Military turns to buses, trains to get recruits to basic training

With airlines grounded and flights severely limited for much of last week following the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings, the Defense Department's Military Traffic Management Command faced an enormous logistics challenge--finding a way to get thousands of military recruits to basic training.

Gail Andrews, chief of recruitment movement at the Military Traffic Management Command, said about 80 percent of all recruits usually get to basic training by commercial airliner. The rest arrive by train or bus. But last Tuesday, there were no airliners available and a fast-rising backlog of 7,000 recruits.

"We had to look to surface transportation to move people," said Andrews, adding that some commercial bus carriers called the command to offer their services without being asked. None of the bus carriers or Amtrak declined to provide additional seats, she said.

The bulk of the recruits were moved over the weekend from 62 military entrance points across the nation to basic training sites that include Fort Jackson, S.C., Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill., Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, S.C. Andrews and her team of traffic management specialists worked around the clock to rearrange thousands of travel itineraries.

Andrews said the Military Traffic Management Command had few contingency plans and no experience in moving recruits without commercial airline service.

"We have gone through airline strikes before, but nothing where it affected everybody," she said.

A key lesson learned from the crisis was that clear coordination and continual communication is key, Andrews said. And of course, she said, flexibility is also vital. For example, the military relaxed rules that prohibited recruits from traveling between midnight and 6 a.m.

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