Improving movement control
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

While movement control is rarely a specified task in operations planning, the synchronization and control of the movement of forces is a critical task for both sustainment and maneuver. The Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) and the Office of the Chief of Transportation are aggressively working to identify and mitigate shortfalls and challenges across the spectrum for movement control. Like many small but critical capabilities in the Army inventory, movement control is under-resourced. It is a technical specialty that takes years to master and is difficult to understand if you have not worked closely with it.

The Army's movement control skills have atrophied over the past 14 years of conflict in a counterinsurgency environment that was sustained through contracted support and a predictable deployment cycle. As we refocus on expeditionary readiness and worldwide deployments of regionally aligned forces, we must allocate the requisite resources to regulate movements and provide in-transit visibility.

Over the past few years, the Army has shifted toward a mission of theater security cooperation and projecting forces rapidly, which requires logisticians to "set the theater." CASCOM's reverse collection and analysis teams and unit after action reviews indicate that these new mission sets have created a significant logistics gap: our movement controllers are stretched thin.

CASCOM has initiated doctrine updates, changed force structure, created training support packages, and sent experts to assist with training gaps, but additional resources are needed. Three solutions have the potential to mitigate some shortfalls and increase the efficacy of movement control:

• Fast-track the activation of theater movement control elements (TMCEs) and place them within the active component theater sustainment commands (TSCs).

• Analyze mission requirements and develop a reallocation plan for movement control units, particularly movement control battalions (MCBs) and movement control teams (MCTs).

• Aggressively address shortfalls and challenges with current automated information systems


The Army comprises 46 percent of the forces in all the geographic combatant commands, and that number is projected to increase next year. Over 183,000 Soldiers are currently supporting combatant commanders.

As the Army transitioned to regionally aligned forces and theater security cooperation missions, the requirement to set and support the theater grew, but our logistics capacity did not. We have stretched our movement controllers thin across entire theaters as we have expanded our operational areas to new bases and ports in numerous countries.

Over the years, various organizations have been responsible for theater movement control. Under the current structure, the transportation operations branch within the TSC's support operations distribution management center is charged with theater movement control. This branch consists of 23 people and provides supervision of transportation assets across air, land, and sea. It provides in-transit visibility, coordinates with joint and strategic partners (the U.S. Transportation Command, host nations, and the State Department), optimizes distribution, and synchronizes intertheater and intratheater distribution.

The personnel required for this mission were sufficient in times of relative peace, but recent world events have altered the strategy. As the distribution of people, equipment, and supplies from the continental United States has increased, so has the need for people at the strategic level to manage those movements. The transportation operations branch does not have enough people to execute this mission. The TMCE should be considered to bridge the gap.

The TMCE is a highly specialized 55-person team that was designed to replace the transportation theater opening element. It offers greater flexibility to commanders by providing movement management, container management, and highway regulation and coordination for personnel and materiel movements.

The TMCE can be used in numerous ways: to provide mission command and staff oversight of transportation terminal, intermodal, or movement control units; to augment or merge with a TSC support operations office, expeditionary sustainment command (ESC), or sustainment brigade to provide depth and technical capability to movement control operations; or to help manage movement control in multiple operational areas.

As the Army brings this unit into active duty, it must ensure doctrine specifies clear divisions of labor between the transportation operations branch and the TMCE. The TMCE will be the main element for movement control at the theater level and link the strategic to operational levels of transportation. It will handle coordination with joint and strategic partners, provide in-transit visibility of strategic lift, help coordinate movements between geographic combatant commands, and synchronize intertheater distribution. This will enable the TSC support operations office to focus on intratheater distribution and operational transportation requirements. Ultimately, the TMCE is a resource that commanders can shape to execute their missions as they see fit.

With the potential for force growth on the horizon, commanders and staff should look at prioritizing the fielding of TMCEs into active duty formations to better provide anticipatory and responsive logistics for maneuver forces. A dedicated unit deliberately focused on theater movement control is vital to logistics efforts.


Army Warfighting Challenge #16 is "Set the Theater, Sustain Operations, and Maintain Freedom of Movement." One of its learning demands is "How should the Army mitigate constraints and vulnerabilities with a shrinking overseas defense posture while maintaining the ability to rapidly respond to 'unknown, unknowable, and ever changing' global crises?"

One answer is to develop relationships with the host-nation elements that operate the transportation infrastructure so we can get clearances approved faster and have better access to ports and road networks. This requires movement control Soldiers on the ground that work on a consistent basis with host nations' embassies and movement control centers. As sustainers, we need to ensure that we can quickly and efficiently move people and supplies as close to the point of conflict as possible.

The MCB is the primary unit responsible for ensuring movement control happens. It provides mission command for six to 10 MCTs and executes movement control in an assigned area of operations. There are five active duty MCBs. Under the current force array, there are MCBs for Europe, Korea, and every Army Corps except I Corps, which is regionally aligned to U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC). This leaves few movement controllers to support the theater security cooperation missions and exercises throughout the rest of the Pacific.

