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Deploying an Expeditionary Sustainment Command to Support Disaster Relief

The massive earthquake in Haiti in January presented the Soldiers of the 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command with an unprecedented challenge: deploying to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in an expeditionary environment.

With a unit history stretching back to the Korean War, the 3d Sustainment Command
(Expeditionary) (ESC) has often deployed to provide logistics expertise and sustainment to the warfighter. Since 2003, the 3d ESC has deployed three times to support Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and moved its headquarters from Germany to Fort Knox, Kentucky. But throughout its rich history, the 3d ESC has never been called on to deploy into an expeditionary environment to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

But on 12 January 2010, a devastating earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti led to exactly that scenario. To support Operation Unified Response, the U.S. military’s mission to assist the suffering people of Haiti, the 3d ESC deployed into an immature theater that challenged the resourcefulness of its Soldiers and required them to accomplish a number of unit “firsts.” This article and the one that follows tell the story of how the 3d ESC deployed to and operated in Haiti.

Timing of the Operation

When the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the 3d ESC was 25 days away from completing the 180-day reset phase of the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle after returning from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Although the unit initially received no orders to deploy to Haiti, it was a real possibility that the skills and capabilities of the only active-component ESC in the continental United States at the time would be needed for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

As expected in the ARFORGEN reset phase, the unit’s available strength was in flux. The ESC could fill only about 50 percent of required joint-manning document positions needed to man the Joint Logistics Command (JLC). Most of the unit’s equipment was out of reset, but the command had not yet filled shortages in tentage and other associated field life-support equipment. When the earthquake hit Haiti on 12 January, the 3d ESC was feeling the effects of manning, equipment, and training limitations stemming from the turbulence of reset.

Developing the Task Organization

Only 4 days after the earthquake, the 3d ESC headquarters began its contribution to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort in earnest. On 16 January, the first elements of the command were committed to the Haiti relief effort. The 3d ESC’s commanding general and several planners departed Fort Knox for the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in Miami, Florida, to contribute to the sustainment planning effort for a U.S. military response to the Haiti disaster.

In what was a first for the ESC headquarters, their work was guided not by a contingency plan or combat orders but by what the planners anticipated might be needed in Haiti to support its people in a time of crisis. Relying on the modular structure and standardization of sustainment forces across the military, the planners effectively researched unit capabilities and applied them to the anticipated requirements. This ultimately saved planning time and ensured that the proper units were requested to deploy in support of the mission.

Thanks to existing 3d ESC training and readiness authority relationships, the unit’s planners were familiar with the readiness levels and availability of many of the sustainment units that were later selected for contingency deployment to Haiti. As reception, staging, and onward movement commenced, the ESC headquarters also observed the effectiveness of existing command and control relationships to make daily sustainment operations more efficient. These observations set the conditions for effective employment of Army watercraft in support of joint logistics over-the-shore operations and the use of mortuary affairs teams in support of Joint Task Force-Haiti and Department of State recovery operations.

Prioritizing Logistics Force Flow

One of the challenges faced by 3d ESC planners in the early stages of the operation was setting priorities for the force flow into Haiti. With logistics forces competing for priority airflow into Haiti, sustainment and humanitarian assistance requirements quickly outpaced logistics capability on the ground.

In addition to deploying its own headquarters, the 3d ESC faced the daunting task of prioritizing and advocating for the deployment of all sustainment forces into theater that would constitute the JLC. The last sustainment forces did not arrive in Haiti until 7 February—25 days after the earthquake.

Deployment from Fort Knox

While elements of the 3d ESC were engaged in planning at SOUTHCOM, the remainder of the headquarters readied itself to deploy to Haiti. Between 13 January and 3 February, the 3d ESC headquarters deployed personnel and equipment from Fort Knox.

The deployment began on 13 January, when one 3d ESC planner deployed to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to support the XVIII Airborne Corps’ planning efforts. On 16 January, six 3d ESC personnel, including the commander, deployed to Haiti via the SOUTHCOM headquarters in Miami, followed by the deputy commander and operations sergeant major on 17 January. On 27 January, the 3d ESC advance party of 31 Soldiers deployed to Haiti on a C−17 Globemaster transport, with the 60-Soldier main body deploying aboard another C−17 on 3 February.

