JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
Editor’s Note: This article is part of series highlighting Joint Base Langley-Eustis members’ contribution to humanitarian relief efforts from JBLE.
The first two of four U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft loaded with Army troops and equipment from Fort Eustis’ 832nd Transportation Battalion broke ground before daylight, Oct. 18, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis en route to the hurricane-battered Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.
Heavy duty forklifts, tents, satellite communications equipment, generators and light sets, and a host of other vehicles and electronic gear used for tracking and managing cargo was quickly loaded and secured on the aircraft within an hour of the planes landing and opening their rear cargo doors.
The 832nd Trans. Btn. was created with a special purpose in mind and with a distinct skill set that sets it apart from every other transportation battalions in the U.S. Army. Its mission is to work jointly with U.S. Navy and Air Force units to operate autonomously in austere environments on a moment’s notice to set up and manage air and sea ports anywhere in the world.
While that’s no small task, it is one they train for continuously and have proven their capabilities over and over again.
Soon after Hurricane Maria had moved off shore, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Stacy Tomic, 832nd Trans. Btn. commander, arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a handful of her transportation and logistics experts. This was part of a Joint Assessment Team to determine what manpower and equipment capabilities she would need when the order came to commence operations—and that order has come.
The 832nd Trans. Btn. has three Rapid Port Opening Elements consisting of roughly 60 U.S. Army Soldiers in each.
“These specialty units are the only ones of their kind in the entire Army, and each takes its turn on alert status on a rotational basis,” Maj. Jason Crist, 832nd Trans. Btn. executive officer. “The RPOE on alert is packed and ready to go with just a few hours’ notice, and each is equally adept at performing both air or sea port operations.”
Being an island, Puerto Rico is unique in that it has both air and sea ports that are vital to the hurricane recovery effort. Although having more than one RPOE deployed at a time is not typical, it is certainly not beyond their capabilities as the RPOEs plan for all possibilities, said Crist.