On 3 September 2005, 5 days after the devastating
landfall of Hurricane Katrina in southeast Louisiana, a leaders’ reconnaissance
team from the 13th Corps Support Command (COSCOM) [now known
as the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)] departed
Fort Hood, Texas, for New Orleans.
After assessing the damage, the COSCOM’s commander, Brigadier General
Michael J. Terry, decided that the 49th Movement Control Battalion, part of
the 13th COSCOM, was the unit best suited to assist in distributing civilian
humanitarian supplies to the affected people of Louisiana. General Terry obtained
consent from the State of Louisiana and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) to deploy the 49th as part of Joint Task Force Katrina in support of the
humanitarian relief effort.
The personnel of the 49th would manage movement control and distribution of
commodities. Because the relief effort was a unified endeavor of many Federal
and state civilian agencies and military units from all branches of service,
it was decided that the normal wartime function of the 49th—managing and
controlling the roadways throughout an area of operations—would be an
inappropriate mission for a military unit engaged in a humanitarian operation.
The State of Louisiana would maintain control of the highways because it would
be unreasonable and possibly unconstitutional for the military to commandeer
the roadways during a humanitarian mission.
Based in Baton Rouge with FEMA, the 49th Movement Control Battalion strategically
emplaced distribution management teams (DMTs) throughout Louisiana to provide
assistance, advice, and asset visibility to Army National Guard and civilian
relief agencies. The primary directives to the DMTs were to assess and advise
the units managing the distribution of relief supplies and, more importantly,
track and report movement and distribution status by commodity at each node
throughout the distribution system. Titles 10 and 32 of the U.S. Code (Armed
Forces and National Guard, respectively) prohibit the Active Army from assuming
a controlling role in a relief effort, so the 49th provided support to Army National
Guard units on site. The DMTs were a mix of transportation movement control personnel
from the 49th Movement Control Battalion and materiel management specialists
from the 4th Corps Materiel Management Center (CMMC), also part of the 13th COSCOM.
The Soldiers of the 4th CMMC melded flawlessly with their transportation counterparts,
forming fully integrated teams that were highly knowledgeable in transportation,
commodity accountability and tracking, warehouse and truck yard organization,
and distribution planning.
General Terry offers encouraging words to a student
at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired
in Baton Rouge.
Tracking Supplies Across Louisiana
Nested in regional staging areas (RSAs) throughout Louisiana, the DMTs were in
direct contact with the battalion operations center in Baton Rouge. They formed
an efficient tracking network through each level of the distribution system and
allowed FEMA and state authorities to maintain a common operating picture of
humanitarian commodities in the supply pipeline.
Acting much like a switchboard operator, the 49th communicated with both FEMA
and state authorities, not only reporting when a supply truck was dispatched
but also confirming the time and date it reached its destination. The 49th
used automated systems such as the Battle Command Sustainment Supply System
as well as “eyes on” reports it received three times daily from
each DMT to keep FEMA and state authorities posted.
Tracking began at the federally operated RSA at Camp Beauregard in Alexandria,
Louisiana. There, trucks loaded with relief supplies gathered from all over the
country were staged to provide efficient distribution into southern Louisiana.
After receiving an order, FEMA sent the appropriate commodities to the ordering
RSA. Once in an RSA, the commodities were staged to wait for the order to move
them to points of distribution (PODs) that were established in places
large enough to accommodate full truckloads of supplies, such as shelters,
churches, and fire departments. Once at a POD, the supplies were distributed
to nearby residents.
At first, two RSAs—one each in Hammond and Harahan, Louisiana—coordinated
the distribution efforts above and below Lake Pontchartrain, respectively.
Later, the DMT at RSA Harahan was removed to make personnel available to start
two new RSAs in Lafayette and Lake Charles to support the affected people in
those areas. This move greatly increased the coverage area for relief supplies.
