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The case for consolidation: in 1982, Maj. Gen John Bruen helped make a case for a single transportation command.

Anyone who has served in a military command headquarters, DOD agency or federal department knows that congressional testimony by the commander, director, or secretary is a big event. Congressional testimony demands intense staff preparation over weeks culminating with a careful rehearsal and the appearance itself.

Yet, most hearings generate a limited number of questions, and once those inquiries are answered satisfactorily, "business as usual" often resumes.

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing June 17, 1982 was far from ordinary. It featured a statement by Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci in favor of a Joint Chiefs of Staff proposal to integrate Military Sealift Command and Military Traffic Management Command into a unified Military Transportation Command (MTC). Since Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman had opposed the MTC initiative previously in March 1982 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Carlucci's case attracted unusual interest.

Nevertheless, by August 1982, the MTC plan had been blocked in Congress. As it turned out, lawmakers would not authorize a unified transportation command until 1986.


Amid the debate over MTC, the testimony of MTMC's commander, Maj. Gen. John D. Bruen, attracted only passing notice. The official chronology of the emergence of United States Transportation Command noted in passing that Deputy Secretary Carlucci's position had been "supported at those hearings by the Director of the Joint Staff and Commander, MTMC."

Bruen's point of view is worth recalling 27 years later because his case for integration rested on a strong sense of MTMC's role, an active sense of history, and key considerations of mobility strategy.

When it emerged, USTRANSCOM was not MTC, but the mobility issues raised by Bruen in 1982 would occupy the new joint command and its Army component command into the first decade of the next century. His ideas and recommendations did not die.

MTMC in 1982 already had a large, global role, and its responsibilities were growing. Bruen's opening statement pointed out that his command acted as a central traffic manager for defense surface cargo and controlled 97 percent of all DOD tonnage in the continental United States. Its additional impact included port selection and terminal management at home and at ports in Europe and the Pacific. This global operation carried 11,343,000 measurement tons in fiscal 1981.

Other well-established MTMC roles in fiscal year 1981 ranged from managing 728,000 personal property and 93,000 private vehicle moves by uniformed personnel and DOD civilians, as well as over 800,000 DOD passenger movements. In late 1981, DOD had transferred ocean carrier booking and contract administration from Military Sealift Command to MTMC. The Pentagon also had named MTMC as DOD's single global manager for intermodal containers in war and peace.

After offering an overview of MTMC's entire mission, including personal property moves, private vehicle moves, DOD passenger movements and transportation engineering, the MTMC commander was prepared to make the case that integrating the two surface commands would save money, improve efficiency and enhance combat effectiveness by being "a single, responsive military traffic management organization." The Military Transportation Command would institute common procedures and in time develop joint communications systems. It would have the prestige to raise surface logistics issues with combatant commanders so that land/sea supply and transportation considerations would not be overlooked or minimized. MTC also would be a single point of contact with commercial shippers, the Air Force's Military Airlift Command (MAC), and the new Joint Deployment Agency (JDA). Including MAC in the MTC was not urgent, since airlift was responsible for only five percent of overall cargo tonnage.

While Bruen predicted that a new joint command would promote a better future, he also came armed with summary lessons from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to buttress his view that further consolidation would be the smart choice in the 1980's. His briefing papers included a list of significant problems encountered from 1941-45, beginning with an enormous shortage of shipping which severely limited the nation's power in the early stages of the conflict. As late as 1944, overseas commands retained many vessels to use as floating warehouses, since regional ports had a limited capability to receive and distribute supplies effectively. Theater commands also overestimated their requirements.

With the World War II military transportation structure largely intact, surface mobilization for the Korean War was handled by far fewer people with relative efficiency. Congestion in the Republic of Korea ranked as the primary problem.

Despite being a new command (activated Feb. 15, 1965), Military Traffic Management and Terminal Service (MTMTS) guided the deployment of 129.4 million measurement tons from the continental United States to South Vietnam from 1965-1975. Recalling this remarkable debut, the MTMC "lessons" from Vietnam included the proud note that port congestion at home was never a major problem.

Breakdowns and crew shortages on old ships mobilized to carry cargo to Southeast Asia ranked as the largest problem, followed by limited facilities, a shortage of trained port personnel and automated data processing in South Vietnam.

MTC was needed, in Bruen's view, because the crucial strategic mobility challenge was "getting Army and Marine Corps to the theater" and supporting one or more combatant commanders. As he saw it, the Navy Secretary's objections should not prevail because the Army was the primary customer of defense transportation, generating 64 percent of the cargo in peacetime and 88 percent of the surface traffic in a major conflict scenario.

The new command would accelerate planning and deployment in a crisis or conflict and save money by standardizing planning and communications systems. Bruen also felt a single surface mobility command would "assist in obtaining visibility of cargo on land, at ports and on the high seas." These arguments ultimately rested on a "common user orientation" which placed supporting deployed forces ahead of a service unique perspective.

Twenty-seven years later, MTMC's losing effort (in a supporting role) in 1982 may have been for the best. As it turned out, an Army-Navy compromise in August 1983 contained the assurance that MSC would survive as a separate command under a future unified transportation command. Following the Packard Commission's February 1986 recommendation that MAC be added to a unified transportation command, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of September 1986 directed the Defense Department to consider creating a single United States Transportation Command. When it was activated in 1987, USTRANSCOM initially was restricted to planning for a wartime transport role and was led by "dual-hatted" commanders of MAC (later Air Mobility Command) until November 2005.


More authority and a series of large operations since Operation Desert Shield compelled USTRANSCOM to focus on surface as well as air issues. When USTRANSCOM gained the peacetime mobility mission in February 1992 and became the Distribution Process Owner in September 2003, MTMC (later SDDC) gradually gained an increased role in managing surface mobility.

SDDC's enlarged mission grew to include joint traffic management, liner sealift, global container management, deployment and distribution support teams as well as in-transit visibility of cargo. Over time, in a subordinate role to USTRANSCOM, SDDC gained many aspects of the enhanced authority that Bruen sought from Congress in 1982. The Senate hearing of June 17, 1982 soon was forgotten, but, despite near-term setbacks, much of Bruen's vision ultimately prevailed.

By Dr. Kent Beck

SDDC Command Historian
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Author:Beck, Kent
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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