The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's (SDDC) Rail Operations team recently saved a Missouri Army National Guard unit from canceling a critical unit deployment after a perfect storm of events damaged the rail yard they were scheduled to use.
When the heavy rains of March swept through the Midwest, the tracks at the Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) were impacted, making the rail unavailable - creating a logistical hurdle for the 220th Engineer Company as they prepared to deploy to the Fort Irwin National Training Center in Barstow, California.
When the SDDC Rail Operations team of Bill Foster and U.S. Army Capt. David Ross became aware of the issue, they initiated a plan of action that would require great cooperation and coordination on the parts of several key players.
"We saw there was an issue that could potentially cause the 220th to miss their required delivery date (RDD), which would cause a chain of events that could have far reaching effects on other units trying to deploy, we knew we had to act and act fast," said Foster.
Their plan was to move the rail upload operations from Fort Leonard Wood to the BNSF Railway yard located in Springfield, Missouri, something that had not been done in almost 30 years.
"On April 9th we began engaging with the 220th Engineer Company, the Logistical Readiness Center at Fort Leonard Wood and BNSF Railway representatives, and by April 12th, about 35 planners met up at the BNSF rail yard and began to put the plan into place," added Foster.
Working in coordination with the key players, along with representatives from the 935th Aviation Support Battalion and the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade -- both of whom were deploying downrange and would have been impacted by the nonoperational rail yard - they determined that the BNSF line was the most effective way to move these units.
Foster explained that if they had not been able to use the Springfield facility, these units would have had to conduct a costly and time consuming line haul movement -- which is when equipment is moved over the road by trucks. This option was not the way they wanted to go due to the size and weight of the equipment.
"Line haul is often a good way to move equipment from Point A to Point B," said Foster. "But had we gone that way, the 220th would most definitely have missed their RDD and we could not have that happen."
So the SDDC team devised a new rail plan that identified anticipated trends and issues that affect rail service and demand and completed a railhead assessment to look at the rail traction levels, both of which are imperative before any movements are made via rail.
Once those matters were set, the plan went into motion. On April 18, the trains began to load at the BSNF rail yard in Springfield and by April 20, the 220th was on their way to Fort Irwin.
"Mission failure was not an option, so we needed to do everything in our power to make sure it got done. If that means we had to be inventive with our techniques, then we had to be inventive," said Foster.
"This was a successful mission because everybody communicated, shared the wealth of information and quickly changed the way we had to react," he added.
Thanks to the proactive and fast actions of the SDDC Rail Operations team, the mission was successful and new processes were established which will have long-reaching effects on how SDDC reacts when a rail movement crisis arises.
"We are now working to identify sites like Springfield in other states so we will know our next options when we don't have a facility to deploy out of. We have to think about that…for the warfighter," Foster added.
As far as moving the force and coming up with inventive ways to do it, the rail team isn't done yet. They are currently working with the Missouri National Guard to move additional units out of the Springfield rail yard while the LRC rails get repaired.