Within 6 days of arriving in Louisiana, the 49th
Movement Control Battalion effectively reduced truck download
time from 10 to 14 days to 3 to 5 days, which resulted in a
corresponding reduction in the time required to deliver humanitarian
supplies to affected residents. This achievement improved
the flow of commodities and saved approximately $140,000 a
day by reducing the number of truck drivers required, some
of whom were paid as much as $1,400 a day under a per-day contract.
By using manual status reports and asset visibility systems such as the BCS3
and radio frequency identification tag interrogators, the battalion was able
to improve the efficiency of distribution operations at the RSAs. The on-hand
truck count was reduced by 58 percent—from 285 to 120. The battalion
was able to reduce backorders, curtail excessive ordering, and decrease the
number of refused loads at RSAs and PODs. These systems permitted the 49th
to identify and cancel an excessive order for 150 trucks of meals, saving as
much as $1 million.
of the 49th Movement Control Battalion stretch their
legs during a rest stop en route to Louisiana.
Around the middle of September, the 49th began tracking Tropical Depression 18,
which soon became powerful Hurricane Rita. Considering the fragile state of southern
Louisiana and the now-compromised
levee system, New Orleans was in grave danger. Because of the breaches in the
9th ward levee and the trash and debris that were clogging sewers, a heavy rain
or moderate storm surge could be enough to flood New Orleans again, causing further
Hurricane Rita could not only wreak further havoc in New Orleans but also create
a path of destruction that likely would generate an even greater need for humanitarian
aid. In turn, more logistics and movement control support would be needed from
The battalion commander and his staff developed contingency plans for the various
points where Hurricane Rita could make landfall and identified potential locations
where FEMA and Louisiana authorities would place RSAs and PODs.
living quarters in Louisiana provide
a welcome respite for the 49th Movement
Control Battalion Soldiers.
Once they were confident that the hurricane’s
path would be along the border of Texas and Louisiana, FEMA
and state authorities selected initial RSA and POD sites. Immediately,
the 49th began to assess the capabilities of each site to
distribute relief supplies quickly to the areas most likely
to be affected. As late as 36 hours before Rita made landfall,
an assessment team was dispatched to Lake Charles for an
on-ground assessment of the RSA at Chennault International
Airport, which was soon to be in the middle of Hurricane Rita’s
path. The assessments provided a solid understanding of the
capabilities of each RSA.
New DMTs were organized, and mission planning continued even
as Rita raged onto land. Just 2 days before Rita’s landfall,
two new DMTs arrived at the RSAs at Lake Charles and Lafayette
and linked up with their respective Army National Guard units.
Both RSA’s were already receiving supplies from the staging
area in Alexandria.
The courage and perseverance of the people of Louisiana were exemplified by
the immediate requirement for RSAs and PODs in the hardest hit areas. Before
drinking water was restored, before stores reopened, and even before floodwaters
receded, people began returning to damaged homes eager to rebuild their neighborhoods
and their lives. The RSAs and PODs were able to help by quickly supplying basic
necessities, such as food, water, and tarps to cover the roofs of damaged houses.
Within the first 6 days of its arrival in Louisiana, the 49th delivered enough
meals and water to sustain 150,000 people a day on average. By the 10-day mark,
that average had risen to 160,000 people a day. During its month-long deployment,
the 49th distributed nearly 1.7 million gallons of water; 3.6 million meals,
ready to eat; and 11.5 million pounds of ice to the people of southern Louisiana.
Without having to worry about their next meal, many displaced residents
quickly returned. Today, many of the neighborhoods helped by the 49th Movement
Control Battalion are well on their way to full restoration.
Captain Ryan T. Tierney is currently deployed to Afghanistan, where he serves
as the Commander of the 151st Movement Control Team, 49th Movement Control Battalion,
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), from Fort Hood, Texas. He has a bachelor’s
degree in biology from California State Polytechnic University Pomoma and a juris
doctor degree from Western State University College of Law in California. He
is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course.