Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
MSC PAO 97-73
For more information, contact:
Marge Holtz or Lisa Gates
December 22, 1997
Maritime Prepositioning Ships: Let the adventure begin
Ever wondered where in the world is an MPS, or for that matter, what is an MPS? The acronym MPS stands for Maritime Prepositioning Ship, a vessel which has been configured to transport supplies specifically for the U.S. Marine Corps. These ships are part of Military Sealift Command's Prepositioning Program that provides prepositioning support to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and the Defense Logistics Agency. The Prepositioning Program consists of 33 forward deployed ships, plus two aviation support vessels kept in a reduced operating status in the U.S.
Thirteen Maritime Prepositioning Ships are on location in the western Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. They contain nearly everything the Marines need from tanks and ammunition to food and fuel to spare parts and oil. The MPS are organized into three squadrons--each commanded by a Navy captain--and each carries enough equipment and supplies to support 17,000 person Marine Air Ground Task Force for up to 30 days.
In addition, Maritime Prepositioning Ships have self-sustaining off-load capability to discharge cargo with cranes or roll-on/roll-off ramps depending upon port and pierside conditions. Even without a port, the ships can be off-loaded while anchored at sea using embarked lighterage and floating hose systems. The ships have helicopter landing decks capable of landing CH-53E Super Sea Stallions to provide greater capability.
MPS Squadron One, located in the Mediterranean Sea, has four ships; MPS Squadron Two, located at Diego Garcia, has five ships; and MPS Squadron Three, located in the Guam/Saipan area, has four ships. Other non-Marine Corps prepositioning ships also fall under each of these squadrons. The squadrons stand ready to go anywhere in the world on short notice usually within 12-24 hours.
When not on the move, Maritime Prepositioning Ships are usually anchored some distance from the shore. Unlike Navy ships which are painted gray and are government-owned, the MPS ships are time-chartered to MSC have black hulls and are crewed by contract mariners.
For Navy sailors and officers, a stint aboard one of these ships can be one of the most interesting and rewarding tours of their careers. One ship in each MPS squadron is designated as the flagship with an embarked Navy staff of at least five officers and 20 enlisted members and two civilian mariners. The staff does not manage the day-to-day operations of the ship aboard which they sail, but is focused on squadron readiness and command and control. The staff is responsible for controlling the movement of the ships; the readiness of those ships to carry out their missions; and the civilian operating companies' compliance with MSC contracts.
"The relatively small staff is offset by the above-average maturity and professionalism of its members who choose this special duty," said Lt. Cmdr. John Joyner, USN, chief staff officer of MPS Squadron One.
About half of the Navy MPS staff is part of the communications team. They stand round-the-clock watches 365 days a year in the secure communications space much as radiomen do in any naval communications facility ashore or afloat. Each individual on the staff must perform his or her duties with little direct supervision or assistance.
Living conditions on a Maritime Prepositioning Ship are unlike anything else in the Navy. Even the most junior enlisted personnel live in private staterooms and eat in a dining facility staffed by professional civilian cooks. These ships have weight rooms complete with a sauna on board, and in some cases, basketball courts.
A range of interesting ports are called by the Maritime Prepositioning Ships including Saipan and Barcelona, Spain.
A Program for Afloat College Education terminal--a self-paced computer-based audiovisual system which allows staff members to earn undergraduate level college credits in a variety of subjects--is also located aboard the ship. Many junior staff members take courses with an aim to applying these credits toward an associate's or bachelor's degree program while senior staff members take courses such as foreign languages for personal growth and enjoyment.
"There is an above-average rate of selection for advancements from E-4 through E-6," said Joyner. "The independent nature of the duty gives each staff member more responsibility and freedom to develop their professional skills."
"It's great sea duty for a new sailor," said RM3 Tamika McMillian, who was accepted to the Navy's Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training. "I've had the opportunity to see a variety of different countries as Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron One cruises the Mediterranean area."
Yet in spite of all the creature comforts that Navy sailors can experience during a tour aboard an MPS ship, there is a catch. These ships are permanently forward-deployed, meaning the squadron has no permanent presence in any one location. It is afloat, deployed sea duty for one year. Due to the mobile nature of the squadron, administrative transactions have to be accomplished by a naval message or a fax to personnel support facilities ashore or even in the United States. Even the most routine business can sometimes take months to transact.
"It's hard being away from your family for a long period of time," admitted RM1 Mary Anderson who is a member of the MPS Squadron One staff and whose family lives in Virginia Beach, Va. "We have to accept the fact that we may not be able to see them for a year."
Although inbound mail can be very slow, with sometimes a two-month delay, outbound mail is much better. But the good news is that staff members can keep in touch with family members and loved ones through electronic mail. This new technology has provided an invaluable means for keeping in touch during the one-year separation.
Taking all this into account, the long separation from friends and family and one-year sea duty, everything balances out in the end. There are opportunities for professional and personal growth and a chance to see different parts of the world that gray-hull Navy sailors might never get to experience.
Sailing aboard one of MSC's Maritime Prepositioning Ships can be one of the most exciting tours in a sailor's career.