A Brief History of USTRANSCOM

World War II, the Berlin blockade, the Korean War, and the war in Southeast Asia all demonstrated the need for the United States to maintain a capable and ready transportation system for national security. In 1978, however, command post exercise Nifty Nugget exposed great gaps in understanding between military and civilian participants: mobilization and deployment plans fell apart, and as a result, the United States and its NATO allies "lost the war." Two major recommendations came out of Nifty Nugget. First, the Transportation Operating Agencies (later called the Transportation Component Commands) should have a direct reporting chain to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Second, the JCS should establish a single manager for deployment and execution. As a result, the JCS formed the Joint Deployment Agency (JDA) at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, in 1979.

Despite its many successes, the JDA could not handle the job. Although the JDA had responsibility for integrating deployment procedures, it did not have authority to direct the Transportation Operating Agencies or Unified and Specified Commanders in Chief to take corrective actions, keep data bases current, or adhere to milestones. According to several independent studies on transportation, the Department of Defense (DOD) needed to consolidate transportation. Consequently, President Reagan on 18 April 1987 ordered the Secretary of Defense to establish a Unified Transportation Command (UTC), a directive made possible in part by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which revoked the law prohibiting consolidation of military transportation functions.

The UTC Implementation Plan (IP) outlined the new unified command's responsibilities, functions, and organization. Christened United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), its mission was to "provide global air, sea, and land transportation to meet national security needs." It had three transportation component commands--the Air Force's Military Airlift Command (replaced by Air Mobility Command in 1992), the Navy's Military Sealift Command, and the Army's Military Traffic Management Command, (renamed Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command in 2004). The JDA's missions and functions transferred to USTRANSCOM on 18 April 1987, when the agency became the command's Directorate of Deployment. Additionally, the IP located the command at Scott AFB, Illinois, to take advantage of Military Airlift Command's expertise in command and control. On 22 June 1987, the President nominated Air Force General Duane H. Cassidy as the first Commander, USTRANSCOM, and on 1 July the Senate confirmed the recommendation, thus activating the command at Scott. The commander of USTRANSCOM received operational direction from the National Command Authority (NCA) through the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

USTRANSCOM appeared, at first glance, to be the long sought after remedy for DOD's fragmented and often criticized transportation system. Its establishment gave the United States, for the first time, a four-star, unified combatant commander to serve as single-point-of-contact for Defense Transportation System (DTS) customers and to act as advocate for the DTS in DOD and before Congress. But it soon became apparent that, in reality, the nation's newest unified command was created half-baked. The IP allowed the Services to retain their single-manager charters for their respective transportation modes. Even more restrictive, the document limited USTRANSCOM's authorities primarily to wartime.

As a result, during peacetime, USTRANSCOM's component commands continued to operate day-to-day much as they did in the past. They controlled their industrial funds and maintained responsibility for Service-unique missions, Service-oriented procurement and maintenance scheduling, and DOD charters during peacetime single-manager transportation operations. They also continued to have operational control of forces. It took a wartime test by fire, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, to bring to maturity a fully operational, peacetime and wartime, USTRANSCOM.

The strategic deployment for Desert Shield/Desert Storm ranks among the largest in history. USTRANSCOM, in concert with its components, moved to the United States Central Command area of responsibility nearly 504,000 passengers, 3.7 million tons of dry cargo, and 6.1 million tons of petroleum products in approximately seven months. This equated roughly to the deployment and sustainment of two Army corps, two Marine Corps expeditionary forces, and 28 Air Force tactical fighter squadrons. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, no nation ever moved so many and so much, so far, so fast.

The DOD learned much from the deployment to the Persian Gulf, and foremost among those lessons was that USTRANSCOM and its component commands needed to operate in peacetime as they would in wartime. Consequently, on 14 February 1992, the Secretary of Defense gave USTRANSCOM a new charter. Stating the command's mission to be "to provide air, land, and sea transportation for the Department of Defense, both in time of peace and time of war," the charter greatly expanded the authorities of the USTRANSCOM commander. Under it, the Service Secretaries assigned the components to the USTRANSCOM commander in peace and war. In addition, the military departments assigned to him, under his combatant command, all transportation assets except those that were Service-unique or theater-assigned. The charter also made the USTRANSCOM commander DOD's single-manager for transportation, other than Service-unique and theater-assigned assets.

Since Desert Shield/Desert Storm, USTRANSCOM has continued to prove its worth during contingencies--such as Desert Thunder (enforcement of UN resolutions in Iraq) and Allied Force (NATO operations against Serbia)--and peacekeeping endeavors--for example, Restore Hope (Somalia), Support Hope (Rwanda), Uphold Democracy (Haiti), Joint Endeavor (Bosnia-Herzegovina), and Joint Guardian (Kosovo). Likewise, the command has supported numerous humanitarian relief operations transporting relief supplies to victims of natural disasters in at home and abroad. After terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people and wounded thousands more, USTRANSCOM became a vital partner in the United States' Global War On Terror supporting the warfighter in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq).

On 16 September 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld designated the Commander, USTRANSCOM as the Distribution Process Owner (DPO) to serve "as the single entity to direct and supervise execution of the Strategic Distribution system" in order to "improve the overall efficiency and interoperability of distribution related activities - deployment, sustainment and redeployment support during peace and war." The DPO authorities were documented in the Unified Command Plan in 2006 and in a revised mission directive and new DPO instruction in 2007. This was the most dramatic change to USTRANSCOM's responsibilities since the command received its peacetime mission in 1992. As the DPO, USTRANSCOM partnered with other combatant commands, military Services, defense agencies, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff and industry to improve the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise

Since 2003, USTRANSCOM has gained additional responsibilities related to its role as the Distribution Process Owner. In 2004, USTRANSCOM became the portfolio manager for DOD logistics information technology systems, and received acquisition authority for procuring information technology systems, carrying out research projects and obtaining services needed to transform the DOD supply chain. In 2006, the Secretary of Defense designated the command as the mobility joint force provider to identify, recommend and supervise implementation of global sourcing solutions. And in 2007, USTRANSCOM became DOD's lead agent for automated identification technology.

With the most capable and ready air, land, and sea strategic mobility forces in the world, and with the authorities as the DPO, USTRANSCOM will continue to support the United States and its allies, in peace and war.

USTRANSCOM Research Center, October 2010