The notion he could impact Soldier capability, doctrine and policy from a somewhat distant but critical administrative perch was in some ways novel to Col. Jered P. Helwig, Chief of Transportation and branch school commandant here.
He is now 16 months deep into the position that gave him that power. His actions have been mostly driven by the heavy concentration of troop and division assignments he has filled throughout his 25-year career.
“What I think is good about this path for leaders is they’ve seen the needs of the field and know what kind of Soldiers they were getting. It tunes you in a bit, to the point you’re always considering ‘OK, what does the field need from the training TRADOC provides?’”
There are plenty of anecdotes that can be drawn from his time in Forces Command units that put that into perspective. Helwig remembers when, as a sustainment brigade commander with the 3rd Infantry Division, he finally received a number of 88M motor transport operators he had requested and local leaders were elated by the prospect of filling a void.
“‘Now we’ve got some 88Ms for the mission we’re about to support,’” he remembers thinking.
His high hopes for immediate employment, however, were deflated when he “realized it was going to be four-to-six more weeks to get them licensed” on the unit’s trucks.
The story illustrates what occasionally occurs between the Army’s institutional and operational entities, and it serves as one of many points of reference in Helwig’s ambitions as the COT, endowed with the means rectify any differences between what TRADOC produces and what FORSCOM requires. He wasted no time fixing the licensing problem.
“One of the questions we asked is ‘how can we reduce that time? How can we give those drivers in AIT more miles so that when they show up at their first unit of assignment, we’re not waiting that long period of time to get them out there doing their jobs?’ The drivers now are getting three times as many miles as they did under the old program of instruction,” he said.
While Helwig’s well-rounded work at the division level has an undoubted influence on his leadership decisions, awareness of the broader picture – what’s good for the Army as a whole – also is part of his day-to-day focus. Traveling thousands of miles around the world visiting transportation units since he took office has reinforced the notion.
“We’ve got great Soldiers across the force,” he said. “The TC units we have are key and critical to the Army as it transitions to large-scale combat operations. You know, when you look at the next fight against the near-peer adversary, distribution is going to be a huge part of that equation. Everyone from our motor transport operators to our movement controllers to our stevedores who offload the vessels, all of our MOSs, will be a key part to that critical path to get sustainment (units) and equipment to the frontline trace as quickly as possible.”
The Transportation Corps – emboldened by the slogan “Nothing happens until something moves” – is the smallest among CASCOM’s logistics entities. It counts more than 63,000 Soldiers (the Quartermaster Corps lists 110,000 by comparison) across all three components with those on active duty comprising only 27 percent of the total, according to Office of the Chief of Transportation.
Nonetheless, Helwig suggests the numbers can be misleading and does not paint the truest picture of the corps’ substance and worth to the Army; one perennially contingent on the movement of people, supplies and equipment and one in the midst of its latest approach to warfare.
“It’s pretty exciting to be a part of the transportation world,” he said, “because there is a lot of emphasis on moving at the speed of largescale combat operations, and we’re right there in the middle of it.”
Helwig said his enthusiasm for the here and now is largely the product of his position’s learning curve. He has especially gained a higher regard for transportation assets beyond the brigade level and a greater comprehension of the reserve components.
“As you look at division- and corps-level operations, you don’t have a full appreciation for it until you see it all laid out in time and space,” he said. “Also, understanding we’re 75 percent in the Reserve and National Guard, the importance of staying integrated with our partner components and ensuring everyone is trained to meet the key capabilities at the corps and division level is critical and will continue to be so in the future.”
Among Helwig’s goals upon taking office, he endeavored to continue his predecessor’s work to assume command and control of the 58th Transportation Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., which supports 88M advanced individual training. The unit, previously an Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School component, is now a subordinate of the Trans School. Helwig said the move positions the corps to better resource and train students.
“We didn’t control the budget, and we didn’t control the equipment (used for instruction). Now we do,” he said. “So, we’re able to make changes more rapidly and effectively.”
