JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —
Joint Base Charleston has been established as the central hub for sustained efforts aiding the rebuilding of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Joint Base Charleston was chosen because it’s one of the few Department of Defense installations with a sea and aerial port facilities. Different modes of transportation offer different benefits. A sealift vessel is capable of moving more cargo, but at a slower speed than airlift and, while airlift is faster, no aircraft can hold as much as a cargo ship. By combining the two, representatives are able to airlift urgent items while sealifting large quantities of less emergent materials.
“Joint Base Charleston was asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Transportation Command to be an installation support base,” said Col. Rockie Wilson, 628th Mission Support Group commander. “An ISB is a reception area for disaster relief supplies. The interesting thing about Joint Base Charleston is it's one of the few places in the DOD where we can receive supplies by rail and road while having access to aerial and sea port assets. Such access provides maximum flexibility to FEMA to be able to send and receive needed supplies.”
FEMA and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency established an initial staging area where items are received, inspected and measured. That information is put into the 841st Transportation Battalion’s logging system enabling them to create a stowage plan.
“We're receiving cargo from federal and state agencies from all over the country,” said Shawny Dallam FEMA transportation specialist. “When it arrives, it is inventoried and sent to the staging area to be transported to the vessel when it docks or to the air base to be flown out.”
The USNS Brittin, which has a cargo capacity of 215,000 square feet, is scheduled to make six trips from here to Puerto Rico over the next two months. Since items are coming in from a wide range of agencies, some require repackaging before loading onto the ship.
“Once the items have been received and consolidated if needed, the items are prioritized and a stow plan is created,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Brenton Breed, 841st Trans. Bn. operations officer. “This stow plan is then shared with the receiving agencies in Puerto Rico. The plan allows them to know exactly what they’re getting and what order it will come off the ship, facilitating a smooth off load when the ship arrives.”
The primary mode of transportation for this mission is by sea, but if perishable or urgent items arrive at the staging area, they can be sent to Joint Base Charleston’s aerial port to be flown to their destination within hours. Transporting cargo by air has the added benefit of being able to land hundreds of miles from the shore.
“We can be ready as soon as we receive the assets,” said 1st Lt. Rebecca Ryti, 437th Aerial Port Squadron air freight flight commander. “Once a truck pulls up to our dock, we can unload it, inspect it and get it out to the aircraft in under two hours. Aerial movement is quite amazing because you can move things from one point to another much more quickly than by any other means of transportation.”
Members from units across the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron provided the logistics support enabling the base to accommodate these interagency partners in accomplishing their mission. This effort was led by 1st Lt. Ana Smith, 628 CE emergency response flight commander. She met with FEMA and PEMA representatives prior to establishing the staging area to understand their requirements and identify the base assets to fulfill them.
“It has been a little bit of a chess game trying to anticipate their requirements and making sure they have everything they need,” said Smith. “We knew in general, they'd need base access, a space to store items waiting to be shipped and escort vehicles when shipments arrive at the gate. Additionally, I also had to think beyond the surface and look at finer details. For example, rest room facilities are needed because they are going to be out here for extended periods of time each day.”
This partnership brings together professionals from a variety of different agencies with different skillsets and backgrounds. The team works as a unit to solve any problems and continues to support the people who are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Maria.
“FEMA and PEMA are great partners,” said Breed. “We work together well. I can provide the logistics expertise they need to ship things because that's not their normal mission. We're looking forward to working together with them to help the American citizens of Puerto Rico.”