Rapid Port Opening Elements are elite logistical units that represent the Army's contribution as the surface element to the Joint Task Force Port Opening, facilitating the movement of warfighters, equipment and supplies globally and provide combatant commanders with a flexible tactical arm to reinforce any port worldwide.
The Army’s ability to deploy quickly to a contested or uncontested environment depends on agile and adaptive maneuver units and key strategic enablers. RPOEs are unique and adaptable teams comprised of agile Surface Warriors capable of opening a port anytime, anywhere in the world within 12 hours of notification.
With only three detachments of its kind in the Army, RPOEs are assigned to the 832nd Transportation Battalion, 597th Transportation Brigade at Fort Eustis, Virginia. They provide a specialized surface expeditionary response force capability in the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and U.S. Transportation Command arsenals.
RPOEs are strategic enablers that, by design, deploy as the Army element of a JTF-PO to facilitate and track the movement of personnel, supplies and equipment through a designated aerial or sea port. Winning against peer and near-peer adversaries requires the ability to rapidly deploy Department of Defense assets, as well as maintain accurate in-transit visibility. ITV allows SDDC to have continuity throughout the entire Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise, from fort to port, port to port and port to assembly area.
JTF-PO is part of the DOD’s Global Response Force, under the operational control of USTRANSCOM, designed to rapidly deploy to operations as part of a more significant national effort, which facilitates the foundational backbone of an expandable distribution network. The RPOE allows combatant commanders to expeditiously establish a Port of Debarkation in an unimproved or austere condition as a part of the JTF-PO.
JTF-PO has a 12-hour deployment readiness requirement, meaning it is capable of launching a tailored package of specially trained personnel to establish, open and operate a port by conducting an assessment of airfields, berths, road networks and potential distribution node locations. Once established, the JTF-PO creates the base for Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration into the AOR.
In 2007, the Department of the Army approved the design for the RPOE, a new transportation unit to deploy with contingency response groups from the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command under administrative control of SDDC to fill the ground logistics gap in USTRANSCOM’s newly established Joint Task Force – port opening capability. The RPOE’s purpose is to rapidly deploy within 12 hours to any crises or contingencies worldwide to either air or sea ports of debarkation to execute logistical support operations as a part of JTF-PO.
The 688th RPOE was activated at Fort Eustis on March 16, 2008. Two subsequent RPOEs, the 689th and 690th, were activated Oct. 16, 2008 and Oct. 16, 2009. All three RPOEs were initially subordinate to the 24th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade (Expeditionary). It was not until April of 2009 that the 597th Transportation Group, which would later become the 597th Transportation Brigade, received command and control of the RPOEs.
Since their inception, the RPOEs have been alerted to deploy with JTF-PO four times:
· Haiti, 2010, in response to a 7.0 magnitude earthquake as a part of Operation Unified Response. JTF-PO established an APOD and provided aircraft control, cargo documentation, in-transit visibility, and onward movement of cargo to host nation and non-government organizations and agencies to relieve suffering and aid in recovery.
· Senegal, West Africa, 2014, in support of Operation United Assistance to help combat the Ebola outbreak. The JTF-PO established an APOD to facilitate the reception of humanitarian assistance supplies and forces.
· Haiti, 2016, in response to Hurricane Matthew to provide humanitarian assistance. The APOD was established at the commercial airport, receiving supplies from U.S. Air Force aircraft, then palletizing the supplies for helicopter sling load and surface distribution operations.
· Puerto Rico, 2017, in response to Hurricane Maria to provide humanitarian assistance. Initially deployed to establish an APOD, with follow-on operations to establish and conduct SPOD operations. The 833rd Transportation Battalion deployed as the JTF-PO mission command element and the RPOE established the foundational distribution network.
In addition to these missions, the RPOEs have participated in numerous named training exercises such as Operation Pacific Pathways, Joint Task Force – Arctic Support, and Defender Europe 20.
