From disaster relief in Haiti to the drawdown in Iraq to the surge in Afghanistan, it has been a busy year for the U.S. Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM, the organization that has primary transportation responsibility for moving and sustaining U.S. military forces around the world.
In September, Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander of TRANSCOM, talked to DC Velocity about the organization's work, its relationships with the commercial sector and other agencies, and its multifaceted responsibilities.
"I'm very proud of how we go about this as a nation," McNabb said. "It's one of those things that people don't understand very well. Nobody in the world can do what we do."
As for how TRANSCOM handles all these competing demands, McNabb explained that the organization relies heavily on support from both the military side and the commercial side. "U.S.-flagged commercial carriers, because of the strong international relationships they bring to the table, are vital. People don't realize the value of this to America," he said.
As an example, McNabb cited the development of the Northern Distribution Network, an alternate route for bringing supplies into Afghanistan. Opening that route required an active and ongoing partnership across multiple military commands as well as involvement of the State Department and the commercial sector, McNabb said. To succeed, he added, you have to have "everybody working together, and it's amazing what you can do if everybody is working together."
He also sees logistics efforts bringing benefits that were overlooked in the past. For example, to assemble the Northern Distribution Network, McNabb visited countries north of Afghanistan in Central Asia. "We have spent a lot of time in those countries," he said.
Those visits opened the door for the diplomats. When President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in April, the discussions centered not just on the nuclear arms treaty but also on improving access through Russia—including overflights—to support ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.
McNabb sees the Northern Distribution Network as a key to success in Afghanistan, but he has an unconventional view for a military man on how logistics leads to peace and stability. "What you have to have is economic development," he said. "What you need is trade and infrastructure. A trade corridor could emerge along the old Silk Road."
During the interview, McNabb also discussed a multi-layered approach to piracy. He believes the solution lies in applying industry best practices, starting with "hardening the ship—what you can do to slow folks down or even stop them from getting on board."
Success against piracy requires active interest by industry. "You have to help yourself first," McNabb said, "then we can help you."
TRANSCOM is a steward for the taxpayer's money, but its core mission is to take care of the warfighter. And this means it has people in harm's way. Gen. McNabb, in closing, made a simple request. "Say a prayer for TRANSCOM."