Also started under the previous administration was an effort to align the battalion with a brigade, specifically a reserve component element with a similar mission. At roughly the same time 58th Trans. Bn. was reestablished, it was aligned under the 2nd Brigade, 94th Division – an Army Reserve unit based at Fort Lee and responsible for reserve transportation training. It serves as a support element for the schoolhouse much like the 23rd QM Bde., and 59th Ord. Bde., does for the QM and Ord. schools, respectively. The thinking was to make inroads into full integration with the corps reserve component partners.
“The synergy between reserve and active components (in the Trans Corps) I think is a great model of understanding the entire breadth and depth of our Soldiers,” said Helwig. “Now, we’re not just thinking about the 25 percent active force but all of our Soldiers across the board. I think that is really helpful for our staff to engage, and over the course of being here, I’ve seen the kind of synergy that has been started. My desire is that it continues as we go forward.”
Helwig also is hopeful about the changes made to the two-week Unit Movement Officer Course taught via mobile training teams and on-site programs at certain installations.
“We’ve changed the course to really make it more responsive to the needs of deploying at the speed of largescale combat operations,” said Helwig. “Foremost, our students do a lot more work using TC-AIMS II (a management information system). They get the data critical for their unit’s deployment done during class. So, if you’re a student, you show up with your unit’s data, and as part of the curriculum, we help you find a solution. You don’t just get a certificate, you fix a problem you have. It’s been fun to watch the rollout, and I think units are pretty excited.”
What also thrills Helwig are the innovations related to driverless vehicles.
“We’re working at the front end of leader-follower technology,” he said. “Imagine one palletized load system with a driver and a TC (transportation coordinator), and a number of trucks following without anyone in the cabs. These are basically robots following a lead vehicle.”
Driverless technologies, said Helwig, are force multipliers because they have the potential to increase the number of convoys that a unit can conduct in a 24-hour period. This, in turn, increases the amount of potential missions dedicated to critical tasks and operations.
The Ground Vehicle Systems Center, based in Warren, Mich., has been testing the technology with support from CASCOM, TC and others over the past few years. More tests are scheduled in 2020, according to Helwig.
On the policy side, the COT said a relatively simple change in a longstanding accountability procedure will have a pronounced impact on transportation operations in the field. It involves the Palletized Load System and its companion trailer. In the past, company commanders were accountable for the trailers as listed (by serial number) on their property books. So, when the trailers were used to drop off equipment at another location, they were still accountable to the original hand-receipt holder.
The policy change will require commanders only to be accountable for the number of trailers they signed for in lieu of specific trailers listed by serial number.
“Thus, if you are signed for 10 (trailers), you still have to have 10, but we don’t care which 10 they are,” said Helwig. “We’re also tweaking our systems to ensure the maintenance history follows each trailer.”
The changes, which are scheduled to take place early next year, are expected to streamline transportation operations.
“I’m excited about that because it will drive behavior in our force that is more open to dropping off equipment and doing things faster,” said Helwig.
“Doing things faster” and more efficiently is also the impetus for changing certain practices among 88N transportation management coordinators. Primarily responsible for overseeing the movement of personnel and equipment, 88Ns are still using notepads and pens in the conduct of their duties. The use of scanners and electronic notepads could prove to be more efficient, and there are plans to soon validate their effectiveness.
“We’ll see how it all works out during Defender 2020 (a large military exercise taking place in Europe next year),” he confirmed.
Helwig, scheduled for promotion in January, has served in various capacities throughout his career. He attributes his ascension to fitness (spiritual, mental and physical), preparation, teamwork and grit. He offered the following advice to Soldiers:
“Work on making yourself better – mentally, spiritually and physically – every day. I think Soldiers who are well-grounded in all of those domains will do very well in the environment we’re in.”
Helwig also said its immensely important Soldiers understand how they fit into the mission equation. They must be able to think and perform missions independently using commander’s intent and disciplined initiative.
“What makes people shine are things like: Are you a good teammate? Do you understand the problem sets of your squad, platoon and company? Are you able to fit in, work hard and help? Are you dependable and reliable? What are you doing to make yourself more educated and better at your specialty?”
Helwig was commissioned into the Trans. Corps in 1994 upon graduation from Wheaton College with a degree in communications. He was later detailed to the Armor Corps. The 47-year-old has earned a master of science in public policy from Georgetown University and a master of science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University.