RPOE Construct and Capabilities
The three RPOEs are located at Fort Eustis and are each comprised of 54 Soldiers and commanded by a Major (O-4) and a First Sergeant (E-8). The RPOEs are subordinate to SDDC’s 832nd Transportation Battalion, 597th Transportation Brigade. When alerted and deployed as part of the JTF-PO, however, the RPOEs report directly to the JTF-PO commander and become OPCON to USTRANSCOM.
Each RPOE is comprised of three platoons: Operations, Clearance, and Distribution. The three platoons consist of five major sections: Distribution Control, Operations, Clearance, Distribution Node and Passenger Control Sections. These five sections allow the RPOE to receive unit equipment, personnel, and sustainment cargo from arriving military and commercial aircraft at an APOD, and military and commercial vessels at a SPOD. Once items are downloaded from the strategic lift, the RPOE receives them and assumes responsibility by clearing the port of debarkation to a nearby distribution node and marshalling area for transfer to the owning unit, designated movement control team or non-government organization or agency. Items are relocated to a staging area to prepare for forward movement. The Distribution Control and Passenger Control sections integrate within the JTF-PO staff. Further breakdown, roles and responsibilities of the Operations, Clearance, and Distribution sections are below.
The Operations Platoon functions as a broader section that includes Logistical Support, Chemical Biological Radiation Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE), Mobility, and Communications sections. The Logistical Support section consists of two-wheeled vehicle mechanics (91B), a petroleum supply specialist (92F) and a unit supply specialist (92Y). The mechanics and petroleum specialists are equipped with a maintenance contact truck and a Medium Tactical Vehicle (MTV) with a Tank Pumping Unit (TPU) consisting of two 500-gallon tanks. They are equipped to support the RPOE with field repairs and the capability to refuel its organic equipment. One Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear specialist (74D) provides expertise on CBRN advanced detection, response and decontamination.
The Mobility section consists of two senior transportation management coordinators (88N) and a mobility warrant officer (882A). The Mobility section specializes in the deployment, redeployment and general movement of cargo. This section employs cargo documentation systems such as the Transportation Coordinators’ Automated Information for Movement System (TC-AIMS II), the Global Air Transportation Execution System (GATES), and the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES), as well as the handling of hazardous material (HAZMAT) documentation. The Mobility section enables the RPOE to deploy and redeploy itself when called upon to execute its contingency or operational mission, as well as assist the Joint Task Force and its customers with cargo movement issues they may encounter.
The Communications Section is comprised of both a signal support system and information technology specialists (25U and 25B). This section employs up to two Combat Service Support Very Small Aperture Terminals (CSS VSAT) to provide secure data communications. They also utilize both Multi-Band Inter/Intra Team Radios (MBTIR) and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS) to provide secure beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communication between the POD, convoys, forward node, Joint Operations Center (JOC) and incoming aircraft and vessels.
The Clearance Platoon is led by a Transportation Corps lieutenant (88A) and a sergeant first class transportation management coordinator (88N). The rest of the platoon consists of motor transport operators (88M), cargo specialists (88H), and transportation management coordinators (88N).
The Clearance Platoon’s mission is to clear cargo from the port, establish initial in-transit visibility and transport it to the forward node/marshalling area. Cargo specialists assist in the downloading of cargo and equipment from either an aircraft or vessel using the All-Terrain Lifter Army System (ATLAS) 10K forklift capable of lifting up to 10,000 pounds. They then pass the cargo to the motor transport operators who operate M1120 Load Handling Systems to transport it to its next destination. The LHS is an 8x8 wheeled vehicle that utilizes hydraulic flat racks to move two TRICON containers or two 463L cargo pallets. If trailers are employed, that capability doubles.
The Clearance Platoon is capable of transporting up to 16 pallets per hour, depending on distance and conditions to next destination. Throughout the clearance platoon tasks, the transportation management coordinators employ cargo documentation systems to account for and track all movements of cargo and provide in-transit visibility to customers. The primary system employed is the Portable Deployment Kit Lite (PDK Lite) to scan the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.
