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13th COSCOM Support of
Task Force Katrina

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.

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 (BCS3) 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.

Hurricane Rita

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 harm to already-damaged buildings.

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 49th.

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.

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.