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Marine Prepositioning Force sets the table for OIF II

By Staff Sgt. Timothy C. Hodge | | March 25, 2004

SHUAIBA PORT, Kuwait - The overall concept of the Maritime Prepositioning Force revolves around one thing - the rapid deployment of equipment and supplies to decrease the time it takes to insert Marines into a contingency or combat environment.

The Marines, Sailors, government workers, and civilian contractors that comprise Blount Island Command have teamed up with I Marine Expeditionary Force to do exactly that.

Earlier this month, the Technical Assistance and Advisory Team from BICmd deployed here to Kuwait to assist with the offload and distribution of gear and necessary equipment that will support the 25,000 Marines headed back to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

The contingent is in place to provide assistance in support of I MEF's efforts during throughput operations.

Simply stated, throughput is the process of getting equipment from the ship, through a port and in the hands of combat forces. These operations will help to facilitate a rapid force stand-up that will allow the Marine Corps to seamlessly replace designated Army units that have been deployed since last spring.

"The BICmd mission is to assist and advise the MEF with the offload of the MPF ships. The MEF does have MPF experts, but BICmd is left with a fairly large role and responsibility in assisting operations surrounding MPF," said Col. Carl D. Matter, commanding officer, BICmd.

The MPF is the capability that makes this possible. The MPF consists of 16 ships divided into three Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons (MPSRON).

Each squadron provides a Marine air ground task force of approximately 14,000 Marines and Sailors with 30 days of combat equipment and supplies.

Five of these ships, from two of the three MPSRONs, have been offloaded for OIF II.

The deployed Marine units will provide organic assets. Global sourcing from the Geographic Prepositioning Force, formerly the Norway Air-Landed Marine Expeditionary Brigade located in Norway, is filling additional equipment needs.
"With a major conflict (OIF) having occurred so recently, the Marine Corps would not be nearly as prepared for another contingency of this size were it not for the MPF and GPF," Col. Matter said.

The gear and equipment being offloaded is tailored for the MEF and the mission that lies ahead. BICmd has teamed with Brigade Service Support Group-1, serving as the Landing Force Support Party, to complete throughput operations with the bulk of the actual work being completed by MEF personnel.

The throughput of rolling stock takes about a day to go from the ship to the final staging areas where the operating forces will take possession. Throughput of containers will take longer, depending on host nation support to move containers forward.

Prior to deployment, BICmd assisted I MEF with the development of a plan for the throughput operation.

Upon arriving in Kuwait, BICmd further assisted the MEF by ensuring that the framework established within that plan was utilized.

"The MEF staff is stretched thin which makes a throughput operation of this size more difficult. BICmd is able to bring our intimate knowledge of MPF throughput operations to bear on the current situation and facilitate force stand-up," said LtCol. Jim Hooks, director of operations, BICmd and TAAT officer in charge.

BICmd combined with I MEF to plan for an operation of this type even before the requirement arose.

Together, the two commands began planning for this operation in early December 2003.

A joint pre-deployment site survey was conducted in early January, which was followed by development of a plans "playbook."

Training and rehearsals prior to the beginning of the offload validated the plan.

"It literally provided a working roadmap for the LFSP to conduct throughput operations. The playbook was tailor-made so that it would be easy to understand and follow, but still flexible enough to adjust to the ever- changing needs of a selective offload," LtCol. Hooks explained.

In addition to the harsh weather and desert environment, there were several others hurdles to clear before the operating forces could begin to receive their gear from the MPF.

Even the port, the starting point for the entire evolution, was a source of concern. Due to the number of Army black-bottom ships, MPF shipping was forced to compete for limited berthing space in a very constrained port facility. This was compounded by time constraints in port and because Army divisions were both entering and exiting the country during the same time as Marine Corps forces were flowing into theatre.

From an operational standpoint, the equipment required by I MEF has changed due to evolving mission requirements in Iraq, so the Marines conducting the throughput operations have had to remain flexible to keep up with changing requirements.

The fact that some of this gear was reconstituted in theatre following OIF, the equipment was not as pristine as what typically rolls off the MPF vessels. However, the readiness level will rival that of the gear used during OIF.

Even though the environment is not expected to be as demanding during OIF II, the assets used are not likely to be driven or pushed as hard due to the absence of continuous periods of combat.

Use of MPSRON-2 for OIF II will leave the Marine Corps with two remaining squadrons, roughly two-thirds of its normal strength.

The dedication of such a substantial part of the MPF will affect the flexibility of the MPF and GPF programs in the near future. The scope of the MPF and GPF mission will not change with the reduction of assets.

"Replacing this considerable portion of the MPF will require a huge effort by BICmd. A premium will be put on the reconstitution of existing assets but due to the high level of operational expenditures of equipment, some new acquisition will be needed to return the program to it's previous state," Col. Matter said.

The close coordination between BSSG-1 and BICmd TAAT, and the way that the contractors and the military personnel from BICmd have come together to perform this difficult MPF operation of selectively offloading gear and equipment are just a couple of the positives that have come from the operation thus far.

"The members of this TAAT were handpicked, and they are performing like it," LtCol. Hooks said. "I could not have asked for a better team effort. I have been equally impressed with the Marines from BSSG-1."

"They have done one of the best jobs I have witnessed on an operation of this type and complexity," he pointed out.