Although this was not the first time the headquarters had deployed, it was the first time the headquarters had deployed in a contingency and an expeditionary framework. Conditioned by deploying into a mature theater of operations (OIF in 2003, 2005, and 2008) with long leadtimes, the unit had never before deployed on short notice or during the reset phase of ARFORGEN.

But while this first contingency and expeditionary deployment from Fort Knox had its challenges, it proved that the unit’s Soldiers were adaptive and innovative. Despite a lack of rapid deployment experience, both within the unit and within the Fort Knox installation staff, the ESC was able to successfully meet the challenges of reset, prepare Soldiers and equipment for movement, and deploy by military airlift to Haiti to provide sustainment and distribution expertise to the relief efforts.

An Expeditionary Environment: Not OIF

Another first for the 3d ESC was deploying into a theater that was not mature. Natural disasters occur without notice and pose significant challenges. Compared with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, where many factors were “knowns,” limited information on the overall situation in Haiti was available initially and the infrastructure to support the unit was austere.

Although U.S. involvement in Haiti is not uncommon historically, the 3d ESC maintained no information on the security situation and infrastructure in Haiti. From the time of the earthquake until the final unit elements deployed on 3 February, the staff continually conducted mission analysis and intelligence preparation of the operational environment. This effort provided the commander with the best information available on the security situation following the earthquake, infrastructure capabilities within the area affected by the earthquake, and the unit’s capabilities to provide support to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

When the 3d ESC was notified for deployment, it appointed liaison officers with the XVIII Airborne Corps and SOUTHCOM to assist the headquarters with requests for forces and matching logistics capabilities with emerging requirements. The command also coordinated with United Nations forces and numerous international aid organizations to accomplish support and distribute aid once deployed.

To accomplish the mission, the 3d ESC required robust network connectivity, which was not organic to the unit. The unit experienced communications challenges created by operating under numerous elements, resulting in limited connectivity to support all requirements. From maintaining situational awareness, coordinating requirements, and obtaining workspace and network access to improving living conditions, the austere environment in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, presented numerous challenges to the unit.

First Test of Soldier Field Craft Skills

Haiti proved to be a first test of field craft skills for many Soldiers within the 3d ESC. Essentially, it was back to the basics in Army field craft. Many of the Soldiers within the command had deployed at least once to OIF or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). There, Soldier support functions, such as containerized shower units, dining facilities (many serving food and drinks 18 hours a day), laundry service, gyms, movie theaters, internet cafés, and libraries, are routinely provided by units or contractors. For the most part, duty in Iraq and Afghanistan is relatively comfortable because many personnel and agencies work diligently to provide quality services for Soldiers during a 12-month deployment.

Conditions were different in Haiti. Services such as laundry and bath, dining facilities, internet cafés, and gyms were not provided. For young Soldiers or those who had deployed only to mature theaters, being informed that they had to pack additional items, like a small box of soap powder (not liquid), clothespins, and a clothesline, was an eye-opening experience.

The command realized early that some Soldiers (even young sergeants) had never erected a general purpose medium tent, emplaced concertina wire, washed their own clothes by hand, or eaten only meals ready-to-eat for 30-plus days. In addition to providing direct support to thousands of Haitians desperately in need of assistance, Soldiers were also trying to survive the elements themselves.

The institutional knowledge possessed by senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) with Desert Shield and Storm experience helped teach young Soldiers how to survive and stay healthy in the hot, unforgiving climate. For the command’s most senior NCOs—sergeants major, master sergeants, and very seasoned sergeants first class—it was truly an opportunity to teach, coach, and mentor Soldiers on basic field standards and camp planning and establishment.

