TIME magazine named “The Ebola Fighters” the 2014 Person of the Year—and for good reason! Many of these fighters were logisticians whose unique knowledge, skills and abilities proved instrumental in accomplishing a wide range of critical task as described in this article. Deliberate planning and actions across the entire logistics enterprise united the efforts of a multi-disciplined, interagency team formed across nations, governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) which directly led to success in OPERATION United Assistance.
As the AFRICOM Directorate for Logistics (ACJ4) welcomed a new leader in August 2014, little did we know that it would be only weeks before this young geographic Combatant Command (COCOM) would be thrust onto the world scene and undertake the most challenging mission since our inception in October 2008. The Ebola virus was sweeping through Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in West Africa leaving tragedy, death, economic ruin, and weakened governments in its wake. Looming on the horizon were global implications if Ebola was not quickly brought under control. The response to this global crisis called for incredible teamwork by the Interagency, a multitude of Non-Governmental Organizations, the Department of Defense, and our Multi-national partners to provide relief. Our comprehensive engagement was further complicated by the lack of useable roads, unsuitable airfields, enormous distances, weak local economies, the rainy season, political instability and a frightened populace.
As the Ebola crisis worsened in West Africa, our Commander in Chief decided to send the military to Liberia with its unique capabilities to support the lead federal agency, the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The United States Army in AFRICA (USARAF) would serve as the lead Service Component. Operation United Assistance (OUA) officially began on 16 September when Major General Williams, CG USARAF, and his advance party arrived in Monrovia, Liberia and established Joint Forces Command-Operation United Assistance (JFC-OUA). His mission was to rapidly build and sustain a field hospital, labs, Ebola Treatment Units, and train local personnel to operate them. That would quickly be followed by transitioning those capabilities and sustainment missions to USAID and nongovernmental organizations (NGO).
OUA was divided into four phases of operation, 1) Initial Entry, 2) Integration, 3) Support to USAID, and 4) Transition/Redeployment. This article focuses on phases one through three. AFRICOM developed four major lines of effort; 1) Command and Control, 2) Log Support, 3) Training, and 4) Engineering Support. The ACJ4 was directly responsible for not just Log Support but Engineering Support as well, because the Combatant Command Engineer Division is a part of the ACJ4 organization. We also added Operational Contract Support as a key area under Log Support. In order to rapidly transition operations to USAID and the NGOs we needed to contract capabilities as much as possible to minimize the military footprint and transition contracts instead of organizations. AFRICOM and the Joint Logistics Enterprise set the theater from the initial deployment of USARAF to their transition to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
SETTING THE THEATER WITH THE JOINT LOGISTICS ENTERPRISE
One of our initial challenges was developing the logistical concept of support for the operation which necessitated establishing an intermediate staging base (ISB) at Dakar, Senegal and a major Air/Surface Port of Debarkation (A/SPOD) in Liberia. These critical nodes set the theater for success from a mobility perspective. The ISB gave AFRICOM operational flexibility in the event of greater spread of Ebola requiring a more regional response and provided redundant capability in the event the airfield in Liberia became unusable. Two organizations that were critical to this effort were USTRANSCOM and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). From the beginning, their leadership made it clear that we had their full support and they delivered at every turn. Within days, VADM Harnitchek, Director DLA, called a meeting with his team and let us know we had the full power of DLA to support this effort. Similarly, Major General Wayne Schatz (USTRANSCOM Director of Operations, J3) reached out with full support to help us set the mobility enterprise for success. We quickly worked with USTRANSCOM to deploy a Joint Task Force Port Opening (JTF-PO) capability. On 20 September, a 14-person Joint Assessment Team (JAT) arrived in Monrovia to begin the assessment process in Liberia and then Senegal, which would lead to follow-on JTF-PO forces. On this same day, our Air Force component, US Air Forces in Africa (AFAF), deployed a 6-person Joint Air Command and Control Element (JACCE) team to Vicenza to support air operations. By 28 September JTF-PO Liberia was fully operational capable (FOC) in Monrovia with a working Maximum on Ground (MOG) of two airplanes. Forces then flowed to Senegal where 101 personnel arrived on 4 October on three C-17 missions to establish JTF-PO Senegal. This was an historic moment as this was the first time that two JTF-POs were deployed at the same time; both performed magnificently. Continuing the tradition of excellence, on 9 November the JTF-PO Liberia had an official Transition of Authority (TOA) where they flawlessly handed Command and Control (C2) over to the 53rd Movement Control Battalion in textbook style; followed on 18 November by JTF-PO Senegal to the 21st Regional Support Element.
