NAVELSF serving in Kuwait and Iraq.
A year later, Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force (NAVELSF) mobilized over 525 Sailors from four of its Cargo Handling and Supply Support Battalions for port stevedore and marshalling yard work, fuel farm (depot) operations, mail operations, and air cargo handling in Iraq and Kuwait. They were designated NAVELSF Forward Alpha. This group took over an Army mission so Soldiers could rotate home. (See the May/June 2004 issue, Page 9, for an article on how the unit trained and prepared to deploy.)
The next three articles tell the stories of the services performed by these two groups. The first article is an overview of the six month deployment for NAVELSF Forward ALPHA. The second article by a junior officer assigned as the Officer in Charge, Mail Element, talks about how it was to be a new officer suddenly thrown into a combat zone with morale for in-theater troops resting on his unit's shoulders. The last article is the story of NCHB 10 being called up to go to war and the work it performed to support the troops from the perspective of one of its members.
Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force Delivers Joint Combat Capability
"Cargo Transfer Company," "Petroleum, Oil, Lubricant (POL)", and "Army Post Offices (APOs)" are key trade phrases in Army combat service support/logistics circles. So why are Navy Supply Corps personnel learning Army jargon? Over 525 Navy cargo handlers (stevedores, fuels and mail) from the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force (NAVELSF) are working with the Army to provide critical combat service support logistics to Soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
The importance of logistics in any military campaign cannot be over emphasized--and OIF and its associated troop rotations will comprise military logistics case studies for years. One study will be how the Navy is playing a big part in logistics with the Army. This article examines four areas where NAVELSF personnel are providing critical combat logistics support to the warfighter in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility (AOR).
In January 2004, NAVELSF mobilized over 525 Sailors from four of its Cargo Handling and Supply Support Battalions for port stevedore and marshalling yard work, fuel farm (depot) operations, mail operations, and air cargo handling in Iraq and Kuwait. These Sailors relieved and augmented a variety of Army and Marine Corps logistics units. "This is the single largest recall and deployment in NAVELSF history. Our first challenge was to integrate ourselves; four battalions had to become one group, NAVELSF Forward Alpha," explains the Group Commander, CAPT Ray English, SC, USNR. "Then we had to integrate into the Army TACON chains of command."
So in a predominantly Army-green environment, how is the Navy blue and gold doing? "Everywhere I go I see magnificent men and women who are totally integrated into the Army's forces," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander's (CFLCC) Logistics Chief at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Regardless of the specific tactical mission, Sailors are working in a joint environment supporting Army logisticians.
Port Cargo Handling Operations
The 350 Sailors of Alpha's port element have been working for CFLCC on the deployment and redeployment of over 240,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, and equipment since February of this year at the Port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait. This location, 45 miles south of Kuwait City, has been the Seaport of Debarkation/ Embarkation for the AOR and is the key civilian port for all of Kuwait. Port element responsibilities are broken down into shipboard stevedoring and managing the marshalling yards.
Sailors work the piers that service numerous types of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships--the largest are LMSR's. If you asked anyone what LMSR stands for they might not know, but it is one of the latest and most capable MSC ships. It is officially a "Large, Medium Speed, Roll-on/Roll-off Ship," and at 950 feet the LMSR is almost as long as an aircraft carrier.
The Sailors work 24/7 in two section watches during surge operations. While detailed to the port these Sailors have handled, directed traffic, and managed securing of roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/ lift-off cargo for over 40 deployment/redeployment vessel operations. "This is exactly what we've trained for. It's tough, but I like it so much I'm thinking of going active duty," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Harold Milles, 33, of Chicago, Ill. At home, Milles, a stevedore cargo handler, commutes to California once a month to drill with his unit.
In any operation, optempo and morale are not always in sync. "1 love it," Chief Petty Officer Clark Lindner said as he oversaw the loading of 700 tanks, trucks, Humvees, and helicopters of the Army's 4th Infantry Division onto the decks and into the holds of the MV Cape Horn at the docks of Ash Shuaybah. "I love being on ships, the people, the camaraderie you have with everybody."
"You can't be out here without a sense of patriotism," said Lindner, 40, of Donnelsville, Ohio. He works for a welding materials manufacturer, but likes his military job better.
Much of what the Sailors are in charge of are vehicles, or "rolling stock," as they enter and leave their dusty, rock-strewn yards hundreds of acres in size. Since mobilized, these Sailors have moved 244,874 vehicles and containers in and out of the yards.
"The Army and Navy are working together," said LCDR Bruce Weidner, Officer-in-Charge of the yards. Weidner indicated that simple changes like tying a colored ribbon to each vehicle to indicate what ship it is destined for makes the job much easier. "We provide a valet parking service," he said. "We can find any piece of equipment in these vast yards in 15 minutes," he says proudly.
