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March 2008

Algol transports Marine cargo and MRAPs
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MSC puts 'fast' in fast sealift ship

By Laura M. Seal, MSC Public Affairs

A Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit positions cargo for loading aboard Military Sealift Command fast sealift ship USNS Algol in Wilmington, N.C., in February.

Military Sealift Command fast sealift ship USNS Algol departed Wilmington, N.C., Feb. 2 carrying 66,000 square feet of U.S. Marine Corps cargo destined for Afghanistan and more than 50 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles destined for Iraq.

This was just 15 days after MSC received a request from the Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command to carry the Marine Corps cargo on the first leg of a three-part journey to Afghanistan.

The short timeline for this lift was due to a change in the deployment orders of the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose cargo Algol was activated to carry.

"We received a deployment order in January to go to Afghanistan and conduct security and stabilization operations as part of the International Security Assistance Force," said Marine Corps Capt. Kelly Frushour of the 24th MEU. "This was a big adjustment from what we were originally preparing for, which was to deploy with the Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group."

As the Marines of the 24th MEU worked nearly around the clock in Norfolk to off-load their cargo from the amphibious ships and transport it to Wilmington, MSC and SDDC coordinated to get the cargo the next three parts of its journey.

"SDDC came to us with the cargo offer on Jan. 18, and we were able to turn that into an activation order for Algol within a week," said Tim Pickering, cargo project officer at MSC.

Algol is one of eight U.S. government-owned fast sealift ships, reserved for time-sensitive deployments. The ships can travel at an average speed of 27 knots - about 10 knots faster than other cargo ships - and up to speeds of more than 30 knots.

In addition to unparalleled speed for its ship type, the 946-foot long FSS also have an impressive cargo-carrying capacity of more than 150,000 square feet. The ship has steel-reinforced decks for out-sized equipment and a side ramp and a series of interior ramps that make the ship ideal for fast loading and off-loading.

"We needed to activate an FSS because it's the only cargo ship that can travel at high enough speeds to get the 24th MEU's gear overseas in time to meet the requirement," said Pickering.

Algol received its activation orders Jan. 23, and just four days later, left its layberth of Violet, La., for Charleston, S.C., where the ship picked up more than 50 MRAP vehicles to piggyback on the load.

"There is a near constant influx of MRAPs arriving in Charleston as they roll off the assembly lines, and in order to get the vehicles to the troops as quickly as possible, SDDC utilizes all available ships traveling through the area to carry the MRAPs," said Pickering.

Marine Staff Sgt. Dawn Brammer directs a Marine vehicle
Marine Staff Sgt. Dawn Brammer directs a Marine vehicle from the 24th MEU into position to drive up Algol's load ramp. Photos by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Randall Clinton

While MSC was activating Algol, the 24th MEU's cargo began arriving in Wilmington Jan. 26 and was carefully staged on the pier just about 500 feet from the ramp.

"We were making sure that everything was ready to begin loading as soon as the ship arrived," said George Pearson, MSC's representative in Wilmington who coordinated all of the many groups involved in the evolution.

In addition to Marines from the 24th MEU, soldiers from the 841st Transportation Battalion based out of Charleston, S.C., were on hand to assist by developing the load plan.

"These ships are loaded completely differently from the amphibious ships," said Marine Corps Capt. Mark Windham, embarkation officer for the 24th MEU. "We load our amphibs based on what cargo we need to take off first, but the main consideration in loading this ship was distributing the weight evenly."

Algol arrived in Wilmington Jan. 31, and at 7 a.m. that day, Marines, Sailors, longshoremen and stevedores began loading more than 600 pieces of equipment including vehicles, weapons and containers. Eighteen hours later, at 1 a.m. the next morning, the last piece of cargo was finally on board.

"The support that MSC and all the other players gave to us was phenomenal. My hat's off to everybody," said Windham.

"This is just what we do all the time," said Pearson. "It's our flexibility. We just jump on it at the last moment and make things happen. When you have a lot of experience, it's easy. You know what you need to get done, so you get it done."

Algol carried the 24th MEU's cargo to the United Arab Emirates and off-loaded it in late February. MSC's rapid delivery ensured that SDDC will get the equipment to the Marines in Afghanistan when they need it. Algol then continued to a nearby Persian Gulf port and delivered the MRAP vehicles.

A small number of Marines from the 24th MEU rode Algol to monitor and maintain their equipment during the voyage. The rest of the MEU's 2,200 Marines will fly into theater this spring.

Each FSS is crewed by about 40 civilian mariners who work for private companies under contract to the U.S. government.