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Blount Island Command supports Maritime Prepositioning Force

By Art Powell | | February 28, 2008

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The mission for Marine Corps Logistic Command’s Maritime Prepositioning Force based at Blount Island, Jacksonville, Fla., is to provide prepositioned equipment and supplies that can be linked with Navy and Marine forces outside the continental United States during a crisis or incident.

 And one key to success is using operational logistics to meet threats on a volatile world stage.

 “A Marine Air Ground Task Force is agile and tailorable, ready to deploy outside the continental United States, and Blount Island Command is ready to support the MAGTF’s employment with its warfighting equipment requirements, ” said Col. Joseph K. Haviland, commanding officer, Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Fla.

 BICmd’s three Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons are on-station in the Mediterranean, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and near Guam and Saipan in the Western Pacific.

 “If you draw a ring around each squadron representing their primary area of responsibility, you will get a sense for the strategic reach of the program and the associated force closure times as the ships can sail quickly,” observed Haviland.

 The MPF ships range in size from approximately 44,000 to 55,000 tons displacement, and from 673 to 906 feet in length. Two squadrons have five vessels assigned, the third has six. Each ship is named after a Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient.

 Located on the St. Johns River about seven miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville, BICmd is the hub for servicing and supplying the assets aboard the Maritime Prepositioning Ships.

 While the ships are on station at sea most of the time, they return to Blount Island approximately every three years where the hundreds of container loads and vehicles stored on them is off-loaded, inspected, serviced. The ships go into dry dock for maintenance and inspection before being reloaded to return to their duty station.

 “The gear aboard the ship is completely serviced and reworked while the ships are recertified,” added Haviland.

 The Maritime Prepositioning Ship Maintenance Cycle calls for a 36-month rotation for the entire MPF, one ship at a time. When a vessel returns to BICmd, all equipment is off-loaded. The entire cycle time from offload to backload is approximately 60 days per ship.

 Determining the logistics of loading each squadron with the supplies necessary to support a Marine Expeditionary Brigade for 30 days is a job for the Plans Branch at BICmd.

 “The Plans Branch here builds plans for each ship,” said Robert E. Cote, deputy director of operations, BICmd.

 “The Marines here, with help from contractors, provide quality assurance of all supplies prior to those supplies being loaded aboard ships,” added Cote, who retired from the Marine Corps with 23 years of service.

 Contractors, the biggest of which is Honeywell Technology Solutions, do the bulk of the work and Marines are inspectors who approve the supplies for deployment aboard the ships. Other contractors with smaller work forces, also support BICmd.

 “When a container or piece of rolling stock is serviced, inspected and ready to go, it’s blue-tagged by Marines and then staged for loading. One ship comes in approximately every five weeks, is off-loaded and put into dry-dock for hull inspection. We meet requirements of the Coast Guard and the Military Sealift Command,” said Cote.

 Blount Island Command’s 900-acre island facility has a 3,500 foot long slipway leading to five ship berths, industrial and storage buildings, rail lines and staging area, is the current incarnation of the Maritime Prepositioning Force concept born in the late 1970s.

 Initially called the Near Term Prepositioning Force, existing operational force equipment and supplies were loaded onto available ships belonging to the Military Sealift Command. The Marine Corps recognized the advantages of prepositioning equipment. In 1983, the commandant of the Marine Corps directed Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany to acquire the assets for the MPF program and MSC leased 13 ships for the program.

 In 1986, the Marine Corps established the Biennial Maintenance Command at Blount Island, then in 1989, Blount Island Command was established as a subordinate command to MCLB Albany.

 Today, BICmd falls under Marine Corps Logistics Command and is responsible for the MPS and its maintenance cycle operations.

 In peacetime, BICmd coordinates and directs the maintenance of equipment and stock rotation and conducts quality assurance on prepositioned Marine Corps equipment and supplies at the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway.

 Located in six caves in the Trondheim region of Central Norway, MCCP-N covers more than 736,000 sq. ft. of storage and contains 30 days of supplies and ammunition that is classified as mission essential or heavy weight/high volume for a 13,000 man MAGTF.

 While the ships of the MPF could be at sea for up to 36 months before returning to BICmd, they may sail with a different load than what they had when they arrived.

 “The operational forces decide the load that is best configured for them,” said Cote as he explained how each squadron is tailored to meet the projected needs of a supported MAGTF.

 The load that goes into the ships is getting heavier as Marine Corps requirements call for heavier equipment to meet mission requirements.

 In order to meet the need for ships capable of carrying heavier loads, Haviland discussed the preliminary plans for acquiring large, medium speed, roll on-roll off ships to accommodate the program and begin a bridge for MPF Future.

 More MPF sealift is also on Cote’s mind, who recently returned from a trip to Charleston, S.C., where he looked at a new ship that could possibly meet those needs. Such a trip is not uncommon for Cote.

 “Every day is different. Besides looking at ships, we just had a visit from three staff members of the House Armed Services Committee,” added Cote, who’s Marine Corps Military Occupational Specialty was embarkation officer.

 Computer software is another critical component of the logistics of MPF, and Cote cited MDSS-2 and other programs for organizing the flow. “You need to understand your processes because they help drive our effectiveness. Our system works because of our people and their skills,” said Haviland.

 Besides supporting Marines, the MPF is also available for other needs as defined by the president, said Cote.

 “The president authorized the use of MPF resources following the tsunami in South Asia and we moved six ships to the area to assist in the aftermath of the tragedy,” he added.

 MPF resources are available for humanitarian support such as the tsunami, or supporting a major theater war.

 The majority of the BICmd work force is civilian, either civil service or contractor, and many of them are retired military. They all take pride in the work they do.

 “We have people who know how to do the job and they’re proud of what we do. They provide a quality product to the forces and take it seriously. If they weren’t proud, we’d have a bunch of junk out there on the boats,” said Cote.

 “People don’t realize how much work gets done down here,” he concluded.

 The motivation of the BICmd work force is very obvious, according to J. D. Hooks, deputy commander, BICmd, who is the former BICmd commanding officer. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2007.

 “They free up Marines to be Marines,” he said when describing the impact the civilian work force has on BICmd operations.

 “And the beauty of it is the mostly (military) prior service workers, by virtue of the product, understand the work we do is a life and death business. We don’t have a workforce motivation problem here,” said Hooks, who has 28 years of active duty in the Marine Corps.

 “I’ve had some of them ask if they can sign their work before it goes back aboard ship. That sentiment tells us they understand the importance of the work they do for the Corps,” he added.

 “Our product is what the Marine Corps goes to war with off these ships,” said Hooks.

 Staff Sgt. Michael Thomas, a 10-year Marine Corps veteran, works daily with civilians and contractors at BICmd.

 “We take pride in what we do. If equipment comes to us, that means it needs work and we want to get it back to the warfighter, ready to go. We have a desire to do good work,” said the aviation ordnance technician, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He works with approximately 30-40 civilian contractors in his shop.

 “This is a good tour. When I got here, I didn’t know much about the ships. Now, I know how we help Marines in theater and I’ve learned a lot here,” he added.

 As he discussed BICmd, Haviland touched on the recent history of the MPF and what the future holds for it.

 “The MPF has been called into every fight we’ve had, but we don’t rest on our past successes,” said the commanding officer of BICmd.


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