AMC commander thanks staff for success, looks to future

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The commander of U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command brought a message of thanks and a glimpse of the future to his AMC staff at a recent special town hall meeting.

Gen. John W. Handy led off by thanking his team for "making mobility happen" in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

He talked about his pride in the men and women of the command for their part in the rotation of forces for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers has called that rotation, "a logistics feat that will rival any in history."

"Who in the world can do that? Who can...synchronize all those moving parts? You are the only people on the planet who are capable of doing the things we do as a team," said General Handy.

And as transportation box scores go, the AMC team has logged some staggering numbers. AMC has moved almost 3 million short tons of cargo to Afghanistan or Iraq, and more than 1.1 million people through the theater of operations.

General Handy asked, "Does anyone here have an idea of what 3 million tons of cargo looks like? It's almost like standing here and asking how many stars are there in the universe."

General Handy said that more important than the numbers is that people have come to rely on America's air mobility team. He recounted a recent conversation with General Myers and President George W. Bush in which both leaders expressed their confidence in the quality of people in the command and their ability to cope with the logistics involved in the troop rotation.

Part of keeping that confidence is the transformation that has taken place within USTRANSCOM, which with its components, now carries the Defense Department designation of "Distribution Process Owner." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made that designation in September.

Until the designation, the general said, there was no one person in charge of the process to sustain American troops. USTRANSCOM delivered material from point to point. For airlift, that meant from aerial port to aerial port.

"If you look at our traditional role, we would pick up (cargo) at Dover (AFB, Del.), Charleston (AFB, S.C.), Travis (AFB, Calif.), McGuire (AFB, N.J.)...put it aboard an airplane and ship it half-way around the world, landing at Baghdad, Balad or Bagram," said General Handy. "And our responsibilities quit when we dumped it off the back-end of the airplane. Somebody else owned it. It was their problem; now it's our problem."

Having USTRANSCOM in charge of the distribution pipeline from "factory to foxhole" has created major improvements in the supply process. General Handy credits a new USTRANSCOM organization, the Deployment Distribution Operations Center-Forward, for untangling the supply lines. The DDOC, a joint service, 60-member miniature version of TRANSCOM, has deployed to the front lines of OIF to provide 20/20 vision on the supply chain to its stateside counterpart. Now U.S. Central Command and TRANSCOM have full visibility on nearly all shipments.

The team has already made major inroads in cleaning up the supply chain. The general pointed to 1,700 containers of construction material bound for Iraq, but no longer necessary.

"Finding out within a few days of arriving in theater that they could turn off 1,700 containers of construction material...look at the lift that saved us as an organization. Look at the dollars it saved us," said the general.

The general provided another DDOC success, turning off the shipment of 70 tons of replacement parts and other supplies to the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. The logistics problem was that the 101st AD was redeploying back to Fort Campbell, Ky., and no longer needed the cargo in Iraq.

The general said taking 1,700 containers of cargo out of the system, and "70 tons times 70 tons times 70 tons" out of Charleston, makes airlift more efficient.

"If we become more efficient, then we can precisely determine the number of C-17s, sealift ships and whatever we really need to do the things we do," he said. "So these endeavors to become more efficient and effective in support of the warfighter have a huge impact on our command and how we do business."

Adding to the efficiency and effectiveness of USTRANSCOM has been the restructure of AMC as well as its other components, including Navy's Military Sealift Command and the Army's Surface Deployment Distribution Command, formerly known as the Military Traffic Management Command.

According to General Handy, USTRANSCOM has become more closely linked to its components, and they are operating as a team to provide the right mode of transportation for both people and cargo. In fact, the general said, the impact is that more and more cargo now moves by sea than by air, which he called "good news" for AMC.

"And that's the way it should be," the general said, "because when the crunch comes and you have to put the 173rd (Airborne Division) into Northern Iraq...you need Air Mobility available to do it"