transportation Battalions, along with the 677th Automated Cargo Documentation Detachment (Army Reserves).
July was a busy month for the brigade highlighted by about 50 Soldiers from the 689th RPOE working with the Air Force's 621st Contingency Response Wing and a Defense Logistics Agency team during Turbo Distribution 16-3 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
The contingency-based exercise, set up by the U.S. Transportation Command, tested the abilities of all to deploy and set up an APOD in short order and provide humanitarian assistance for a fictitious country requesting help from the United States against a terrorist group in the area.
"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."
In July, the 597th also participated in Transportation Corps Week activities, to include hosting the TC Week Regimental Golf Tournament at The Pines Golf Course on Fort Eustis, and a carriers meeting with commercial partners and guests.
Things continued to heat up into August as the 597th continued to be a gracious host, several times over, including for the 2016 Women's Equality Day Observance at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum on Fort Eustis.
The guest speaker was the first African-American female lieutenant general and highest-ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, the 44th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command.
West was greeted upon arrival by fellow female U.S. Military Academy graduate Lt. Col. Stacy Tomic, 833rd Transportation Battalion commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Smalls, 597th Transportation Brigade command sergeant major.
"Lieutenant General West - welcome back to Fort Eustis," Tomic said during the observance. "We're truly honored to have you. Lieutenant General West is one of the true trailblazers for women in the U.S. military. Ma'am, the success of you and your fellow pioneers gave girls like me so many opportunities growing up. Your hard work and dedication to being highly successful continue to inspire us, thank you."
West was the first of three general officers 597th hosted in August.
Gen. Dennis L. Via, former commander, Army Materiel Command, visited the brigade in the middle of the month to discuss the importance of readiness and teamwork.
"Thank you for the mission you do," Via said during his visit. "It's a critical mission."
Via handed out numerous coins and pins to civilian and uniformed members of the 597th during his visit in recognition of exceptional performance and time in service.
Completing the trifecta of general officer visitors in August, the 597th hosted Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Ryan, SDDC commanding general, who received the brigade update from the staff and toured the Cargo Movement Center. Ryan visited the 597th again in November.
Also in August, Sgt. Mitchell Keeton II, 688th RPOE, was named the 2016 Army Materiel Command Best Warrior/Soldier of the Year. Keeton, who was earlier honored as the Transportation Corps Soldier of the Year and SDDC Best Warrior/Soldier of the Year, capped off an incredible run by finishing third at the Department of the Army level competition in October.
"That unpredictability was among the most challenging portions of the competition, Keeton said during the BWC. "The toughest part was just going nonstop. We were running on very little sleep. I gave it my all."
Finally, in August, Soldiers of the 690th RPOE along with 621st CRW were part of a 22-person team of subject-matter experts that deployed to Douala, Cameroon, Africa, to conduct a logistical assessment in support of U.S. Africa Command.
Over a span of five days, the Soldiers and Airmen set out across Douala conducting site surveys, interviews, and integrated assessments of various areas to meet the mission's end state, provide a brief synopsis of findings on the final day, and a full analytical, fact-based report at a later date.
In September, the 597th participated in port operations which would set the tone for a busy fall and winter of brigade movements. At the beginning of the month, the 842nd supported the download of the ARC Freedom at the Port of Beaumont. The mission supported the 1st Armored Cavalry Brigade's redeployment from Operation Atlantic Resolve. Later in September, members of the 841st uploaded about 350 pieces of cargo to the Motor Vessel Honor before it headed to the U.S. Army Europe area of operations.
"If it moves or if it supports the warfighter out in the field, then we move it," said Sgt. 1st Class Julian Alvarez, 841st terminal operations NCOIC, during the upload.
In October, devastation struck Haiti in the form of Hurricane Matthew. The 597th provided rapid support as a joint assessment team and later a main body totaling about 20 personnel from the 689th RPOE was on a C-17 destined for Haiti to provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
The two-week deployment to Haiti was an opportunity to put the RPOE's training exercises to the test.
"As a rapid deploying unit, RPOE Soldiers must always be prepared to provide support anywhere in the world at a moment's notice," said Capt. Adam Grover, 689th commander, during the deployment. "This (Hurricane Matthew) is why we executed the joint training exercises that we have in the past. We look forward to working with the 621st and DLA to provide help in any way we can in response to the hurricane."
In November, the 597th planned and executed JTF-PO (SPOD) Heavy Exercise Iron Gator in support of the USTRANSCOM Commander's Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The exercise brought together myriad units and agencies to include Military Sealift Command, multiple U.S. Army Reserve units, DLA, the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), and a Navy Cargo Handling Battalion.
"Iron Gator resulted in a shared understanding of the awesome capabilities of the JTF-PO Heavy and the RPOEs in support of rapid global deployments for the senior leadership of USTRANSCOM and its component commanders," said John Hanson, 597th deputy to the commander.
Although the holiday season was in full swing, operations still picked up toward the end of 2016 as the 597th was heavily involved in several high-visibility movements for brigade combat team deployments, including the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team and 4th Infantry Division (Fort Carson, Colorado) through the Port of Beaumont, Texas, (842nd AO).
"2016 has been one of the busiest years for the battalion since 'the surge' in 2003," said Lt. Col. Brad Bane, 842nd commander. "This year culminated with three major moves across every region of our AOR (Area of Responsibility) to include sending the first HBCT (Heavy Brigade Combat Team) to Europe in years. I am extremely proud of how the entire team has pulled together across the Gulf Coast, the PNW (Pacific Northwest) and Alaska to get the job done. It couldn't have been done without great communication throughout the USTRANSCOM enterprise and all of our civilian partners we operate with and rely on for continued support."
As part of the 3-4 BCT and other 597th upload operations, equipment is tightly bunched in staging areas and on vessels and has to go through a rigorous, challenging process where there are many opportunities for operations to go awry.
Thanks to the vast experience and professionalism of 597th personnel, the upload of 3-4 BCT equipment and 4,000 Soldiers destined to the USAEUR AO in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, as well as several other operations going on simultaneously, successfully demonstrated the SDDC commanding general's emphasis on speed of assembly.
"These high-volume moves involving more than 4,000 vehicles, aviation assets, and sustainment were executed within the same timeframe as the 1-25 BCT deployment from Alaska to the National Training Center, a loadout for Pacific Pathways from the Port of Tacoma, and the deployment of the 3-1 Cavalry from Fort Bliss to Kuwait. All deployments were executed safely, efficiently and on time," said Hanson.
Much of the operational success 597th enjoyed in throughout 2016 was aided by the Port Readiness Integration Deployment Enterprise (PRIDE), a SharePoint platform the brigade helped create along with the 833rd and SDDC, with support and guidance from the Joint Planning Support Element (JPSE) of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC).
PRIDE is a common operational picture (COP) SharePoint application that is interactive and enables mission command. The PRIDE also features interactive chat capability; reduces the requirement for meetings, emails and phone calls; eliminates duplication and confusion in reporting; provides shared understanding for chain of command and customers; and provides command visibility of operations through the AOR.
While innovations such as the PRIDE immensely helped 597th operations, it was ultimately the uniformed and civilian professionals of the brigade that spearheaded its overwhelming success in 2016.
"It was by far the busiest year in the 597th since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Riley. "We led the way with transformation with how we provided mission command for CONUS seaports and how SDDC conducts expeditionary port operations." I want to thank the 597th team for their hard work and dedication to make 2016 a prosperous year for the brigade."