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Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’: Blount Island Command Marines offload Maritime Prepositioning Ship

By Marti Gatlin | | September 19, 2014

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A casual observer looking at the assortment of tan and green camouflaged military vehicles parked in tight rows on a concrete lot at Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Florida, might have a hard time visualizing all of them fitting on the United States Navy Ship Pfc. Dewayne T. Williams.

Those numerous vehicles almost filled the mammoth floating vessel’s 156,153 square feet of space allotted for them.

USNS Williams docked there in early September after transporting Marine Corps’ military cargo from its prepositioning program storage in Norway to the U.S., according to Capt. Jonathan Cashman, officer-in-charge, Port Operations, Blount Island Command.

Dockworkers also known as stevedores with the Jacksonville company, Portus, drove Humvees, tracked vehicles, trucks and trailers through the ship’s stern.

Their counterparts removed large metal containers filled with all types of military gear from within the vessel, known as a maritime prepositioning ship, with heavy-duty cranes.

“Everything went pretty smoothly,” Cashman said. “I think the (maritime prepositioning) program itself is important because it does project a capability that can be fallen in on in case things flare up in a (conflict).

“It’s a substantial amount of gear that’s already there, already ready, and it mitigates the timeframe it would take for (the Marine Corps) to get (the gear) somewhere,” he added. “(We’re) making it so the Marine Corps can conduct its mission.”

Scheduled for a three-month maintenance cycle, the equipment will be readied for future Marine Corps contingencies, according to Staff Sgt. Michael Stull, embarkation chief, Port Operations, Blount Island Command.

Blount Island Command is part of Marine Corps Logistics Command, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany’s largest tenant organization.

Blount Island Command is the only location where the Marine Corps backloads (loading gear) or offloads its MPS vessels, Stull said.

Three hundred and ninety-one different types of vehicles, 60 square loads on pallets and 174 20-foot containers were offloaded from the ship within roughly three or four days, he said.

“This is old gear and the new gear we already sent over there to replace this gear,” he noted. “It went in the beginning of August.”

The equipment offloaded from USNS Williams will be sent to MCLB Albany or to the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, which was known as the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, or put through a maintenance management cycle at Blount Island, according to Stull.

“Typically a ship will pull in full of gear that’s been out from one to three years prepositioned waiting for a contingency to happen,” he explained. “At the end of its period at sea, it will come back and we will put (the gear on it) through a maintenance cycle and the ship will go through its own maintenance cycle.”

Ten Marines under Cashman and Stull assist with unloading ammunition and supervising backloads and offloads, which occur three or four times a year, Stull said.

“The Marine Corps is naturally amphibious and expeditionary, and in many ways, this prepositioning program helps us to take that to the next level,” he said.

“Anything you could ever need to go to war is on these ships — food, water, fuel, ammunition, logistics and engineer support — and all the Marine Corps has to do is fly Marines” to an operation and their gear will be there for them, he continued.

Sgt. Edward Gonzalez, embarkation specialist, Port Operations, ensures the stevedores backload or offload the vehicles and containers correctly and safely on each MPS ship.

Gonzalez echoed Cashman and Stull when he talked about the MPS ships’ vital role of transporting Marine Corps equipment.

“(The Marine Corps) needs to take gear from one place to another, so by loading these ships (it) provides the Marine Corps that flexibility of having gear anywhere around the world,” Gonzalez said. “In case they need that specific gear, these ships can take it to them right then and there.”
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