Fort Polk Community
Vehicles delivered by barge via regional port
Story by Chuck Cannon on 03/11/2019
By KEITH HOUIN
Public affairs specialist
ALEXANDRIA, La. Ending an eight day journey on rivers across the U.S., 36 barges loaded with vehicles of the 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division pulled into the Central Louisiana Regional Port in Alexandria, Louisiana, Feb. 28 for the division’s rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk.
As barge after barge took its place at the off load dock, 172 rotational Soldiers drove the vehicles from the barges and moved them to the intermediate staging area. At the staging area, another 200 rotational Soldiers prepared for convoy operations to Fort Polk.
“Normally we would use rail, but we are taking advantage of the barge operation because it is easier and quicker. For example, rail takes a week for us to download and we’re thinking it will take us just a day to download from barge,” said Maj. Nancy Colsia 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division executive officer.
Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. George Birchfield explained that barges allow you to have secondary loads such as tents and equipment in the vehicles, but with rail you can’t pack secondary loads. They have to be loaded into containers and on rail cars separately.
“We want to have versatility. We want to have training in rail and barge operations, so we can project that combat power anywhere we’re called to go. Barge operations allow us to build immediate combat power. Here we’re able to unload and build that combat power at the intermediate staging base and convoy to Fort Polk. With rail we have to unload the vehicles, unload secondary materials, load secondary materials on trucks, move to the training location and unload trucks. Barge is faster, cheaper and more effective,” said Lt. Col. Larry Dean, battalion commander.
Curtis Clark, 101st Airborne Division Transportation Chief, said sustainment by barge saves about $1 million dollars versus other methods.
There are other advantages to barge operations. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shannon Johnson, JRTC Material Manager for Sustainment Operations said having the ability to use barges gives multiple means of bringing equipment to JRTC, and the process to order a barge for transport is more streamlined than it is for any other mode of transportation. The rotational unit has more control over the barge ordering and loading process, whereas arrival of line haul trucks is sporadic and uncontrollable. The arrival of the barge is usually known in advance. One of the reasons barge operations at the port are successful is the flexibility and support of the port’s tenants (other businesses that use the port).
“Given the size of these rotations, there is always the potential for disruptions to other port tenants. However, our tenants are extremely flexible in assisting to ensure maximum efficiency during operations. In fact, one of our tenants has even provided breakfast for the Soldiers,” Blake Cooper, executive director of Central LA Regional Port, said.
Even though the port had not been used for 13 years for rotational units to come to JRTC, in the past 12 months there have been three rotations to use it, Cooper said.
“The port has invested a considerable amount of capital, ensuring the rotational impact is minimal. For instance, we have improved upon our roadways and have provided additional staging capacity outside of the immediate loading area to get the equipment off the barge and ready for convoy clearances to the ISB at England Airpark or directly to Fort Polk,” he said.
There are both direct and indirect benefits to using the port during JRTC rotations.
“Obviously, we appreciate and support the military utilizing barge transport. There is a direct impact to the port’s revenue. However, these operations also add indirect benefits. During the rotations you have contractors and other vendors staying in area hotels and eating at local restaurants. More than anything, the port’s mission relative to the rotations is to support the readiness of the Soldiers and the effectiveness of the training exercises held at Fort Polk,” Cooper said.
As important as deployment capability via barge is to rotational units and the JRTC, not everyone is aware of it.
“I didn’t have the big picture, but I have it now,” said Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey Hall. “This is the main artery part of operations, so we have to be a part of it. Alexandria will continue to support units like the 101st and ongoing JRTC training. We consider Alexandria and the broader central Louisiana area a military community. The military is part of our fabric and our history. So many times, we speak of the economic impact, but it is much bigger than that. We want our Soldiers to know they are welcome and appreciated in central Louisiana.”