One of our major success stories from the initial phase was sending key logistics personnel on the ADVON with Major General Williams: COL Lisa Keough, the DLA Commander for Europe and Africa, LTC William Campbell from the 414th Contracting Support Brigade, and COL Tim Beckner, the G4 for USARAF. Since this would be a heavy contracting and sustainment effort, it was vital to get these eyes on the ground from day one…it paid huge dividends from the beginning and the benefits continued throughout the operation. This trio did yeoman’s work in challenging conditions to score early victories and keep the ball moving down the field. As follow-on forces began to arrive, they were augmented by additional contracting personnel as well as a 5-person DLA Deployable Depot (DDE) forward team, enabling the power of DLA and our contracting professionals to be at the tip of the spear.
Force flow was a challenge. Due to the unique nature of this mission, there was not an off-the-shelf plan to utilize as a starting point. Our AFRICOM J3 teammates, working closely with USARAF, did an incredible job putting together the right forces to get the mission done. Anyone involved in the force flow process understands how challenging nature of this effort. Typically, in large operations, TRANSCOM will host a Force Flow Conference at Scott AFB. We did not have the time or staff to split our operations to participate. We partnered with TRANSCOM and designed a Virtual Force Flow Conference to painstakingly work through the details to identify forces for lift into the theater. This process lasted for weeks and was a testament to the resiliency and partnerships across the spectrum to get the job done. In the end, a lot more equipment was shipped than was actually needed. This was due in part to the original concept to plan for a military heavy operation and then dial it back as contract capability was available. Also, the situation on the ground in Liberia and our situational understanding of this unique mission improved.
At AFRICOM Headquarters, upon getting this mission assigned, the J4 team quickly organized for 24/7 operations centered in the Joint Logistics Operations Center (JLOC) along with the AFRICOM Deployment and Distribution Operations Center (ADDOC). We developed a battle rhythm that continues today involving continuous operations with JFC-OUA, USARAF, DLA, TRANSCOM, the AFRICOM Staff, the Joint Staff, Service Components, and various COCOMs. Each provided representatives to a daily OUA Log Synch meeting conducted via Defense Connect Online (DCO) that employed a Logistics Common Operating Picture (LOGCOP) that was integrated into Global Combat Support System-Joint (GCSS-J). Our Log Sync DCO often exceeded 130 participants from across the enterprise. Most importantly, we opened daily reporting to the unclassified world to keep the logistics enterprise updated and synchronized as the operation matured.
In support of our augmentation requirements, ACJ4 was able to successfully leverage our partnership with sister COCOM, European Command (EUCOM). Through Force Sharing Agreements, EUCOM could deploy forces in support of contingency operations for up to 30 days without the formal Request For Forces (RFF) process and SECDEF approval. This became an essential tool to rapidly build capability as a bridging solution until the lengthy RFF process could catch up. We used the Force Sharing Agreement to deploy some key logistical enablers to include the 21st Theater Support Command (TSC) into Senegal to oversee operational logistics and provide command and control for the Initial Staging Base, the Air Force Contingency Response Group (CRG) assets to run the APODS at Dakar and Monrovia, to establish the Director of Mobility Forces (DIRMOBFOR), and to augment AFRICOM HQ with needed capability. An Air Force Red Horse airfield repair capability and Army engineers from EUCOM were added through the Force Sharing agreement as well. AFRICOM also remissioned fifteen SEABEES from Djibouti to Liberia, with Joint Staff approval, as they were not part of the EUCOM sharing agreement. The Seabees’ experience and expertise was vital as they functioned as our initial Contract Oversight Representatives (COR), and provided Quality Assurance (QA) to support the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) as they constructed Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).
Another (key enabler) was the augmentation received from various organizations. The workload was simply daunting, particularly for a young COCOM just getting its legs under itself for a mission of this scale and complexity. The 21st TSC was the first organization to send a liaison officer (LNO). This augmentation grew to 28 people in the AFRICOM J4 Directorate at the high point and was absolutely critical to mission success. EUCOM provided four personnel to augment the team in critical areas where we needed more depth. We recognized the sacrifice from our J4 partners in EUCOM as they had their own challenging operations tempo with Ukraine and other hot spots. Other organizations that sent first round draft choices to support the mission included: US Army Medical Materiel Center, Europe (USAMMCE), Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC), DLA, 409th Contracting Support Battalion (CSB), MLMC, and the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP).
