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Group commander and multi-functional team observes Valdez ammunition mission.

Twice yearly, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command helps rotate ammunition into and out of Alaska for U.S. forces stationed there. The rationale is simple; ammunition must move while the weather is good, or the winter will make transportation networks impassible.

In spring and fall, the 833rd Transportation Battalion ships ammunition from Naval Magazine Indian Island, Washington State, to Valdez in south-central Alaska; pushes new ammunition into the Alaska region; and retrogrades old ammunition from Valdez back to NMII. Valdez is the northernmost year-round ice free port in America, and this year we had a special guest to observe operations, Col. Ace Chen, commander of the 597th Transportation Group.

Chen visited the Port of Valdez in November as part of a holistic examination of distribution operation in Alaska. He took into the port a Joint team; with assistance of the Alaskan Command's logistics shop (J4), to examine several supply and distribution centers. Though closed to tour groups after 9/11, he was invited to visit the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal, which is where the fabled Alaskan oil pipeline ends.

It runs 800 miles from the North Slope of Alaska to Valdez, supplying nearly 20 percent of the US domestic crude oil and 80 percent of the crude oil on the West Coast. The volume of oil flowing through the pipeline is one million barrels per day, and the terminal is an excellent example of the distribution process of Class III (bulk).

Chen met with the people of the Port of Valdez as well as the local Coast Guard units. After learning about operations at the port and the USCG mission in Valdez, Chen received a tour of the USCG's Vessel Traffic Center--similar to an air traffic control center, it tracks movement of vessels in their area of responsibility.

As an ammunition port commander himself, he took great interest in the reception and movement of the ammunition supporting Alaska. Valdez's 700-foot floating dock allows smooth unloading operations; given the tremendous tides (30' average) a ship performing roll-on/roll-off operations may only have its ramp on the pier for about three hours every tidal period. A floating dock, in an enclosed harbor, helps mitigate some of those Alaskan-specific operational challenges.

Chert left there much surprised at the workload of the joint, multifunctional Alaskan team, and much impressed with the beauty of Alaska. He awarded a Group coin to the sole SDDC employee stationed in Alaska, Bob Meno, in gratitude for the continuity Meno provides. After the visit it was off to the airport to start the long series of flights back to the East Coast, flights that lasted longer than his total time on the ground.

"Make no mistake," said Chert. "This is a challenging environment for distribution operations ...I'm glad to have learned so much from the visit."

Lt. Col. Mike Balser, Commander

833rd Transportation Battalion
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Author:Balser, Mike
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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