At one point during the surge in April, over 4,000 vehicles were in the yards awaiting the return trip home. Simultaneously, Sailors were busy managing the flow of vehicles and containers off the ships to the marshalling yards where the rightful owner could claim them for movement to Iraq for their one-year boots-on-ground deployment. Several combat units, both coming and going, have praised the efficiency and service of the Sailors operating these marshalling yards.
Fuel Farm Operations
Navy personnel also serve a critical logistics role north of the border in Iraq where they operate fuel farms. NAVELSF Forward Alpha Fuels, 528USNPOL as the Army calls them, has a mission to build, retrofit and maintain bulk fuel storage facilities at Logistics Support Area Anaconda (LSAA), Balad, Iraq.
This massive logistics hub 65 miles north of Baghdad is where 81 fuel personnel of NAVELSF Forward Alpha were from March through September 2004. These Sailors endured the intense heat of the Iraqi summer, the fine dust of the talcum-like dirt that is often stirred up in dust storms, and the constant fear of rocket and air burst mortar attacks.
For perspective, Anaconda is the most attacked base in Iraq. At Anaconda, the insurgents appear to have a strategy with their attacks. In May, a rocket or mortar hit one of the bladders and punched a hole into one of the fuel bags, but it didn't blow up--it was a dud. None of the Sailors were injured.
While attacks are not a surprise anymore, the Navy taking over the Army's job at the fuel farm was for Army Specialist Jaimie Cruz of Orlando, Fla. "It was a shock," Cruz said. "But I am happy the Navy came in. I think they are doing a good job."
The safe and successful operation of the fuel farm with over 80 50,000-gallon rubber bladders, that look like oversized water beds, provide critical fuel for the movement of personnel and supplies to other sites throughout the country.
"We're just trying to improve on what the Army has done here so that when we turn it over to the next unit, it will be better," said Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Miller, a Reservist from Los Angeles, Calif., as his fellow citizen Seabee, Petty Officer 1st Class Jody White, operated the bulldozer.
Once again the NAVELSF Forward Alpha delivers--but instead of vehicles and cargo containers at the port, in Iraq the unit is fueling a free Iraq. Sailors at Camp Anaconda have added an additional one million gallons of fuel to the capacity at the camp. Through Navy ingenuity, they developed a way to repair and renovate nine large fuel bunkers that are remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. The hardened bunkers provide an extra safety net for fuel capacity in country if needed--as in April when the insurgents stopped many convoys.
Part of the Navy combat logistics mission in the AOR includes delivering the mail. The 33 NAVELSF Forward Alpha Sailors providing postal service operations at five different locations in the AOR have rang-up over one million dollars in sales and handled over a million pounds of mail since arriving. The Post Office is a huge morale builder allowing mail from loved ones to arrive in a timely fashion to Soldiers fighting the war.
Army Sergeant Brandon Fletcher of Gilt Edge, Tenn., is one of the beneficiaries of the Navy's postal ops. "Actually, the post office seems to be running a little more efficiently, a little smoother since the Navy's taken over," he said.
Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate Albert Diaz, 48, of Jacksonville, Fla., was Post Master at Camp Wolverine, just outside the gate of Kuwait City International Airport, prior to the Army moving the location elsewhere in Kuwait. In his civilian life, Diaz manages the night shift at a U.S. Postal Service processing center in northern Florida.
Diaz put his civilian experience to work numerous ways during his deployment at Camp Wolverine, where he and his postal clerks took over for an Army postal detachment. A truck delivers the mail every morning, backing up to one end of the tent. Before, the Army postal clerks would climb up into the back of the truck and toss the bags of mail, some weighing as much as 70 pounds, down to the ground. Once they were done, they would have to climb back down, or jump several feet onto the stony ground.
"I looked at that as a safety hazard," Diaz said. So Diaz had a platform built, level with the truck bed. Now, the bags of mail slide down gravity rollers onto a chest-high wheeled platform into the office. "Being fresh, we probably saw opportunities for improvement that they just didn't see," he said. "We are always looking for ways to do things better."
Mobile Air Cargo Handling Team
Twenty-one Sailors from the Omaha, Neb., area work side-by-side with their sea service counterparts to expedite critical Marine air supplies and parts. They work for the 3rd Marine Air Wing (3rd MAW) at eight locations in Iraq and Kuwait.
"The knothole has always been the last mile," said Lt. Col. Rich Coleman, a Supply Liaison Officer with the 3rd MAW.
"The work and dedication of these Sailors is outstanding. These parts are critical for us to keep flying. Prior to them arriving, nobody had the specific job of looking out for Marine Air Wing shipments within Iraq and Kuwait. As a result, no one took responsibility for making sure shipments reached their final destination," Coleman said.
Once cargo comes in on a transport plane, if it is not claimed within the first four hours of being on the ground, it is moved to a yard, where it waits to be claimed. The Mobile Air Cargo Handling (MACH) team members ensure the cargo never makes it to the yard, but rather is expedited to the air wing.
