The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) welcomed two units into its family in a patch changing ceremony held May 15 at the command's Fort Eustis facility, Bldg. 661. The ceremony signified the transfer of authority of the 688th and 689th Rapid Port Opening Elements from the 7th Sustainment Brigade to the 597th Transportation Terminal Group.

Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, SDDC commander, hosted the ceremony welcoming the two units into SDDC's fold. He spotlighted the history of the Army's patches which date back to World War I, stating that each shoulder sleeve insignia is crafted with symbolism alluding to each unit's formation.

Hodge told the units' Soldiers that he knows how proud they've been to wear the 7th Sustainment Brigade patch as well as the tradition it signifies. In fact, Hodge shared that he, too, was proud to have worn the same patch during his first assignment as a young lieutenant with the 97th Heavy Boat Company, 10th Battalion, 7th Transportation Group.

"I hope that you are equally proud to wear the SDDC patch demonstrating to all at a glance that you are committed, dependable and relentless," said Hodge. "Part of SDDC's vision and focus for the future is for SDDC to become 'THE' operational and deployment and distribution champion. This patch changing ceremony is part of the realization of that vision. I take seriously SDDC's new responsibility for the readiness, manning and equipping of your fine units."

Col. Charles F. Maskell, commander, 7th Sustainment Brigade, and Command Sgt. Maj. Lesley T. McCorkle, 7th Sustainment Brigade, participated in the ceremonial removal of the units' brigade patch. Col. Craig B. Hymes, 597th TTG commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Allen B. Offord, Jr., 597th TTG, next moved forward for the ceremonial changing of the patch by both units.

The 688th and 689th are the first Active Duty Army units created specifically to provide surface transportation expertise for Joint Task Force - Port Opening (JTF-PO). As an interim measure, a provisional reserve unit was formed to meet immediate requirements. The reserve unit was designated as the Transportation Port Opening Element (TPOE) and assigned to SDDC's 597th TTG at Fort Eustis since June 14, 2006, but was located at Fort Dix, N.J., adjacent to McGuire Air Force Base where the 621st Contingency Response Wing is based. The 816th, 817th and the 818th Contingency Response Groups (CRG), assigned to the 621st CRW, make up the other half of the JTF-PO..

On July 1, 2008, the TPOE was inactivated and the 688th assumed its current mission. In October 2008, the 689th was stood up, and both RPOE's now serve as part of the U.S. Transportation Command's JTF-PO. On order, the RPOE's will deploy with a U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command CRG Air Element as a joint expeditionary logistics force to establish an aerial port of debarkation, forward distribution node, in-transit visibility, and conduct clearance and distribution operations. The RPOEs receive and transload cargo as an initial entry port opening force until relieved by or integrated into follow-on sustainment forces.

"Following a certification exercise the week of May 18, we will have our first RPOE validated and trained to support JTF-PO seaport operations," said Col. Craig B. Hymes, commander 597th TTG. "Command Sgt. Major Offord and I are pleased to have both the 688th and 689th RPOEs join the 597th team."

The 597th TTG has been located at Fort Eustis since July 2005. Today, the Group provides command and control for the 832nd (Jacksonville), 833d (Seattle), the 841st (Charleston), and the 842nd (Beaumont) Transportation Battalions who ensure SDDC's vital mission is accomplished. Prior to relocating to Fort Eustis, the 597th was located on the west bank of the Cape Fear River at the Military Ocean Terminal, Sunny Point in Southport, N.C.

"You can count on team "Movers" to continue to provide the warfighter with world-class strategic surface deployment and redeployment through United States ports," said Hymes. "I am proud to have the 688th and 689th wear the SDDC patch sharing our mission as global surface transportation experts."