USARPAC engages with regional partners and allies in more than 200 events in over 30 countries annually. The Pacific has dozens of key bases, staging areas, and ports. In order to establish relationships and help set the theater, the Army needs units that continually work with these agencies. There are two options to help USARPAC better fulfill its mission: grow new MCBs and MCTs or reallocate the current structure.

MCBs (53 people) and MCTs (21 people) are low-cost units consisting of mostly automation equipment. Standing up MCBs and MCTs under the 593rd ESC would provide enormous capability relatively cheaply. It would give USARPAC options as its mission continues to grow.

The alternative would be to reallocate existing forces. The only unit that has two MCBs is the 18th Airborne Corps. Of its two MCBs, the 53rd MCB is best suited to move to the West Coast. The 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), in conjunction with the 330th MCB from the 3rd ESC, can still execute a theater-opening mission when called upon. Executing either of these options will provide better dispersion of movement control forces and put them in a better position to positively affect the Army's mission.


For years, the military has developed automated information systems to transition from pen, paper, and spreadsheets. However, as requirements grew, it developed programs independent of one another that met specific needs.

The expansion of systems further increased the complexity of movement control, causing gaps in training and experience, business processes, and system compatibility among services, U.S. Transportation Command systems, and civilian enterprise systems. The result is a complicated deployment process that includes translating a command's requirement for movement of equipment and personnel to a bill of lading or other request and then tracking the actual movement through the pipeline.

Many automated information systems have difficult interfaces and lack intuitive design. It takes extensive training and experience to master some of them, let alone many of them. Infantry Soldiers can gain realistic experience by practicing battle drills against opposition forces at their home stations, but there is no realistic way to train moving an entire division overseas. Many movement controllers learn on the job while actually deploying a unit to another continent for the first time.

Units are required to review their organizational equipment list annually. When a unit deploys, it decides what to bring and creates a unit deployment list from its organizational equipment list. But there is no data validation process built into the system. This leads to incorrect data transitioning from system to system and causing incorrect load planning and booking of transportation assets.

After users complete their unit deployment list, the Transportation Coordinators' Automated Information for Movements System II (TC-AIMS II) packages the data as a ".TCMD" file. In order for that data to be read by the Integrated Booking System, it must first be converted into an ".ETRR" file.

During the back and forth conversion process, data is lost and corrupted, causing incorrect administrative data to be uploaded to the Global Air Transportation Execution System or the Integrated Computerized Deployment System. This in turn can cause monetary penalties as the unit orders too many, too few, or the wrong kind of rail cars.

There are some short-term wins that we can pursue right now. The Deployment Process Modernization Office, in conjunction with CASCOM, is developing a new deployment chapter of the Sustainment Virtual Playbook. This easy-to-learn, interactive video will take users through a step-by-step process on how to deploy a unit from home station to foxhole. The video, combined with the rapid expeditionary deployment initiative toolbox, will provide key resources to train movement controllers and unit movement officers.

Resources are always tight, and the ability to expand and improve automated information systems is limited. TC-AIMS II needs adequate funding to fix inefficiencies annotated during annual configuration boards. For example, an "edit check" is being developed to verify data before it is transferred to the next system. This will go a long way toward capturing deployment inadequacies.

In the long term, the joint force needs a new system. This system should consolidate data, eliminate redundancy that has grown over time, and give commanders the necessary information to track their equipment, supplies, and personnel throughout the battlefield. It needs to be integrated with the Global Combat Support System-Army and have a user-friendly interface. It must be able to communicate with essential information systems across the joint force, track personnel in and out of ports, improve load planning for all modes, create shipping labels and tags, improve booking, and provide in-transit visibility.

The Transportation Corps is a critical combat enabler. "Nothing happens until something moves" is its slogan because it is vital to the Army's ability to project power and provide operational reach and endurance. The Transportation Corps must support current requirements while simultaneously setting conditions for the future and marching toward expeditionary readiness.

The Army should resource movement control solutions. TMCE activation and movement control unit allocation will greatly reduce identified personnel shortfalls in force structure and will provide immediate results for commanders. Our efforts to improve deployment information systems will dramatically streamline our processes. This is how we can start to improve movement control for our Army.


Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Drushal is the chief of transportation at Fort Lee, Virginia. He holds a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Tampa, a master's degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a master's degree in strategic studies from the Army War College. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College, Logistics Executive Development Course, Army War College, and Army Senior Leader Seminar program.

Capt. Alex Brubaker is the proponency officer for the Transportation Corps. He received his commission from the University of Michigan and is a graduate of the Transportation Basic Officer Leader Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Support Operations Course.


This is an Army Sustainment magazine product.

Related Links:

Army Sustainment Magazine Archives

Browse Army Sustainment Magazine

Sustainer News

Discuss This Article in milSuite