University of Wisconsin students left a positive impression on military officials that sparked an agreement for collaboration between a university research branch and efforts to return heavy machinery and army vehicles used in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at UW was sought out by the Department of Defense after meeting students at the annual CFIRE consortium. Using UW as a resource could save the government millions of dollars of logistical analysis research, CFIRE Executive Director and UW professor, Teresa Adams said.

The experts at UW worked together with Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center to identify the ideal intermodal base on the U.S. coastline to use for the process of returning machinery and equipment from Afghanistan, Adams said.

CFIRE is a Tier 1 University Center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Research, according to the CFIRE website. The northern hub is led by UW-Madison and includes partners from UW-Superior; UW-Milwaukee; University of Illinois at Chicago; Michigan Technological University; and the University of Toledo.

According to a statement from CFIRE, military officials estimate they will spend $7 billion to ship nearly 750,000 pieces of equipment worth $36 billion as combat operations come to an end in 2014.

CFIRE’s extensive knowledge of intermodal transportation tools like rail, shipping and highway routes across the country made them an important asset for the military, Ernest Perry, CFIRE Mid-America freight coalition facilitator, said.

The agreement gives the military access to information that CFIRE studies at UW like comparative analysis, cost efficiency and logistics solutions, which saves them costs of conducting this sort of research on their own, he said.

The Department of Defense and military officials became interested in connecting with UW after they met with UW students at this year’s CFIRE consortium, Adams said.

Each year at the consortium, groups from CFIRE’s northern hub meets with groups from the southern hub in efforts to work in a collaborative effort to coordinate education, training and technology, the website said.

At the consortium, student representatives from each branch presented poster sessions, research projects and other analyses.

“They’re the professionals of the future and that’s we want to do when we have our student symposium — give them a chance to innovate in the real world,” Adams said.

The interaction between the students and the army reinforced UW as a quality partner for the Camp Shelby initiative, however students were not involved in the project specifically, Adams said.

Perry said the students were ambassadors for the university and the impression they left on officials led to cooperative efforts between CFIRE and U.S. military in their work at Camp Shelby.

The students represented UW and CFIRE well enough to initiate this project, Perry said.

“Another important thing that UW brings here is that CFIRE has been working in the freight logistics world for almost 10 years and has a handle on all these systems and how they interact or can be used by the military,” Perry said. “We can provide a fuller perspective on how to do this.”