Grumman on the horizon in the Med
Fueling 6th Fleet
By Meghan Patrick Henderson, MSC Europe and Africa Public Affairs
ate August found the entire international community tuned in to the evolving situation in Syria. Much of the attention focused on the position of five U.S. Navy destroyers and their missile-firing capabilities, ready on station in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Keeping these warships supplied and the nearly 1,500 military personnel taken care of for extended periods is no small logistics task. U.S. Navy fleet replenishment oiler USNS Leroy Grumman (T-AO 195) became the linchpin of logistics support in ensuring these critical combatant ships remained at sea at all times, ready to execute national tasking in support of the ongoing Syrian crisis.
The primary role of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, or MSC, which operates Grumman and a noncombatant fleet of more than 110 support vessels worldwide, is to keep Navy combatant ships forward-deployed in theater, prepared for any order they receive.
The 677.5-foot-long Grumman supports this role as a duty oiler in the Mediterranean Sea. Grumman functions as an afloat gas station, grocery and department store for U.S. and international-partner assets transiting and working in the Mediterranean Sea. In an average six-month deployment, a Mediterranean duty oiler such as Grumman will conduct 140 underway replenishments, transferring about 10.6 million gallons of ship’s fuel; nearly 200,000 gallons of aviation fuel; and about 3.2 million pounds of food, supplies and mail to the ships it supports. Through this system of sustainment, combatant ships do not need to leave station to resupply.
During this critical period of time in the Eastern Mediterranean, MSC’s commander, Rear Adm. Thomas Shannon, repeatedly referred to Grumman as the “strategic oiler,” conveying to his operational counterparts Grumman’s critical role in sustaining the mission.
“As events unfolded in Syria, we already had destroyers operating in the region,” said Capt. John Esposito, the commander of Task Force 65, which is responsible for directing all Navy combatant operations in the Mediterranean Sea. “Our destroyers were able to sustain a forward presence posture because the U.S. Navy has the most robust logistics force in the world. In this case, support came from Military Sealift Command and USNS Leroy Grumman. At-sea replenishment keeps Navy combatant ships on-station, forward-deployed and ready to execute our nation’s tasking at a moment’s notice.”
Unique to Military Sealift Command’s noncombatant ships—which comprise the fourth largest fleet of ships in the world—are its civilian crews. With the exception of four MSC ships with combined civilian and military crews led by military captains, MSC’s ships, including Grumman, contain crews of civilian mariners licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Some crews consist of civilian mariners working for companies under contract to MSC, and other ship crews, like Grumman and MSC’s class of 15 fleet replenishment oilers, are crewed by civilians who are federal employees. These mariners are called civil service mariners, or CIVMARs.
Grumman’s crew of 92 CIVMARs is led by a licensed civilian captain, known as a civil service master.
During high-tempo operations in August and September, Grumman’s master, Capt. Richard Gray; his relief, Capt. David Murrin; and their crew conducted an average of 30 underway replenishments a month, often refueling two U.S. Navy and/or partner-nation ships at a time. On their busiest day in August, the ship’s crew conducted seven underway replenishments in a 14-hour period.
Murrin, a former U.S. Marine, has sailed aboard MSC ships for 22 years, doing jobs ranging from moving ammunition and transferring fuel, to transporting Humvees and helicopters destined for use in warzones, to piloting the U.S. 6th Fleet command ship. Murrin said that while August introduced some “really long days,” the drumbeat of duty oiler operations remains consistently busy refueling U.S. and partner-nation ships, even when the environment is less intense.
“Every day I see the impact we have on the day-to-day operations of the [combatant] Navy,” said Murrin. “We recognize the importance of our tasking and work hard to meet every commitment. Without [MSC’s assets] worldwide, we wouldn’t be able to maintain the Navy or partner-nation footprint as seamlessly as we do now. The sustainment requirements would dilute the presence of combatant ships.”
Chief Engineer Timothy Carway, who has led Grumman’s engineering department since 2003, describes MSC’s duty oilers as “national assets.”
“Our presence in any operational area gives added flexibility to the area commander, extending beyond the logistics of delivering personnel, fuel, food and supplies,” said Carway. “Without the T-AO fleet, Navy ships would not have the opportunity to regularly come alongside other ships at sea, as this is a very specialized field that requires a higher level of seamanship and equipment maintenance than I’ve found in the commercial industry. Commercial ships would not allow other ships to approach them so closely under any circumstances. But for Grumman and MSC’s other fleet support ships, this type of maneuvering is business as usual.”