Ship to shore
MSC ships play major role in logistics exercise
By Laura Seal, MSC Public Affairs
Two miles from the Camp Pendleton, Calif., coast - with no port in sight - large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau spent six days in late July conducting around-the-clock off-load operations. Each day, as the morning haze burned into afternoon sunshine, harbor seals and sailboats investigated the scene as the massive 950-foot, gray-hulled ship towered over military watercraft transporting Army containers and vehicles from Pililaau to shore.
Pililaau arrived at its anchorage on the afternoon of July 21 carrying more than 210,000 square feet of Army equipment to be discharged as part of exercise Pacific Strike 2008. The U.S. Transportation Command-sponsored exercise focused on transporting military cargo between ship and shore where ports aren't accessible. This unique capability is called joint logistics over the shore, or JLOTS.
Four civilian-crewed ships under Military Sealift Command's operational control and more than 3,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civilians from across the United States participated.
"The only way to move massive amounts of equipment to our military forces or to people in need is by ship," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark MacCarley, deputy commander of 8th Theater Sustainment Command, which was responsible for oversight of this year's exercise. "If there isn't a port, we still need the capability to get our equipment to shore."
The objective of Pacific Strike 2008 was to rehearse and demonstrate the JLOTS capability while at the same time conducting a real-world mission: delivering nearly 1,000 vehicles and more than 500 containers of equipment belonging to the Army's 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division and the 45th Sustainment Brigade to the Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. The Hawaii-based Soldiers will join their equipment at Fort Irwin where they will train prior to deploying to Iraq later this year.
As in every JLOTS evolution, MSC vessels and personnel were at the core of this year's exercise, delivering not only the cargo to be transported to shore, but also much of the equipment and materials used by Soldiers and Sailors to construct temporary at-sea and shoreside infrastructure used during the offload, such as floating platforms and fixed and floating piers.
MSC personnel of Pacific Strike
Uniformed and civilian MSC personnel from MSC headquarters, Sealift Logistics Command Pacific in San Diego, Military Sealift Command Office Hawaii and five MSC Navy Reserve units from the West Coast were integral at every stage of planning and execution for Pacific Strike 2008 - ensuring that the ships were activated, properly loaded, on schedule and integrating seamlessly with the rest of the assets and personnel on scene for the exercise.
MSC heavy-lift specialist Tom Walters, from the MSC headquarters Sealift Program, was involved at the earliest stages of planning for the exercise, which began in June 2007. At that time, Walters coordinated with other key participants including U.S. Transportation Command, the Army's 8th Theater Sustainment Command and Amphibious Construction Battalion One to develop the ship requirements based on the amount and type of cargo needed for the exercise.
"Once we knew which ships we were using, and, more specifically, their locations and speed, we were able to develop the ships' schedules and work them into the overall exercise timeline," said Walters.
With the ships identified and the schedule in place, MSC's Sealift Logistics Command Pacific, or SEALOGPAC, arranged the many details that are part of operating ships and moving them into and out of ports. "We took care of all of the things that you don't see on the surface, such as sail orders and coordination with the U.S. Maritime Administration and the ships' crews," said Larry Larsson, SEALOGPAC's principle coordinator for this year's exercise. In addition, the SEALOGPAC satellite office in Hawaii coordinated the load of cargo onto Pililaau.
Larsson also trained the MSC Reservists who coordinated MSC's day-to-day participation with the exercise leadership.
A total of 59 MSC Reservists from five units participated in a series of two-week segments over the course of six weeks. Teams of 10, each led by a captain or commander in the Navy Reserve, handled communication and coordination between MSC's four ships and the JLOTS commander. Reservists responded quickly to ship taskings as the exercise unfolded.
For example, the Reservists coordinated - on short notice - with the ship and exercise commanders to arrange for Pililaau's cranes to lift an Army landing craft utility boat off of a larger Army boat. In addition, once offshore petroleum discharge system tanker SS Chesapeake had completed its role in the exercise, Reservists arranged for the tanker to serve as a refueling station for the 39 small watercraft operating in support of the exercise, reducing the time it took them to fuel and speeding up the operations overall.
Reservists operated out of the Military Sealift Operations Center van, a modified 20-foot container housing all of the monitoring and communications equipment necessary for MSC personnel to track and coordinate ship and cargo off-load operations. The van was located a stone's throw away from the exercise's command and control headquarters called the joint operations center, where the exercise commander's staff oversaw day-to-day execution.
"These Reservists arrived, immediately took control and executed the mission at 101-percent efficiency," said Larsson.
The ships of Pacific Strike
In addition to the MSC-owned Pililaau, three ships were activated from the U.S. Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force and under MSC's control for the exercise: heavy-lift ship SS Cape Mohican, crane ship SS Flickertail State and Chesapeake.
MSC's ships operated in three phases - deployment, execution and redeployment. The 876-foot Cape Mohican was the first ship to arrive off the coast of Camp Pendleton during the deployment phase, dropping anchor June 23. Cape Mohican delivered Navy motorized and non-motorized barges. With the offload complete, Cape Mohican departed June 29.
Flickertail State arrived the next day, carrying more than 350 pieces of cargo - materials that Navy Seabees would use to construct a temporary pier, called an elevated causeway, on the beach to receive cargo when it reached the shore.
Chesapeake arrived July 8 and discharged more than 200,000 gallons of water in a demonstration of its ability to pump fuel to shore. With the pumping demonstration complete, Chesapeake provided fuel to the 39 Navy and Army watercraft over the next 20 days as part of the exercise.
Pililaau was the last ship to arrive on the afternoon of July 21. That day, the ship opened its ramps onto floating barges, standing by to deliver cargo to shore. At 8:20 the next morning, off-load operations began and continued until just before midnight July 27.
From Ship to Shore - the offload
The equipment began its journey from Pililaau's cavernous cargo holds to shore in one of two ways. Pililaau's two shipboard, 110-ton cranes lifted containers from the weatherdeck onto barges and other watercraft that transported the equipment to shore. Concurrently, military personnel drove wheeled and tracked vehicles down the ship's stern and side ramps.
Vehicles discharged from the ship's stern ramp were driven onto a 240-foot by 72-foot floating platform, almost twice the length and width of a basketball court, called a roll-on/roll-off discharge facility. From this platform, vehicles were driven onto a long, narrow motorized floating platform called a causeway ferry for transport to shore. At more than 240 feet long and 24 feet wide, the causeway ferry is made up of four attached modules - of which only the aft module is motorized. Together, this discharge facility and causeway ferry make up the Improved Navy Lighterage System.
A similar and slightly larger Army roll-on/roll-off discharge facility was positioned at the foot of Pililaau's sideport ramp to receive and stage cargo, which was transported to shore aboard Army landing craft utility boats.
At the beach, military personnel transferred the cargo to shore via the elevated causeway.
With acres and acres of rolling stock and containers successfully off-loaded ashore, Navy Capt. Kurt Storey, commanding officer in charge of MSC units during the execution phase of the exercise, found satisfaction in a job well done.
"It takes intense planning, practice and finely tuned coordination to safely and efficiently transfer cargo between ship and shore even in the best of conditions," he said. "This exercise showed once again how MSC supports today's joint team and can adapt to changing conditions to execute the very unique challenge of delivering high-priority cargo directly over the shore."