Understanding the importance of the mobility aspect to this mission, as mentioned above, the team reached out to our partners in AFAF and requested a DIRMOBFOR to join the team to help work through the complexities of synchronizing inter and intra-theater airlift. Brigadier General Pat Mordente, the 86th Airlift Wing Commander, was chosen as the perfect pick as he commanded many of the mobility forces that would ultimately participate in this operation. He arrived in Monrovia on 1 October to begin a 30-day tour while we worked the long term solution with USTRANSCOM and Air Mobility Command. After spending multiple days in Monrovia and then Dakar, the decision was made to position the DIRMOBFOR in the Support HQ at Vicenza, Italy where he could strategically influence the mobility battle space. On 26 October Brigadier General Jeff Barnson arrived as the new DIRMOBFOR for 90+ days. He continued the tradition of great work started by Brigadier General Mordente to help set the enterprise up for success by quickly positioning in Dakar, Senegal to establish the ISB.
To continue setting the theater, the team worked closely with USTRANSCOM and AFAF to establish regular channel missions to support the operation. A C-130 weekly channel originating in Ramstein, Germany was the first channel mission established, delivering supplies and personnel to both Dakar and Monrovia. The first mission departed Ramstein on 7 October. By the end of the month, USTRANSCOM had established two strategic channel missions with weekly Boeing 747 service and C-17 flights from the Continental United States (CONUS). The first CONUS channel arrived at the ISB in Dakar, Senegal on 2 November, lifting 33 pallets that included high priority generators. Always with an eye on the customer, USTRANSCOM was able to adjust the channel service to fly direct into Monrovia, negating the need for a transfer of cargo at the ISB. On the surface side, USTRANSCOM worked quickly to establish rates for regular ship-borne liner service since western Africa was well established through its commercial partners. As the operation matured and sustainment requirements were determined, the team began the transition from air to surface movement as a more cost effective way to move bulk cargo for sustaining our troops. Because of their flexibility, USTRANSCOM was able to work closely with JFC-OUA to meet their requirements. To ensure cargo was moved via surface smoothly, USTRANSCOM deployed a Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) expert to serve alongside the DIRMOBFOR with a focus on more efficient surface movement. The team continued to mature the theater from a logistics perspective, leveraging the expertise and capability of the entire DOD logistics enterprise, leaning heavily on TRANSCOM and DLA. Important cargo like Thanksgiving meals for the troops were delivered on time.
There were and still are many challenges. To minimize rough spots, we relied on Lessons Learned programs in the beginning to learn from past operations (e.g. Haiti Earthquake response). Likewise, the team focused from the beginning of this operation on capturing our lessons learned to assist the next organization take on a similar challenge in the future…to date we have 39 lessons captured and documented.
USARAF established the theater in one of the most demanding parts of the world facing an invisible enemy of a nature that neither the DOD, the interagency, nor our NGO partners have ever faced. Ebola isn’t a hurricane, tsunami, or famine. So to continue their “Rendezvous with Destiny” the 101st, commanded by MG Volesky, arrived on 26 October to pick up the baton from USARAF and carry the mission into the operations phase.
ETU construction was part of the Engineering Support line of effort as DoD was tasked initially to support building of seventeen ETUs. We leveraged our contracting capability through the LOGCAP to help the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and US Troop engineers to construct these lifesaving units. The first ETU in Tubmanburg was completed on 6 November and conducted its official opening on 10 November. The number of ETUs the DOD was responsible for in Liberia had been reduced from seventeen to ten: six ETUs via the LOGCAP contract, three by the AFL, and one by the 902nd Engineering Platoon. The complexity of the mission and the speed at which these needed to be built created daunting challenges along the way. Site selection, land use agreements, immature infrastructure, unrelenting weather due to the rainy season, and funding challenges to obtain and distribute OHDACA funds were all speed bumps encountered. Next, the team had an in depth review to determine if MILCON rules applied to construction paid by OHDACA funds. As a team, we were able to work through the fog and friction and keep the construction effort on the right track.
