WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2013 – Based on the proven value of international outreach in helping to create and maintain the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan, U.S. Transportation Command is initiating similar efforts with partners in the Asia-Pacific and African theaters.
Transcom introduced its Security Cooperation Program in 2008 to garner support for an alternative transportation network into Afghanistan, Mike Brogan, the command’s security cooperation manager, told American Forces Press Service.
Some of the countries along the proposed routes across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus region and Central Asia had never worked directly with the United States and were skeptical of U.S. intentions, Brogan explained.
So to allay their concerns, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the Transcom commander at the time, visited each country personally to outline the plan. Then he went a step further, inviting nations along the proposed routes to send their transportation and logistical experts to the United States to learn firsthand about Transcom and see how it carries out its global mission.
“The idea was to let them see for themselves what we do to reduce suspicion and demystify what we are all about,” Brogan said. “What we do at Transcom is not kinetic. It’s all about logistics and transportation and distribution.”
Security cooperation is central to the geographic combatant commands’ engagements within their respective areas of responsibility. Their programs typically involve military education and training engagements and exchanges, foreign military sales and other outreach.
But for Transcom, a functional command, the concept was new.
Over a five-year period, logistical teams from more than 20 nations visited the Transcom headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. There, they received briefings from the Transcom staff, as well as from two of its service components also at Scott: Air Mobility Command and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
The visitors frequently traveled to railheads, port facilities and depots around the country to get a broader perspective of Transcom’s operations and command-and-control network at work.
“When they came over here and saw what we do, they recognized that we are exactly as we are advertised to be,” Brogan said. “And I believe that transparency really helped in getting them to support our efforts along the Northern Distribution Network.”
The same outreach that helped to open and maintain that network through the troop surge is now ensuring it is able to support retrograde operations during the drawdown, he said.
But even as the mission winds down in Afghanistan, Transcom has no intention of shelving the Security Cooperation Program established to support it. Instead, it’s using it as a model for outreach with partners around the world, including the 173 countries Transcom transited through last year alone in fulfilling its mission.
“Security cooperation is important, because we can’t do our job without international partners,” Brogan said. “We need to go to places all over the world, and to do so, we need lily pads, if you will, to jump from one place to another to get there.”
Whether it’s to refuel an aircraft, replenish a ship at sea, or provide a port or airstrip to support a regional operation, access is vital to U.S. military operations, Brogan said.
“We need to go through other countries to do our mission. And there is just no other way to do it, except to ask permission to do that,” he said.
Last year, Transcom began extending its Security Cooperation Program to support the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Logistical teams from the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand visited the Transcom headquarters, Brogan reported. Meanwhile, Transcom initiated its first outreach to African partners, hosting logistical teams from Djibouti and Senegal.
Despite budgetary constraints that now limit the visits to about three days on the ground at Scott Air Force Base, Transcom plans to expand its Security Cooperation Program into the Asia-Pacific region and Africa during fiscal year 2014, Brogan said.
One of the goals is promote faster, more efficient humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
“These types of missions can happen any time, without any notice,” Brogan said. “So it is good to have countries that allow us use of their airspace or refueling [facilities] or ports to support these kinds of operations, even on a temporary basis, in the event of an immediate crisis.”
The Security Cooperation Program helps to establish relationships and open doors that Brogan said will pay off in supporting future Transcom missions.
“We are always going to need to be able to project force somewhere in the world, regardless of where it is or what kind of mission we are supporting,” he said. “And to get there, we are going to have to go through other counties. That’s why the Security Cooperation Program is important: to help ensure that vital international access.”