America’s national defense strategy continues to be a partnered approach with the joint and multinational forces to achieve global deterrence that enables peace. Achieving an end is made possible through ways and means. America’s armed forces achieve this end state through power projection via strategic sealift into a desired area of operations.
In Gen. James C. McConville’s March 16 publication Army Multi-Domain Transformation, he describes the focus of foreign actors on the degradation of American power projection to counter our overwhelming offensive and defensive capabilities. A critical way to mitigate efforts against American power projection is through diversification in ports, terminals, and the contracted labor required to execute port operations. Retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Farmen, in an Army Sustainment article from 2020, mentioned, “The only way to project our decisive force is by, with, and through our strategic seaports. By diversifying our port usage now, we generate strategic readiness for tomorrow.” This allows Army forces to support the demands of strategic sealift while being responsive to the threats against sealift which may occur during large-scale combat operations (LSCO) in a multi-domain battlefield. Projecting decisive force at strategic ports requires terminal diversification, host nation diversification, contractor diversification, and organic unit efficiency.
598th Transportation Brigade, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) is responsible for diversification efforts in the northern European region. Located in Kaiserslautern, Germany, the 838th’s mission requires precise collaboration with European joint and multinational forces. This collaboration is essential for the initial utilization of ports, terminals, and ground lines of communication (GLOC). Currently, these GLOCs incorporate ports in northern France, Denmark, and Poland. Key leader engagements have built momentum in ports and pathways for the projected cargo flow into areas of operations. As a result, commanders have many viable options for force projection into northern Europe.
Lessons learned through exercises conducted at new seaports prepare these ports to handle cargo movements at surge capacity. As a result, the 838th Transportation Battalion, host nations, regional ports, new terminals, new vessels, an array of contracted organizations, and the greater ‘Team of Teams’ with Military Sealift Command and the 21st Theater Sustainment Command are better able to refine their processes. The 838th Transportation Battalion recently experienced this during the deployment of 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, to Poland and the Baltic states, where multiple terminals and contracted partners were used for the first time.
Months before the operation, the battalion was confronted with coordinating significant amounts of cargo into a few ports. Numerous planners identified these constraints and began devising primary and secondary plans to do the following: redirect sea lines of communication, redirect seaports of embarkation and debarkation, and redirect the applicable GLOCs. Simultaneously, the battalion supported the massive deployment requirement and alleviated cargo congestion in forward locations. The requirement to redirect cargo reception created the need for additional terminals, which were chosen for the new concept of support. Two of the primary factors in determining terminal feasibility are space requirements and availability. Moving an entire brigade combat team requires around 120,000 square meters of the staging area. The 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, planners leveraged three separate ports to alleviate the potential congestion caused by using a single terminal. Moreover, congestion becomes a more pronounced issue when commercial cargo is the primary revenue for a particular port.
The challenge of congestion may be replaced with numerous threats during LSCO in a multi-domain environment. For example, a cyber-attack renders material handling equipment (MHE) inoperable, underwater mines block the entrance to a port, and air superiority challenges make sealift vessels vulnerable to attack. As a result, port and terminal diversification is a key requirement for successful import/export of combat-ready equipment into and out of the European Theater to counter these types of threats.
Host Nation Diversification
The 838th Transportation Battalion helps shape decisions concerning port diversification. U.S. Embassies and defense attaché offices are critical partners in relaying requirements and desired terminals to a host nation. During a recent Stryker brigade deployment into Denmark, the 838th Transportation Battalion partnered with the host nation military to assist in the vessel discharge. The Danish played a significant role in the full spectrum of port operations, resulting in an enhanced, mutually supportive relationship.
Diplomatic lines of communication help tremendously with the process of port selection. Recently, through diplomatic channels, the battalion was placed in contact with host-nation counterparts (e.g., French 519th Regiment du Train) to support future operations in France. Host-nation partners have an active voice in the port selection. However, terminal selection within a port is determined via fair market competition through the U.S. government’s contracting policies and procedures.
Fair market competition persists as a critical element regarding contractor diversity. And thus, using newly awarded contractors to enhance their growth and development likewise remains extremely important. In addition to leveraging new contractors, ensuring the battalion is prepared for combat is also critical. Many contractors want to become more competitive by developing additional port capabilities through purchasing mobile ramps, increasing rail capability, gaining additional MHE, and dredging vessel berthing locations to receive larger vessels. Capable contractors reduce costs and provide options to exercise multiple ports and terminals simultaneously. Contract finalization results come from the U.S. Transportation Command’s Acquisition Directorate, who award terminal services contracts. The awardee’s capabilities are assessed with regards to their knowledge and experience of U.S. military seaport operations. Efficiencies gained through this process result from repetitions built during port operations and reflect in the battalion’s capability to project combat power at the speed of war.
Organic Unit Efficiency
By building capacity and experience in ports across northern Europe, the Army increases its organic proficiency related to port operations. In addition, through analysis of previous operations, the 838th Transportation Battalion has identified several areas of improvement. These measures have strengthened the relationship with the battalion’s primary continental U.S. (CONUS)-based SDDC counterpart, the 842nd Transportation Battalion. This relationship is what the battalions call “pitch and catch.” Every port is different, and every vessel cannot accommodate the desired order of discharge. For example, a CONUS pitching port terminal may possess a vast capability with numerous types of lift equipment and resources available that are not available at some ports in Europe. This dynamic can cause time-consuming delays in discharge operations. Solutions to these challenges are rapidly developed through individually applied initiative, leadership, and unity of effort.
Aside from building extremely vital professional relationships, port diversification efforts build organic experience. Subordinate units assigned to a specific area of responsibility in northern Europe understand integration with the theater’s objectives, the theater’s global posture framework, essential cross-training, and the benefits of port diversification efforts. For the deployment of 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and concurrent redeployment of 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, the 838th deployed its United Kingdom Detachment to Gdańsk, Poland. This allowed the Detachment to qualify on deploying an armored brigade combat team outside its normal port of operations. At the same time, the 838th Transportation Battalion deployed personnel throughout Europe to assist.
The 838th benefits from a vast array of experience that preserve the battalion’s ability to deliver rapid combat power projection throughout Europe.
Force projection is a critical component in support of joint all domain operations and the Army’s multi-domain transformation. The 838th Transportation Battalion is enabling this effort through port diversification efforts in northern European ports and terminals, along with contracted labor. The battalion increases its organic capability by providing the commander options and redundancy for assured power projection. In addition to the 838th Transportation Battalion’s efforts, the battalion’s sister unit (839th Transportation Battalion) is fully engaged in port diversification throughout their region (Greece, Romania, Georgia, Albania, and Slovenia). By exercising new seaports throughout the European theater, the 838th Transportation Battalion is a key enabler regarding deterrence while strengthening America’s alliances throughout Europe. The 838th Transportation Battalion’s mutually supportive relationships are helping provide strategic readiness and maneuver for Army and joint force commanders.
Lt. Col. Jermon D. Tillman currently serves as the battalion commander of the 838th Transportation Battalion, 598th Transportation Brigade, SDDC. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts in History, Texas A&M University, Master of Arts in Military History, American Military University, Master of Arts in International Relations, Webster University. He has also earned a Certification in Strategy and Policy Development from the U.S. Army War College.
Maj. Adam M. Karlewicz currently serves as the battalion S-3 for the 838th Transportation Battalion, 598th Transportation Brigade, SDDC. His formal education includes an associate degree in math and science from Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York, a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and a Master of Operational Studies from the Army's Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.