Soldiers also received training in building field showers, washing clothes in the field, and maintaining the essentials of field sanitation. The knowledge gained through this deployment reinforced the importance of basic Army field craft training and proved that this training is critical to developing adaptive Soldiers. In all, 3d ESC Soldiers proved adaptive and ready to tackle the austere conditions in Haiti. As a testament to their resilience and spirit, 17 Soldiers reenlisted during the first-ever 3d ESC mass reenlistment ceremony in Port-au-Prince on 27 February.

First Deployment Without TPE

Operation Unified Response was the 3d ESC’s first deployment in which it did not fall in on theater-provided equipment (TPE). In fact, all units supporting the operation deployed with their organizational property book equipment. For the 3d ESC, some of its equipment was still in the Army’s left-behind equipment program. Without knowing the specific requirements of the mission, unit leaders determined, based on their experience, what equipment would most likely be used. Complicating efforts was the fact that the 3d ESC had not deployed its organic equipment since the early rotations of OIF.

The unit had to build its load plans and unit deployed list without knowing the operational environment in Haiti. While all units in the Army are different, the 3d ESC had become accustomed to drawing TPE in mature theaters to execute its mission while deployed. The mission in Haiti proved that, regardless of whether or not deploying units are going to be drawing TPE, units still need to place their equipment readiness high on their list of priorities.

First Test of the ESC’s MTOE

Another unexpected first during Operation Unified Response was the testing of the 3d ESC’s modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE). Could the ESC deploy to an expeditionary environment with personnel and equipment authorized on its current MTOE and successfully execute its mission?

Haiti was an immature, austere theater of operations, which meant that units had to deploy solely with their authorized, available MTOE equipment. The impact of this equipment set on operations was immediately felt on the ESC’s arrival in Haiti.

For example, ESCs are not organically equipped with signal support other than the personnel in their G−6 section. Doctrinally, they should be supported by an expeditionary signal battalion. During Operation Unified Response, the JLC initially had nothing to provide communications for the users in its headquarters except for services provided by the Multi-Media Communications System (MMCS) brought to the theater by the Army Materiel Command element attached to the JLC.

The MMCS provided a limited number of voice and data lines. That was enough for the early arriving
elements to begin communicating with joint task force elements. Later in the deployment, the XVIII Airborne Corps J−6 worked with the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE) to provide a team with organic satellite equipment to augment the headquarters.

The purpose of the JCSE team was not to provide a permanent communications solution for the JLC but to provide enough NIPRNET (Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network), SIPRNET (Secure Internet Protocol Router Network), VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and video teleconferencing capability for the command to reach initial operating capability. Once the 24th Air Expeditionary Group arrived in Haiti, it provided a “line of sight shot” across the airfield that permitted more user access to voice and data services.

This mission was also the first in which the 3d ESC was forced to use its organic equipment since it had relocated from Germany to Kentucky. The OEF and OIF model allows units to consider TPE sets as part of their planning assumptions. Since Haiti had no TPE, units were required to deploy as they were.

Outside of communication, the greatest impact was felt in life support, including tents, generators, and light sets. Some of this equipment had not been used for over a year and presented a steep learning curve for those setting up and operating it for the first time. Fortunately, the ESC was able to use some temporary life-support equipment sets belonging to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that were available at the Haiti Airport to address requirement shortfalls. The ESC also relied on experienced senior NCOs to provide onsite training to Soldiers who had not experienced this level of field craft before.

Conditioned by multiple deployments to Iraq, the 3d ESC was forced to adapt and learn how to deploy into an austere environment in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Although they lacked experience in this area, the adaptive Soldiers of the command were able to deploy from reset and tackle challenging missions and conditions in Haiti. Throughout its preparations and actual deployment, the command was able to continually set the conditions for successful support of Operation Unified Response.

While the contingency deployment to an expeditionary environment resulted in a number of firsts for the command, a number of other firsts would enable joint forces to provide the initial relief to the Haitian people. The article beginning on page 9 examines the contributions of the 3d ESC to relief operations.

Major Paul R. Hayes is the public affairs officer of the 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The command would like to thank the many individuals who contributed to this article.

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