Senior Chief Storekeeper (SCW) Debby Schouten from Pleasant Hill, Mo., is the MACH Team noncommissioned OIC at the hangar at Balad Air Base, Camp Anaconda. Within days of their arrival, they identified and forwarded numerous critical parts. "Unfortunately because we didn't have visibility of the parts, they were getting backlogged in places. Since March, we have shipped out about 1,400 pieces of cargo. We've been shoving things to them as fast as we can," Schouten said.
The NAVELSF MACH Team delivers for the Marines!
Early last December, if you were to ask any of the 525 Sailors from the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force where they would be spending the summer of '04, the last place most would have guessed was Kuwait or Iraq. Their sense of service, patriotism and pride keeps them focused in conditions that exceed 115 degrees everyday. They move cargo at the port, manage vast marshalling yards, provide fuel services in Iraq, sort care packages for Soldiers at the post office, and expedite Marine air parts and supplies to Marine aviators. All this is a testimony to the fact that NAVELSF delivers combat service support capability through logistics to the joint warfighter!
Life as a Forward Deployed Junior Supply Corps Officer.
By Lieutenant Junior Grade Tom Henggeler, SC, USNR Officer-in-Charge, Mail Element, Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force Fwd Alpha
I graduated BQC School with the 54th Company in August of 2003. I was assigned to NAVELSF Supply Support Battalion (SSB) 1, Mobile Mail Company (MMC) located in Tucson, Ariz. Three months later my unit was mobilized to active duty. Not only was I the new junior officer (JO) in the unit, I was now the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of a 31 member postal detachment, responsible for financial and operational control of five Army Post Offices (APOs) located in northern and southern Kuwait, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
One of the alluring aspects about NAVELSF for me was that it was a great fit for my first assignment as a JO. Being prior enlisted U.S. Marine Corps with "Shore Party" logistical experience, and being accustomed to wearing BDUs, I fit right in to the NAVELSF mission of an "expeditionary unit." Providing combat support services and forward logistical support to shore-based units was a part of my prior experience. But a Mobile Mail Unit? I had never heard of this type of unit in the Marine Corps, or the Navy. What was I going to do on a drill weekend?
There are only two MMCs in the entire structure of the U.S. Navy, SSB-1 Mobile Mail Company located in Tucson, Ariz., and SSB-2 Mobile Mail Company located in New York. There are over 100 Army Postal Platoons nationwide, and their resources are being stretched thin. A Navy MMC consists of 31 members, one junior Supply Corps officer, one senior enlisted postal clerk, and 29 junior Sailors. In comparison, an Army Mail Platoon consists of 17 personnel, staffed by a junior OIC. Typically, our Reserve annual training is conducted at fleet mail centers to include locations in Hawaii; Sigonella, Italy; Rota, Spain; and Yokosuka, Japan. Not a bad place to do an AT! An MMC's Individual Training Plan requirements consist of basic mail operations familiarization and registered mail handling. Members are also required to qualify on the M16 rifle, learn basic combat skills, and to be 10K fork lift certified. Once certified in these areas, members are considered "to be fit" for mobilization.
The global war on terrorism has increased the training requirements and expectations of the NAVELSF MMC. Interservice postal units are frequently being called upon to support Army missions. Upon mobilization to active duty, our 31-member unit received two weeks of Department of Defense postal training in Williamsburg, Va., from the Joint Services School. All members were trained as finance clerks, capable of manning Integrated Register Terminals and Custodian of Personnel Effects.
What did this extra training mean for our unit? We were now a fully trained postal unit, capable of manning and providing financial and operational services to APOs and fleet post offices globally. Currently, there are over 60 APOs located in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and various APOs in Bosnia and the Horn of Africa.
I never would have guessed that 21 months after walking into the recruiter's office, I would be working for the Army, and be the finance officer in charge of five APOs located in Kuwait. My story is not uncommon. There are over 40 Supply Corps officers in Kuwait. Looking ahead, I realize that members of NAVELSF MMC may be called upon in the future to service any one of the 60 APOs located in Kuwait, Iraq, or Afghanistan.
Here are some quick observations from the 11 months I have been assigned to NAVELSF MMC:
* I've learned the importance of training my Sailors to be physically and mentally prepared for active duty.
* Sailors need to understand that joining a mail unit does not exclude them from being assigned to dangerous and arduous working environments. Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen, wherever they are assigned, receive their mail through an APO or FPO so PCs serve wherever the warfighter goes.
* Mail service is essential to the warfighters' morale.
* Whether assigned to a U.S. Navy vessel, a shore station, or an Army APO, a Navy Chief is a critical part of leading a team and the smooth running of an operation.
* Working in a joint forces environment entails a whole new set of skills in tact and communication.
* Never forget your Navy core values of"honor, courage, and commitment," and be proud of what you can accomplish as a team.
After seven months of being deployed to Kuwait and working with inter-service mail units, I can say with pride being the OIC of NAVELSF FWD Alpha's Mail Unit has truly been a rewarding experience, and great first assignment for this Navy Supply Corps JO.
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|Publication:||Navy Supply Corps Newsletter|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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