Lummus and JLOTS lift hearts in Haiti
By Mike Neuhardt, Prepositioning Program & Trish Larson, MSC Public Affairs
A powerful earthquake changed the lives of millions of Haitians Jan. 12, leaving an unimaginable wake of death, destruction and upheaval. As a desperate cry for help began to reverberate around the world, one of Military Sealift Command's nearly 700-foot Maritime Prepositioning Ships, USNS 1st LT Jack Lummus, happened to be offloading cargo at Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Although Lummus normally operates as part of a five-ship squadron in the Western Pacific, the ship arrived in Florida Jan. 13 to start a routine cycle of ship and cargo maintenance. Lummus' usual mission is to provide at-sea prepositioning for one-fifth of the equipment and supplies needed to sustain more than 15,000 Marine Expeditionary Brigade personnel for up to 30 days in the event of conflict.
As vivid scenes of Haiti's devastation and suffering began to hit news media, the U.S. Transportation Command quickly evaluated transportation resources to move massive amounts of humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies into the affected area.
"Several of our prepositioning ships, including Lummus, were being considered," said Keith Bauer, technical director of MSC's Prepositioning Program.
Lummus was ideal since it was already in port; only three days from the crisis area; and mostly empty and ready to take on cargo.
Lummus was also suited for the Haiti mission because of its unique watercraft and floating hose-line systems, enabling the ship to carry cargo from up to two miles offshore for delivery straight to undeveloped beaches or degraded port facilities, like those in Port-au-Prince. The ship can also produce 36,000 gallons of potable water per day.
Packing up and getting ready to go
On Jan. 18, Pentagon officials ordered Lummus to get underway in support of Operation Unified Response within 24 hours, so the ship could arrive in theater Jan. 22.
With sail orders issued, the ship's maintenance cycle went on hold. Although the U.S. merchant mariner crew members had just completed a long trip from the Western Pacific Ocean, they began plans for the new mission and a departure the next day.
Overnight, the ship's operating company arranged to load additional provisions and lifesaving equipment after learning that several military and civilian riders would be embarked to conduct cargo operations upon arrival in Haiti.
Prior to Lummus' departure, a new Department of Defense agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development, also called USAID, was established to detail the handling of relief cargoes. MSC and USAID worked closely throughout Lummus' entire mission - a level of interagency coordination that was unprecedented in the history of MSC's Prepositioning Program.
The Marines dramatically compressed the cargo load cycle by working 24-hour shifts, which enabled them to simultaneously off-load and back-load Lummus in a matter of days. Usually these cycles require months of complex coordination among Marine Corps systems commands; Fleet Marine Forces; and Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island, which is responsible for load planning, fielding cargo and eventually stowing cargo on the MPS.
More than 120 pallets of relief supplies from USAID were loaded, in addition to approximately 5,000 16-ounce bottles of propane for temporary cook stoves in Haiti.
The Marine Corps loaded humanitarian assistance cargo to support the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. The cargo included dump trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment needed to clear the devastated port and roads in and around Port-au-Prince. The Marines also loaded electrical generators, water purification units, building materials and medical supplies. Other government agencies also loaded relief supplies.
Lummus carried more than 230 military personnel total - approximately double the military complement the ship normally carries. Navy Support Element sailors, representatives of the Blount Island Command Second Marine Division and Marine Corps contractors embarked Lummus to ensure that the trucks and other heavy equipment could be fielded mission-ready as soon as the ship arrived in Haiti.
Preparations to send Lummus to Haiti attracted outside attention.
"When the local community around Blount Island discovered that Lummus was departing for Haiti, everyone wanted to help," said Rich Bolduc, MSC's senior representative in Jacksonville. "A church in Tampa donated a cinder block-making machine, and later, the Lummus master made sure it got ashore in Haiti."
Delivering the goods
As Lummus approached the area off Port-au-Prince Jan. 22, the U.S. Navy's multi-faceted off-shore presence was highly visible.
"We anchored in the outer anchorage approximately three miles from the main port facilities due to our deep draft and the need to have clear water for water making, said Lummus master Capt. Richard Horne.
Unlike previous missions, the ship did not have access to ports with cranes, large storage facilities, capable material-handling and line-haul equipment, and other modern infrastructure.
The situation in Haiti reinforced the importance of Lummus' amphibious capabilities, including Navy lighterage loaded on the ship's weather decks, which consisted of powered and non-powered causeway sections that were placed alongside the ship when it arrived in theater, and then used to ferry equipment from ship to shore. This multi-vessel process of off-loading cargo at sea is called Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS.
Amphibious operations depend on Navy Support Element professionals - personnel with specialized training and experience in deploying, operating and repairing watercraft in the most austere conditions. Thanks to the dedication of sailors from Beach Group Two, Amphibious Construction Battalion Two, Assault Craft Units Two and Four and Cargo Handling Battalion One, all of Lummus' cargo was successfully discharged at sea aboard the lighterage and transported ashore via JLOTS.
"It was impressive to see Lummus working around the clock to get supplies ashore," said Stephan Jean-Bart, part of MSC's assessment team on assignment in Port-au-Prince. Jean-Bart normally works in the strategic planning office at MSC headquarters and has a personal stake in the relief efforts since his wife's family lives in Port-au-Prince. He added, "I am personally grateful for what MSC, and Lummus in particular, have done to help."
Lt. Cmdr. Don Babcock, officer in charge, Navy Logistics Over-the-Shore, Navy Forward Command Element, wrote a note of thanks to the Lummus master and crew.
"Rarely have I seen such hospitality and flexibility as was demonstrated by you and your crew when you hosted the Navy Forward Command Element during Operation Unified Response in Haiti," Babcock said.
He added, "Given the hard and sometimes disturbing work the sailors and Marines had to do each day, returning to the ship was always a welcome respite, a bit of a temporary escape."
After a highly productive two weeks in theater, Lummus wrapped up its support to Operation Unified Response and departed Haiti Feb. 3, returning to Blount Island three days later. After off-loading cargo there, the ship sailed to Charleston, S.C., for an overhaul that began in mid-February.
The legacy of help continues
Lummus has been a major player in a number of humanitarian operations around the world during its 24-year association with MSC, originally as an MSC-chartered ship and later as an MSC-owned ship.
In June 1991, Lummus delivered food and water that were part of a support package for more than 20,000 evacuees after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and a tropical storm combined to cause catastrophic damage in the Philippines,
In September 1992, Lummus responded quickly to Guam in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Omar, delivering water and heavy equipment.
In December 1992, Lummus was among the first ships to arrive at Mogadishu, Somalia, to support Operation Restore Hope. During the ship's extended visit in Somalia, crew members provided critical food and water to deployed Marines and a local population in crisis.
In January 2005, Lummus provided water and support craft in the Maldives for victims of a major tsunami.
"The Lummus crew made a positive difference in a part of the world that desperately needs help - a privilege and a continuing tradition for Lummus," said Horne. "I'm confident that our ship's heroic namesake, Marine Corps 1st LT Jack Lummus, would be justifiably proud."