Lt. Gen. Kathleen Gainey is deputy commander, US Transportation Command. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — Lt. Gen. Kathleen Gainey, the deputy commander of US Transportation Command, soon will retire after a 35-year career in the Army.
“I have no major regrets, she said. “I would do it all over again. It is a wonderful opportunity for any person to come in the military because they really teach you what you need to know, and you’re given opportunities that you would never have in the commercial industry to be empowered and to have authority and responsibility at such a young age.”
She leaves TRANSCOM as the command works to move US equipment out of Afghanistan and reshapes itself for the future.
This interview occurred Oct. 15, one day before Congress reached a deal to reopen the government.
Q. One of things we talked about when you first came to TRANSCOM was preparing for a future that will look different. How do you see TRANSCOM evolving for the long term?
A. I think when you look at just how much has occurred just this past year, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. As a result, we took the time to go back and look at: Why do we exist, and what is core to us? We went back and looked at our vision, at our strategy, and took an in-depth approach about going to the people who use our services. We also went to talk to industry and to our own people to say, what are we doing right? What are we not doing right? What can we do better? And what is it you think that we do world class, and where is it we’re not world-class?
We then focused from that a concerted effort to go back and work within this command to ensure that we were doing what we needed to do both internally and externally with our customers. And to make sure that our business processes were aligning to what we said and that we could really leverage the technology that is out there. So that’s a major effort of what we’ve been doing.
Q. What are some things you’re doing differently?
A. We’ve stood up an enterprise-readiness center because we realized it’s readiness [that allows us] to meet both a wartime demand as well as go from a peacetime demand and ramp back up because you are going to be coming on the back side of the volume that we’ve had for 12 years. And now, how do you keep your processes and your organization resilient enough to be able to go back and perform, as we’re doing right now, when business is backing half of what it is today?
Q. What exactly does this readiness center do? Can you talk about some of the specific areas they’re looking at?
A. We’ve got to keep both military and commercial personnel, planes and ships fully capable. Part of that has to be to work with the combatant commanders to determine how much do we need to be able to respond to the wartime plans because wartime plans are evolving. You’ve got some re-shifting to the Pacific. Different combatant commands are re-looking at their war plans. We’ll go through that process to size that appropriately.
The second thing we’re trying to do with the readiness center is find some additional business that we weren’t using before. So we’ve engaged the State Department to see if we can’t provide them support. We’re going to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) to try and again support them with foreign military sales cargo movement. [It’s] something that maybe we weren’t always user friendly. And so as a result of being difficult to work with, there have been some people who have distanced themselves from using us as a primary source, and we want to become that primary source, but we’ve had to become user friendlier and innovative in solutions that meet their needs; not try and make them change their process to meet our methods.
Q. How are you working with DSCA?
A. What we’re now working with is in the concept phase with DSCA to look at ... in a year or two years down the road when that item needs to move, what might be a good cost estimate? What might be the methods that we would move? And then working with them early on. Before, people didn’t engage them at the concept phase when it was being written; they only tried to look at it at the very end when it was already produced.
Q. How is the shutdown impacting TRANSCOM?
A. So, our number one focus is not letting this problem translate to the war fighter. There are things that as a result of that work [stoppage] that are not being done that we had to push off. Now as part of the Military Pay Act, we were able to bring back some of our workforce, so we’re very thankful for that. But we will go through probably a process when we run out of money because we’re a working capital fund [organization]. When you run out of money you do have to identify people who are accepted and who are non-accepted.
Q. Speaking of money, is there a comprehensive projection on what it’s going to cost to get everything out of Afghanistan?
A. I think we’re still looking at between $5 billion to $7 billion [range]; possibly less if the Pakistan supply road remains open. But you know, that that can change at anytime. We’re continuing to triage the volume of equipment to be either shipped back, transferred to the Afghans or destroyed in place in country. And that is an ever-evolving process. The services are refining exactly what they need to bring home. What might be an excess defense article? Then, of course, the State Department determines who might be eligible for that, where we’ve had letters of request come in from various nations.
Q. Speaking of Pakistan, what’s the current status of the supply routes? How are things flowing in comparison to before the shutdown?
A. We are almost back to normal levels for Pakistan. There are some different processes that we’re using, different security, different customs documentation, different review and screening requirement of excess cargo that’s exiting country, etc. So there are some additional tasks that we have to perform. It’s not as simple as it was before.
Q. Are you continuing to expand the Northern Distribution Network?
A. No, [but] we’re continuing to use the Northern Distribution Network; not at the volume we had been, but we are continuing to use it because you’ve got to keep some lanes warm as a result of needing to possibly go back to that. So there isn’t much going through there now, but there is still some and we’re trying to make sure that that is spread out on all of the routes.
Q. How much longer does it take to move supplies through the Northern Distribution Network?
A. Two to three times [longer than the Pakistan route]. It just depends on the commodity.
Q. That’s just because it needs to cross through so many more countries?
A. Exactly. So, there’s a customs process at each place, and each one has to be trans-loaded because you’re going to go from truck to rail then back to truck and then to a port for a ship, so a couple of additional steps, and anywhere from three to five customs processes to go through. So that translation and documentation, etc., all takes time. And of course, they want to inspect all of the equipment as it goes out.
Q. TRANSCOM is participating in this defense-wide 20 percent headquarters reduction. How is that going for you so far?
A. Fortunately for us we’re working OK with that because we’re way out in front because of our strategy. Our reductions are going to be mainly through retirements and reassignments. We hope to avoid any reduction in force if at all possible, but we may end up having to have some, but we’re hoping not. We’re working very well to look at holding maybe vacant positions to be able to use those as chips to, shall we say, turn in.
So we’re not hiring people at this point right now just so we have enough, and through the retirement process to be able to meet the 20 percent requirement. We were already doing that anyway, anticipating that as workload comes down you have less of a requirement for as many people. So we were trying to internally shrink long before the mandate to shrink. So it kind of worked to our favor.
Q. What’s the status of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)? Have you seen a drop in carriers?
A. Yes, we have. There have been three carriers that are no longer serving us and the CRAF program overall is essential to our readiness. But you do have business shrinking, and it’s going to shrink to pre-9/11 levels. And in fact, probably in the passenger arena it’s going to be maybe even lower than pre-9/11 because you don’t have the commercial charter flights like you had before 9/11.
Q. Among the carriers that you’ve lost, what was cited as their major reason? Did the carriers go out of business or have they just stopped participating in the CRAF program?
A. I believe two of them absolutely went out of business, and one just stopped doing DoD business, but there wasn’t enough workload to incentivize them to stay in. But we continue meeting with our industry partners to be able to let them know what our forecasts are.
But as you can imagine, sometimes those forecasts shift as a result of decisions that are made that they’re not going to bring as much cargo back, or that they’re going to bring it back from different locations, so all of that is ever evolving. So that does cause a problem in that I can’t always accurately predict for our commercial partners exactly the volume of workload a year out.