Teamwork at Corps of Dynamic Mix
By Edward Baxter
She is a cargo ship of sorts, but she has no decks nor cargo holds, and just enough room for one or two crewmembers to stand on her tiny bridge. From a distance, with her flat top and thin hull, the cargo she carries appears as if it's almost floating on the water.
In times of crisis, however, she is a vital component of the Navy's ability to project military power because she is a floating inter-locking barge, known as lighterage. Working in concert with other lighterage, she can transport thousands of tons of heavy combat equipment from a cargo ship moored off the shore, to virtually any port in the world in a matter of hours.
Lighterage shuttles cargo to ports where infrastructure such as piers, cranes, or other assets necessary for a pier-side off-load, may have been either damaged beyond use or destroyed. The lighterage is carried aboard each of MSC's MPS ships at all times, neatly stacked on the main cargo deck and off-loaded by shipboard cranes.
Maritime Prepositioning Ships SS Pfc. Eugene A. Obregon and USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin trained for just that scenario in mid-May off the coast of Tarragona, Spain. Anchored two miles from shore, the two ships off-loaded more than 450 pieces of military hardware - delivering the equipment for the Marines participating in NATO exercise Dynamic Mix 2002. Obregon and Martin both belong to a squadron of six ships strategically prepositioned in the Mediterranean, which together carry enough combat equipment and supplies for about 17,000 U.S. Marines for 30 days.
The exercise included land, maritime, amphibious and air exercises held in Spain, the western Mediterranean, the southeast Atlantic and Turkey from May 21 to June 6. More than 15,000 personnel, more than 50 ships and 150 aircraft from 13 NATO nations participated.
The ship-to-shore cargo off-load, required teamwork from hundreds of sailors, marines and civilian merchant mariners from Military Sealift Command, Naval Amphibious Group Two, Naval Beach Group, Seabees and the Camp Lejeune-based Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
According to Obregon's master, Capt. Wilbhur Dahn III, the first step is to secure the roll-on/roll-off discharge facility to the ship's stern ramp. Cargo can then be transferred from the ship directly to the lighterage. Capt. Dahn said the 48-minute operation was some of the best teamwork he's experienced since joining the squadron in 1987, citing Chief Mate Robert Burke and Bosun Henry Bouganim for their exceptional work with Sailors from the Naval Beach Group.
"During my career with these ships, I have never seen or heard of this evolution being done this efficiently, safely, or quickly," said Capt. Dahn.
Overall, it took only three days to off-load 386 pieces of cargo from Obregon and 89 pieces from Martin. The off-load began May 14 - two days ahead of schedule. Maj. Rich Williams, USMC, the Second Marine Expeditionary Force Maritime Prepositioning Force officer, said the team assembled at the port decided to begin early since a storm was rolling in.
According to Williams, the cargo removed was just enough to support the Marines' requirements for the field portion of Dynamic Mix, which included M1-A1 Abrams tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, howitzer trucks, ambulances, bulldozers and shipping containers.
"They had to move a lot of cargo to get to the select pieces they wanted," said Burke.
Late on May 16, the last pieces of cargo were loaded onto lighterage from Obregon, and then it was Martin's turn. By the following day, the Marines had all their equipment ashore and the off-load was complete.
At the end of the exercise, the cargo will be completely cleaned, serviced and then carefully re-loaded aboard both ships.