The Distribution Platoon is led by a Transportation Corps lieutenant (88A) and a sergeant first class and employs cargo specialists and transportation management coordinators. The Distribution Platoon’s mission is to establish a forward distribution node/marshaling area not more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from the POD. Cargo is organized in a manner that meets the customer’s needs to support operations.
This level of organization requires a large amount of space and constant communication with the customer. Due to the limited space and restrictive traffic patterns at ports, it is critical that the forward node be geographically separate from the POD. The forward node/marshaling area is capable of being self-sufficient, meaning that the Distribution Platoon provides its own force protection, physical security and life support. The Distribution Section employs a variety of individual and crew-served weapon systems, camouflage equipment and concertina wire to establish passive and active base defense measures.
Joint Assessment Team
The Joint Assessment Team is a small advance team initially deployed to assess and survey potential facilities in the proposed or designated area of operation. Its purpose is establish on-ground situational awareness to report directly to USTRANSCOM whether the POD is suitable and/or capable of operations.
The JAT is comprised of representatives from each element of the JTF-PO. The RPOE contributes four members to the JAT: the RPOE commander, a Clearance Section representative, a Distribution Section representative and the senior communications specialist. The JAT deploys in advance of the main body to evaluate a POD's infrastructure, space allocation, and available on-ground capabilities to handle military aircraft and vessels.
The JAT interfaces with local host nation authorities to establish rapport and a mutual understanding of the needs and requirements that are agreeable in support of operations. Concurrently, the JAT also analyzes the security of the POD, possible forward node locations and the various convoy routes that will be utilized. The JAT's findings and recommendations are reported to USTRANSCOM. Once received, the determination is made on how to employ the JTF-PO scaled to the on-ground requirements.
Alert Cycles and RPOE activities
The RPOEs rotate through a nine-month alert cycle that broken down into three phases: Ready I-ALERT, Ready II-Training, and Ready III-Reset/Recovery.
The Ready I RPOE is on a two-hour recall alert status in support of the Global Response Force. Its primary mission is to rapidly respond to any crises or contingency as a part of JTF-PO per USTRANSCOM’s directive. For APOD operations, the Ready I is paired with one of two U.S. Air Force Contingency Response Groups that also cycle between alert statuses. The 921st CRG operates out of Travis Air Force Base in California, and the 621st CRG operates out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. The Defense Logistics Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia assigns a Rapid Deployment Team to provide early entry contracting support for JTF-PO. During SPOD operations the 832nd Transportation Battalion commander serves as the JTF-PO commander, while one of the 12 SDDC Transportation Battalions becomes the JTF-PO headquarters. Additionally, the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Port Unit joins the RPOE and DLA to form the JTF-PO.
The primary mission of the Ready II RPOE is to be prepared to assume the Ready I status by finalizing personnel and equipment load plans, deployment readiness and rehearsals, as well as remain on stand-by as a Surface Expeditionary Response Force for missions as directed by the commanding general of SDDC. During this time frame, the RPOEs usually conduct bi- and tri-lateral engagements between themselves, the CRG, and DLA.
The Ready III RPOE’s primary mission is to allow Soldiers time to focus on individual training, equipment maintenance and services, internal Detachment requirements, and designated leave periods. The Ready III RPOE is prepared to support either the Ready I or Ready II RPOE as needed to backfill personnel and equipment for deployment support.
RPOEs are unique independent organizations that develop effective, joint partnerships between the military services and civilian industry, while providing in-transit visibility and initial distribution capability to a supported commander. RPOEs are comprised of elite logisticians that are first in line to assist and provide commands with the capabilities to enter and exit areas of operation via sea and aerial ports.
RPOEs ensure equipment, supplies and forces deploying to a theater of operation is all tracked and accounted for to ensure reception, staging, onward movement and integration occurs effectively and efficiently. RPOEs are force multipliers and valued assets that provide vital and much-needed capabilities to Joint Force commanders. The RPOE is a strategic enabler that stands ready to rapidly respond to combatant commander requirements to open a port on short or no-notice.