First person: reopening Port-au-Prince: joint task force--port opening seaport operations in Haiti.
Editor's Note." In the immediate wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake in January, U.S. Transportation Command's recently-established Joint Task Force- Port Opening was called upon for its intended mission." opening ports and providing logistics support on short notice. In the first contingency response mission for the JTF-PO Sea Port of Debarkation team, the JTF-PO proved its mettle, opening the port at Port-au-Prince, managing operations above and beyond their mission requirements, and gaining crucial experiences to apply to their next challenge. What follows is a first-hand account from the JTF-PO (SPOD) commander, originally drafted to Gen. Duncan McNabb, USTRANSCOM commander, and his staff Lt. Col. Riddle has since retired from active duty.
January 12--One of the most devastating natural disasters of our time struck when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the small impoverished nation of Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving the capital city of the small nation in ruin. The earthquake left the Port of Port-au-Prince incapable of receiving critical humanitarian aid and disaster relief, or supporting the nation's frail backbone of trade and commerce.
Soon after hearing of the disaster, the "Gators" of the 832nd Transportation Battalion, headquartered at the Port of Jacksonville, Fla., watched the developments on the news. Knowing that the 832nd is one of two battalions in SDDC certified for Joint Task Force--Port Opening (JTF-PO) Seaport of Debarkation (SPOD) operations, and that Haiti is in our area of responsibility, we immediately realized, "there is no way we are not going to deploy to open a port in Haiti." We immediately focused on the inevitable task at hand.
Prior to receiving a formal Warning Order, the 832nd initiated an internal Warning Order to configure the deployable team including the SPOD joint assessment team (JAT) and the main body, comprised of Department of the Army civilians, military, and commercial stevedore contractors from our Port in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, we received our formal Warning Order and JAT Execution Order, and put all the wheels in motion to assure a timely departure in accordance with the USTRANSCOM Commander's vision for JTF-PO operations.
Early intelligence of the situation allowed SDDC, the 597th Transportation Group, and the 832nd to quickly build a well-tailored package specifically designed to meet the challenges of opening the largely destroyed Port of Port-au-Prince to military and commercial traffic. The near-term focus was to allow for throughput of military, U.S. government and international material to enable the humanitarian aid and disaster relief effort to help stabilize the people and government of Haiti. The environment on the ground and destruction of port infrastructure posed many challenges to the JTFPO SPOD mission. It was decided to organize, prepare and send the following package to do the job:
--15 832nd Transportation Battalion personnel, including myself, the battalion operations officer and emergency essential Soldiers and DA civilians seasoned in operating throughout the U.S. Southern Command AOR. Equipment included light vehicles and all life support requirements with 14 days of self-sustaining supplies.
--10 commercial stevedores from Ambassador Services, Cape Canaveral, Fla., with container handlers, heavy forklifts, trucks, trailers, generators, mechanical and electrical repair capability, light sets, and various supporting materiel and equipment to allow immediate cargo transfer operations.
--One contracting officer from SDDC headquarters to initiate expeditionary contracting once on site.
January 15--All deploying personnel were completing their personal and medical preparations, to include receiving the dreaded yellow fever vaccination from a needle the size of a Big Gulp drinking straw, which the Jacksonville Naval Air Station nurse insisted on giving in our skinny arms rather than our meaty backsides. For the most part, we all completed our deployment preparations with one arm each--a feat that will surely never be truly appreciated.
We also staged all of the Ambassador Services' heavy equipment and material in the Port of Cape Canaveral at our Army wharf--ready for immediate vessel loading.
All deploying 832nd personnel and equipment moved to Cape Canaveral to complete the staging of the complete JTF-PO SPOD package for immediate loading.
January 16--We were unsure whether or not we had stolen US-SOUTHCOM's two landing crafts utility (LCU) berthed in Cape Canaveral. Nevertheless, we packed the 7th Sustainment Brigade's LCU 2023 and LCU 2011 with the entire port opening package to include all of the 832nd and Ambassador Services personnel. The LCU 2023 carried the Port Leadership team and much of the container handling equipment. Many were wishing us calm seas and following winds as we boarded the vessels. The high sea state off the coast of Florida subsided by evening, and the LCUs departed heavy. Upon entering the open ocean, the "little" 4-7 foot swells had all members of the JTFPO SPOD scurrying for their Dramamine and undergoing a crash course on how to walk on a flat bottom Army boat in 4-7 foot swells. After a couple hours in the "calm seas," some of the cargo began to shift and became unstable as the sea poured over the bow and washed across the decks. Unfortunately, my vehicle sat at the point of the Atlantic's onslaught, bringing great pleasure and comic relief to the enlisted members and civilians on board.