Another win was contracting the Maritime Vessel (MV) Vega, a container ship that was absolutely key to moving a significant amount of supplies into Liberia. She arrived at the Port of Buchanan on 24 October and completed her offload of 690 containers on 1 November. In addition to bulk sustainment and building supplies, the MV Vega also delivered 30 fuel tanks, four Rough Terrain Cargo Handlers (RTCH), four Large Area Maintenance Structures (LAMS) and seven 150 pax Force Provider sets to establish living areas for the deployers. As a result of the creativity and initiative of the team, these Force Providers were trucked from Livorno, Italy to Bremerhaven, Germany and loaded onto the MV Vega, which saved costly air movement, plus 16 C-17 landings on a fragile airfield at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia. Speaking of Force Provider sets, on 31 October at 0807Z, the last Boeing 747 arrived in Monrovia with Force Provider sets, delivering a final total of 3,000 beds for Liberia and 450 for Senegal. Completing this CONOP would take ten Boeing 747 missions and seven C-17 missions in addition to the MV Vega. On the seaborne delivery side, the MV Vega was joined in mission success by two large container ships that delivered the bulk of the 101st Airborne Division’s equipment. The Cape Wrath departed Jacksonville in the early morning hours on 7 November while the Cape Rise departed about 10 hours later from Beaumont Texas. The Cape Wrath arrived in Dakar, Senegal on 17 November and discharged 24 pieces of equipment completing the JTF-PO transition. It then set sail to its next location and arrived pier side in Buchanan Liberia on 23 November with 720 pieces of equipment, 426 would discharge at Buchanan and 294 would remain on ship and return to US. After the Cape Wrath completed its discharge, the Cape Rise arrived pier side on 26 November with 688 pieces of cargo, 432 would be discharged at Buchanan and 256 would remain on ship and return to US. The Stevedores and SDDC professionals did an amazing job adjusting the cargo during the discharge to ensure the equipment destined to return to the US did not touch Liberian soil and face significant customs issues.
OPERATIONAL CONTRACT SUPPORT
Due to the unique mission set, our plan from the onset was to attempt to contract as much of the effort as possible to minimize the military footprint and provide a supporting role to assist the Government of Liberia. One of the key contracting support organizations was the Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office (JCASO) that provided a five-person team to help us energize and institutionalize Operational Contract Support (OCS). This effort will not only help during OUA, but will lay the ground work for years to come. Due to their incredible efforts working with our team, we were able to make significant progress in eight key areas: 1) Synchronized Pre-deployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) deviation to register and account for contractors, 2) Contractor Medical Deviation to protect contractors, 3) Vendor Vetting to select contractors, 4) Theater Business Clearance (TBC) to outline the business rules, 5) Requirements Vetting and approval process to provide oversight, 6) Contractor Management Plan, 7) Contractor movement visibility through the Joint Asset Movement Management System (JAMMS) terminals, and 8) Contractor Common Operating Picture (COP). A five-member JCASO team was also placed at Vicenza, Italy with another team on call to deploy into theater if needed.
Another success was the ability to leverage the commercial network and local contract capability. As mentioned at the beginning, this was intended to be a heavily contracted operation. As an example, due to the commercial storage and distribution capability and capacity that existed at the Port of Dakar and the Port of Monrovia, we did not need to deploy our Rapid Port Opening Element (RPOE) assets as part of the JTF-PO. Furthermore, we were able to contract with a local company in Liberia to provide 300 trucks and set up a distribution system in a challenging environment. DLA was also able to secure plenty of warehouse space and container yards to handle our flow of sustainment supplies, such as the 1.4 million sets of Personal Protective Equipment DLA had to acquire through their contracting capability.
At the time of this writing much work remains. We have highlighted many success stories, but to be sure there were many challenges along the way. The outstanding work across the logistics enterprise to set the theater for success and sustain those gains was amazing to witness. By 9 November, 75 airlift missions delivered 5.2M tons or cargo, including 583 pallets and 91 pieces of rolling stock. USARAF transitioned the mission from the initial theater enablers to the 101st. DLA and TRANSCOM established sustainment and distribution operations. The MV Vega, Cape Rise and Cape Wrath delivered over 9,000 tons and 400 pieces of rolling stock. Logistics is all about aligning the rights—getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time. Our compliments to the entire team, along with our grateful appreciation for the incredible support we’ve received throughout this operation.