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Blount Island Command Technical Assistance Advisory Teams sharpens focus on success

By Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Weeks | | July 13, 2000

Warfighting equipment from the Marine Corps Maritime Prepositioning Ships  made its way into recent Marine Air-Ground Task Force exercises.
Responsibility for ensuring successful use of that equipment, a job belonging to Technical Assistance and Advisory Teams, was included.
The two teams, or TAATs, from the Marine Corps Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Fla., assisted during the downloads and backloads of ships in two separate exercises.
The TAATs provided assistance to the PFC Eugene A. Obregon in support of the II Marine Expeditionary Force for Exercise Dynamic Mix in Greece, and the Cpl. Louis J. Hauge Jr. in support of I MEF for Exercise Natural Fire in Kenya. 
TAAT teams have participated in exercises and contingencies since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm revealed a need for better accountability during download regeneration of the MPS equipment and supplies.
Previously, lack of an on-the-scene interface between those who maintain MPS equipment daily and the warfighters created inefficiencies during off-loads and difficulties tracking assets from an MPS ship, said Chief Warrant Officer Felix L. Cheshire, Contracting Office representative at the Blount Island Command.
The Marine Corps Logistics Bases created the TAATs, which were recommended by BICmd officials, in response to those difficulties.
The TAATs effectiveness were first tested during Operation Restore Hope in November 1992.
According to Cheshire, the success of that first trial resulted in TAATs working with all three active Marine Expeditionary Forces during such exercises as Cobra Gold, Ocean Venture, Native Fury, and the May and June occurrences of Natural Fire and Dynamic Mix.
The TAATs are temporary, task-organized teams that support a MAGTF commander.
The teams are staffed by military and civilian personnel from the BICmd, the contractor Honeywell and, if required, MCLB Albany.
Their primary mission is to provide information and assistance in the execution of a Maritime Prepositioning Force exercises or contingency offloads and backloads.
They [TAATs] serve as an interface between a MAGTF commander and the ships crew, as well as the onboard contractor personnel, said Lt. Col. Paul F. Turner, deputy head of Logistics at the BICmd.
They assist in the limited technical inspections and the turnover of equipment and supplies from the contractor to the MAGTF, Turner continued,  and in the backloading of the ship by verifying backload plans. 
In short, TAATs are the middlemen of success, a go-between of properly stored equipment on a Maritime Prepositioning Ship transferred into the hands of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander, and vice versa.
Mission-oriented, TAATs vary in their personnel makeup depending on the kind of equipment that will be offloaded.
Most teams have between seven and 10 people, including an officer in charge, a staff noncommissioned officer in charge, and individuals with expertise in embarkation, supply, motor transport vehicles, ordnance, engineering and communications equipment. 
If required, additional people may be added for aviation ground support equipment, medical supplies, and containers.  
However, TAAT assistance begins before the team actually arrives on location.
According to Master Sgt. Stephen C. Mahon, who has served on five TAATs for engineering equipment quality assurance and as a staff NCOIC, advance correspondence with MAGTF personnel is vital in preparing for a smooth operation.
Such correspondence is used to notify personnel of the technical specifications required for equipment placed back aboard an MPS ship.
For instance, if artillery pieces will be used in an exercise, the MAGTF should know the contractors conditions for represervation of the M198 Howitzer.
The overall goal is to make sure the equipment is ready for its next use, whether that is another exercise or a real-life contingency.
We are there to assist them in their efforts, Mahon said,  in any difficulties they may encounter during repair or care of equipment, Mahon said. 
Mahon said the TAAT team consists of people with particular knowledge who are capable of handling any situations that arise. If any questions arise, the TAATs documentation is available for reference.
Another area where TAATs play a vital role is in helping the Marine Expeditionary Forces realize significant cost savings.
For Exercise Dynamic Mix, the MAGTF saved thousands of dollars because TAATs recommended separating mobile loads and SL-3 gear from the vehicles used, reported Gunnery Sgt. Nelson M. Broughton III, Quality Assurance supply analyst.
SL-3 gear is equipment that belongs to those vehicles, such as shovels, flashlights, pick-axes, jumper cables, water and gas cans, etc.
This is equipment that would remain with a vehicle if it was offloaded for a real contingency.
The TAATs recommendation ensured the MAGTF brought its own SL-3 gear, and the MPF equipment remained at a centrally located staging area, thereby reducing the risk of those items being damaged or misplaced.
In such an event, replacing that gear would be the MEFs responsibility.  Additionally, specific location assignments for that off-loaded gear helped in the timely re-association of mobile loads and SL-3 gear, Broughton said.
The Kenya TAAT was also successful.From the initial planning conferences of Natural Fire 2000 to the first principal end item hitting the beach in Mombasa, Kenya, the TAAT team explained and assisted the Marine forces in all aspects of an in-stream MPF offload.
It ensured that through-put, regeneration and backload of MPS-2s equipment and supplies was accomplished efficiently, said Capt. William J. Babcock Jr., the officer-in-charge of the TAAT.
The offload of prepositioned assets was one of the crown jewels of NF-00 [Natural Fire 2000], Babcock reported.
However, the TAATs participation in these exercises is also beneficial to another group  the TAAT members themselves.
The operational knowledge gained by all TAAT members during these exercises is invaluable, said Maj. Peter J. Garfield, Blount Islands Commands Headquarters Co. commanding officer and officer-in-charge of the TAAT for Dynamic Mix.
It will serve them and their commands during follow-on assignments.
The equipment and supplies embarked aboard the MPF ships is our warfighting gear, and the Marine Corps cannot do enough to ensure it is properly preserved and ready to go, Garfield said.
The next TAAT assignments are tentatively scheduled in support of the I MEF for Exercise Native Fury 2001 in Bahrain, and in support of the III MEF for Exercise Tandem Thrust 2001 in Australia.