Following a truly heroic effort on the part of the LCU's crew to resecure and reinforce cargo on the cargo deck of the LCU2023 while underway, the lead vessel was able to overcome the initial day of swells and continue on schedule. Due to the rough seas, the LCU 2011 was forced to turn around and remove a dangerous instability situation involving a commercial flat bed trailer and a ton equivalent unit (TEU) fuel pod loaded with diesel fuel. The LCU 2011 quickly made cargo stow adjustments in Cape Canaveral and again was underway--this time breaking through the high seas and holding its course towards Haiti at about 10- 11 knots.
Despite the fact that the LCUs have a supercargo capacity of about zero, the LCU masters and crews went above and beyond to accommodate the JTF-PO SPOD team. Other than a near mutiny when we drank the LCU 2023 boat out of coffee, the sea journey was uneventful. Approaching the coast of Haiti, the LCU 2011 was following the lead vessel by less than a day. Armed with the most current port survey information from the JAT on the ground, the JTF-PO SPOD team prepared to "go to ground" and begin receiving and staging cargo as soon as possible.
January 20--The LCU 2023 arrived in Port-au-Prince harbor, and after several attempts located a shore landing site, which was later developed into the heavily-used Red Beach 2 lighterage landing point. My vehicle started on first attempt, and was first off the LCU--bringing me great joy as disappointed Soldiers and DA civilians watched intently. Within several hours after landing, failing to locate a nearby Hilton or even a Holiday Inn, JTF-PO SPOD established satellite communications using BGAN systems and initiated daily reports to SDDC and USTRANSCOM. The team also set up the Joint Operations Center in a 40-foot office trailer, established basic life support systems in our other trailers, and began critical coordination with our sister service elements on the ground. The team linked up with the USAID liaison officer and Haitian commercial and port authority partners. We immediately initiated round-the-clock shifts and assumed the port management leadership role. The establishment of twice-daily port coordination meetings effectively facilitated coordination and communications between the joint and Haitian partners, allowing the development of a rapid plan and partnership for reception, staging and distribution of cargo.
Our service partners on ground at the time included U.S. Coast Guard team off the Coast Guard Cutter Oak, managing scheduling and berthing; elements of the 7th Sustainment Brigade Lighterage Control Center; a company of 82nd Airborne Soldiers providing port security; Naval Divers and various other segmented elements of our services. The Port-au-Prince Port Authority Director Jean E. Charles and his Security, Engineering and Customs offices were very supportive and cooperative--a posture retained throughout.
January 21--The LCU 2011 discharged in Port-au-Prince and completed the 100 percent arrival of the JTF-PO SPOD. With full capability on ground and initial cooperation and partnerships in place, the JTF-PO was immediately ready to begin receiving and distributing approximately 100 TEUs daily. On the first day of operations we pushed out the first 20 Food for Peace (USAID) containers to a warehouse for distribution. We also used our Haitian Port Authority contacts to provide public works construction equipment (excavator, bucket loader, and compactor) and gravel fill dirt to complete the Red 2 landing ramp and to construct the Red 3 landing ramp.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
January 22--Other than the usable segment of the broken South Pier, Red Beach landing ramps 1, 2 and 3 were fully open for business. Red 3 was capable of receiving Logistics Sup port Vessel-class vessels or smaller, Red 2 could receive LCU-class vessels or smaller, and Red 1 was capable of receiving Improved Navy Lighterage System and Landing Craft Mechanized class vessels. By this day we had also been given access to our three major staging areas: South Yard, North Yard, and the Break Bulk Yard, nearly 20 acres total. We were now capable of receiving 150 TEUs daily and staging approximately 1,000 containers.
JTF-PO SPOD established itself as the port operating hub for Port-au-Prince. It was obvious that the nature of the JTF-PO SPOD established the organization as the natural fusion center for port operations. In the early days of the operation, all parties solicited the JTF-PO SPOD for information, communication support, prioritization decisions, stevedoring and related terminal services (S&RTS) capability, land, and life support assistance. Our policy was to assist all partners in any manner possible. Thus, we negotiated port real estate for Army and Navy elements, provided latrines, bulk water, drinking water (to an extent), contracted S&RTS support, resolved differences between partners and gave all key partners a seat in our JOC and access to satellite communication to facilitate efficiency. The 832nd designed and controlled the cargo flow and staging plans. Our capability was now approximately 200 TEUs daily and the first commercial vessel, Crowley America, arrived for discharge. Initial contract negotiations were underway with the several private terminal operators in Port-au-Prince and we were beginning to use their labor, space, services and equipment.
