Cornhusker State supports Enduring Freedom
By Bridget Morris
SS Cornhusker State arrived May 1 at Newport News, Va., after six months deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The civilian-crewed crane ship was the only ship of the Navy and Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force activated specifically to support the war in Afghanistan.
The Ready Reserve Force is a fleet of 76 militarily useful ships maintained in reduced operating status by MARAD near potential load ports around the country. When activated, these civilian-crewed ships come under the operational control of the Navy's Military Sealift Command. Cornhusker State was activated last November to transport and provide floating storage for ammunition to sustain the war effort.
Cornhusker State moved 595 20-foot, container equivalents and 650 square feet of equipment while activated. The ship was on site to increase the ammunition stores already available in Diego Garcia aboard afloat prepositioning ship MV Maj. Bernard F. Fisher. Fisher off-loaded 373 ammunition containers in late October in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to support U.S. Air Force planes participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.
MV A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, another MSC ammunition ship, joined Fisher and Cornhusker State in Diego Garcia Feb. 15 with 655 ammunition containers plus about 300 additional containers to replace the ammunition off-loaded from Fisher.
Cornhusker State also used her shipboard cranes to assist MV Maersk Alaska - a container ship under charter to MSC whose cranes had been removed for an exercise. In early March, Cornhusker State used her cranes to lift 139 containers of ammunition from aboard Maersk Alaska to aboard Cornhusker State. Cornhusker State then used her cranes to load 78 containers of retrograde ammunition from shore depots in Diego Garcia to Maersk Alaska.
"We all worked together and, as evidenced by our accomplishments, Cornhusker State's mission was a success," said Capt. John Ahearn, master of Cornhusker State. "I have only praise to offer for the people involved: the Maritime Administration, which maintains this and other ships of the Ready Reserve Fleet; Military Sealift Command, which was our operational commander during the deployment; and the U.S. merchant mariners who crewed Cornhusker State's decks."
Four other RRF ships are currently serving in MSC's Prepositioning Program, stationing equipment and supplies near Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. These ships already served the fleet and were not activated specifically to support Enduring Freedom. Tanker SS Chesapeake and break-bulk cargo ship SS Cape Jacob are stationed in Diego Garcia. Tanker SS Petersburg and crane ship SS Gopher State are stationed in Guam. Two other RRF ships - aviation maintenance logistics ships SS Curtis and SS Wright - are also part of the Prepositioning Program, but they are maintained in the U.S. in reduced operating status, ready to sail within five days.