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NEWS | May 28, 2014

Exercise Turbo Distribution: establishing a port in a storm

By Eric Sesit Joint Base Charleston public affairs

The port facility at Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station, S.C., was temporarily located near the fictional city of Charliesport in the country of El Corona recently as part of a Joint Task Force - Port Opening exercise.

Held May 15 through 22, U.S. Transportation Command's Exercise Turbo Distribution 14-2, allowed members of Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 597th Transportation Brigade and 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, Military Sealift Command's Expeditionary Port Units 109 and 110 and Naval Cargo Handling Battalion ONE, along with support from JB Charleston's 628th ABW, 841st TB and ASLAC, the opportunity to exercise their skills in a joint environment.

"JTF-PO is a joint expeditionary capability which provides initial, rapid response forces for combatant commanders around the world to establish a distribution network in support of both U.S. and global crises," said Chris O'Dell, TRANSCOM team lead for the exercise. "One of the most important responses in initial phases of humanitarian aid, disaster response or contingency operations is to quickly open airports and seaports for the distribution of equipment and supplies."

In the event of a global crisis, TRANSCOM, operating on the regional combatant commander's request, would initially deploy forces to the area with the goal of conducting either an airfield or seaport opening. This exercise scenario required a seaport opening, so a rapid deployable Joint Assessment Team, followed by the remainder of the JTF-PO team, arrived in Charleston and began making arrangements to discharge the cargo and provide aid to the fictional disaster area.

The Military Sealift Command ship, USNS Watkins (T-AKR-315 ) was the center piece for the exercise. The Watkins, moored at Wharf Alpha on the Weapons Station, was scheduled for a routine discharge before a maintenance period, providing the perfect platform for the various units to work from.

"This is a win-win scenario," said Rear Adm. Lawrence Jackson, MSC deputy commander. "This ship has to be off-loaded. TRANSCOM has pulled all their joint assets together just as they would in a real-world scenario. Not only do we get the ship off-loaded, but we get excellent training working with our joint partners."

One of the first tasks in opening any port is to make sure the initial responders from the various units have a place to sleep and eat. To make the exercise as real as possible, 18 notional C-17 chalks were pre-staged on Pier Charlie at the Weapons Station. Exercise participants had to inventory their gear, and then deploy it as necessary, creating a tent city where they would live and work for the duration of the exercise.

Once the team of more than 120 Soldiers and Sailors was in place, they began the task of discharging the ship.

"These types of exercises are crucially important," said Lt. Marc Muldoon, EPU 110 Husbandry Agent. Muldoon's unit was tasked with providing everything the ship needed while it was pierside, such as waste disposal, electrical service, etc. "We go over these scenarios during classroom training but we need to see the cargo and have the chance to talk with the ship's master as well as interact with the other units on the ground."

Chief Petty Officer Daniel Tiffee, a boatswain's mate assigned to Naval Cargo Handling Battalion ONE, home-based in Cheatham Annex, Va., said, "Our unit is the only active-duty cargo handling unit in the Navy. Although we have real-world operations going on all the time, we mostly use crane operations to move cargo. This exercise is giving us the opportunity to test our roll-on, roll-off capabilities, which we don't train on as much."

The exercise wrapped up May 22, at which time the Watkins was more than a third empty. Their job done, the JTF-PO team handed off the remainder of the discharge to the fictional host country team, which in this case was actually ASLAC and the 841st TB.

"I can't emphasize how great it was to work this exercise at Joint Base Charleston," said O'Dell. "Everyone from the senior leadership to the various agencies and squadrons who assisted us made this a great evolution from start to finish."