January 24--Our contracting officer arrived and joined the team. After initial relentless harassment for arriving several days late, Larry Cooper proved to be an invaluable asset that no future JTF-PO SPOD should be without on day one. Cooper set up and finalized the JTF-PO SPOD S&RTS contracts in Port-au-Prince and Varreux, as well as general service contracts. His tenacious negotiations with the private terminal operators ensured all of the JTF-PO SPOD commander's S&RTS requirements were met--allowing us to fully leverage the commercial terminals to provide labor, equipment and materials. All contracts were negotiated and in place by January 27--we were fully in business.
Despite an engineering shutdown of the South Pier January 26-28 due to structural damage identified by divers, the heavy use of the Red Beaches and alternate ports like Varreux and Laffiteux allowed Port-au-Prince to maintain TEU reception rates of more than 250 TEUs daily. By the last days of January, Gold Beach was opened up by the U.S. Navy Seabees for extensive use by their INLS systems.
January 29--The South Pier was again opened for limited discharge (30-ton maximum on deck in limited areas and vessel length not to exceed 100 meters). This allowed an increased TEU reception of more than 300 TEUs daily by February.
Once cleared of old containers and dog-rats (rats the size of dogs), in early February the JTF-PO SPOD staging areas held a steady capability of 2,000 TEUs--the highest staging count was registered on February 4, with over 1,000 TEUs on-ground in the port. Although port TEU clearance remained at 150-200 maximum TEUs daily due to road congestion and a limited commercial chassis pool, it remained more than sufficient to support the distribution requirements.
Through late January and February, a myriad of vessels were calling on Port-au-Prince, including French and Dutch military vessels, non-government organization vessels with humanitarian assistance, USAID vessels, U.S. military vessels and a host of commercial carriers competing for Port-au-Prince access. The Coast Guard and Navy Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) group continued to do a superb job supporting the Haitian Port Authority in ensuring the prioritization and scheduling of incoming vessels was fair and as timely as possible. The NCAGS team is indispensable in such operations and should be included in all JTF-PO SPOD certification training.
The 689th Rapid Port Opening Element, led by Maj. William Costice and 1st Sgt. Pollard, joined the 832nd Deployment and Distribution Support Team on January 29. The RPOE was immediately assigned management of staging areas, cargo transfer, and port clearance--a task they quickly mastered. With the RPOE quickly established and on-ground, the 832nd DDST began to scale down its capability by first redeploying the ten commercial contractors and their equipment. One of the contractors found himself inspired to enlist once home.
832nd civilians and soldiers soon followed, as they were much needed at their homeport in Jacksonville, Fla., to support the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief loadout.
February 7--The battalion DDST was reduced to myself, Chris Goss, transportation management division chief, and Staff Sgt. Jose Alvarenga, marine cargo specialist. This is the SDDC battalion team which remained in place until March 1, when the 833rd Transportation Battalion took over.
With more than a thousand containers distributed and pending USSOUTHCOM container management guidelines, on February 3 we held the first of our JTF-Unified Response container management meetings. This first forum allowed all key container distribution players, including commercial terminals, USAID, and 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC), to establish a container tracking system in theater. The USSOUTHCOM container manager was incorporated into the plan and provided feedback and guidance. A workable solution was embraced by all and initiated.
By the second week of February we found the Port of Port-au-Prince extremely busy and capable. The Navy and 3rd ESC, with 7th Sustainment Brigade, took over many of the tasks which were initially spearheaded by the JTF-PO SPOD element. We are now seeing the Haitian Port Authority taking back much authority for port operations and vessel scheduling. 7th Sustainment Brigade has established a port mayor who will eventually become the full port sustainment provider.
The pressure by private terminal operators to prioritize commercial trade vessels is increasing. The humanitarian assistance flow is high and stabilized at an average of approximately 100 containers out of the port daily--a manageable flow, with still more than 700 containers in our staging areas on the ground as of February 7.
The USTRANSCOM solution for bringing long-term throughput back to Port-au-Prince without reliance on logistics over-the-shore (LOTS) is to establish floating barge pier plat forms for Lift-On/ Lift-Off and Roll-On/ Roll-Off cargo transfer to ships. This project is underway and by the end of February the platforms should be in place and in full use.
Given that the pre-earthquake vessel traffic into Port-au-Prince was approximately seven vessels per month, the proposed barge pier platforms will exceed the required capability to sustain Port-au-Prince commerce and facilitate the redeployment of forces and the residual humanitarian assistance flow. The completion of the barge pier system will likely end the necessity for LOTS capability and allow Port-au-Prince to resume its normal flow of commerce. At this time, the RPOE will likely no longer be necessary and SDDC can consider maintaining a small DDST in place to manage the contracts and oversee documentation until JTF-Unified Response is over.
The Haitian Port Authority is in negotiation with the World Bank for long-term port infrastructure repairs. Hopefully, the result will be a hardened and rebuilt port that improves the prospects for free trade and commerce in Haiti.