SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (Jan. 14, 2010) -- The Army's Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has a team deployed to Haiti to prepare for follow-on forces that will deliver and distribute humanitarian supplies in the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

Eight people from SDDC in Fort Eustis, Va., arrived in Haiti this morning as part of a U.S. Transportation Command team to identify which of SDDC's and USTRANSCOM's transportation and logistics capabilities will best support the relief effort despite a damaged seaport and an overwhelmed airport.

"We've been working to determine how best to support the humanitarian efforts in Haiti," said Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, SDDC commanding general. "We have the means to quickly provide deployment and distribution services anywhere in the world, and we're committed to being part of this response."

SDDC stands ready to provide logistical support to humanitarian operations in several ways. The command, which has servicemembers and civilians stationed around the world, has specialized units of Soldiers known as Rapid Port Opening Elements standing by in expectation of forthcoming deployment orders.

"The nature of these units is such that they're always prepared for short-notice deployment. This is the type of mission the RPOEs were made for," said Col. Jeffrey B. Helmick, commander of 597th Transportation Group, the parent unit of the three RPOEs.

The RPOEs deploy on short notice as part of a USTRANSCOM joint expeditionary logistics force to establish an air or seaport for the delivery of supplies and equipment, as well as a forward distribution hub through which relief agencies can track and receive supplies without adding to congestion at the port or airfield. They can also receive and move cargo from air and sea craft to ground transportation as an initial-entry port opening force until relieved by - or are integrated into - follow-on sustainment forces.

"In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe such as this, the influx of relief supplies can be frustrated by damaged infrastructure and a lack of accountability," Helmick said. "The RPOE Soldiers are able to establish a network to track and distribute crucial supplies to ensure those providing relief have what they need, when they need it."

The teams that deploy to support a mission are tailored to the mission. The advance party, which can include Navy, Air Force and Army RPOE personnel, will determine the needs of the mission. The SDDC advance team in Haiti is comprised of seven Soldiers and one civilian.

Once the assessment is complete, a determination is made regarding the size of the task force to be sent on the mission. A task force can include more than 50 Soldiers and 136 pieces of equipment or be as small as a few people and vehicles. With the task force in place, a port of debarkation can handle 560 short tons per day with round-the-clock operations. This includes clearing the airfield of cargo and maintaining visibility for commanders and agencies on the ground.

"As we determine who can be sent and what we can do to help, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti," said Hodge. "We're proud to be part of the continuing tradition of helping our neighbors through humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Army and the nation."