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Monday, July 31, 2006

FT. EUSTIS--Newport News, Virginia

If you ever have an opportunity to tour a military installation, jump at the chance. They’re fascinating places, specialized mini-worlds designed to promote, in a variety of ways, the specific functions of each post. Most Forts are “homes” to a branch of the Army, and there are tours and/or museums that give you a little insight into the complicated workings that make the military run. Having been to Annapolis and being a frequent visitor to West Point, I assure you that the academies are also different worlds worth investigating. Today with the world as it is, the insights gained are particularly pertinent.

Located in Newport News, Virginia is the home of the Army’s Transportation Corps. This is Ft. Eustis. Among the myriad activities at Ft. Eustis are the Army’s Transportation schools conducted for personnel of various ranks and duties and taught in classrooms through simulated exercises, in the field, and in practical, on-the-job training exercises. There is a reason for the motto “Nothing Happens Until It Moves.” Movement is no easy task.

I was mightily impressed by what I learned and what I saw at Ft. Eustis. On an open field, for instance, sat mockups of the cargo areas of the huge air cargo planes. “Plane” is an understatement. The size of even the smallest is absolutely awesome! A C-5 can carry 170,000 lbs. of cargo! On occasion I’ve seen a C-5 from a distance as I’ve driven by Stewart Airport, but even that relatively short distance belies the enormity of these planes.

Forget the other parts of the plane and focus only on the cargo compartment. It is 13.5 ft. high, 19 ft wide and 143 ft. 9 inches long. Unloaded, but with a full tank of fuel, it can fly two round-trip transcontinental US flights without refueling. This is the definition of massive.

Managing the loading and unloading, securing and balancing, and recognizing and accounting for weight limitations are just a few of the considerations with which officers deal. Thousands of tons of cargo must be precisely packed and placed in these cavernous areas that become flying warehouses of goods and materiel. It is a daunting responsibility. Weight shifts are a big no-no.

A second training area dealt not with planes but with trains. Once again, the intricacies involved clearly illustrate why the Transportation Branch is so important.

Flatbed railroad cars, box cars, and any railroad car imaginable come to the loading platform, but different equipment, depending on size and weight, might only be transported on specific types of cars. The huge and very heavy tanks require special kinds of cars on which to be transported. Moving different vehicles on to the appropriate trains takes time and precision. Securing them, making certain safety issues are considered, and later, at the destination, unsecuring and off-loading then takes additional skill and precision.

In the bay out on the water are ships where students learn the intricacies and special requirements of transporting on the water. It was news to me that at one time the Army maintained more vessels than the Navy. These vessels are piloted by Army personnel. The Navy deals primarily with ships of battle, but the Army transports its huge variety of cargo all over the world.

I haven’t even mentioned ground vehicles, but officers take into consideration such factors as weight, the types of and quality of the roads (think Iraq and sand) and challenges of terrain.

The saying that The Transportation Corps is the Spearhead of Logistics is true. This highly diverse branch serves on land, sea, and air supporting and moving everything our Army men and women require to do their jobs.

Go to a different base for any branch of the service, and you will get an eye-opening look at what goes on behind the scenes. There’s much more to the military than meets the eye. Ft. Eustis is bigger than this limited view, and that supports my belief that should you have an opportunity to tour, jump at it.
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