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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
View from above: Crane operator takes on new heights

By Nathan L. Hanks Jr. | | October 3, 2014


As a child, Simeon Crews witnessed a heavy equipment operator use a bulldozer to tear down an abandoned house in his neighborhood.

“When I saw that, I was hooked,” Crews said. “It was fascinating to me. I thought, man I can tear some stuff up. Where do you go to sign up to do that?”

Throughout the next 35 years, Crews would operate just about every piece of heavy equipment imaginable, stating “you would be better off asking me what I have not operated.”

A licensed card-carrying member of the International Union of Operating Engineers since July 13, 1978, Crews is one of several people, who operate the giant gantry crane named “Big Red” at Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Operating heavy equipment is something I like doing and I know I am good at it,” the 55-year-old said. “I have good eye-and-hand coordination and timing.”

As a young boy, while working on a farm in Ohio, Crews discovered he had good vision and depth perception as he worked with farm equipment, which is crucial to being a crane operator.

“One of the things you will find in crane operators is that a lot of people can see well, but only under certain conditions,” he said. “I have been blessed by God to be able to operate under all types of weather conditions.”

According to Crews, to be a good crane operator, one must have a photographic memory.

“Every time you load or unload a ship, you must account for the number of men and women working inside and outside of the ship,” he said. “You cannot forget that. You must know where they are at all times.”

Also, operators must use their photographic memory to remember how high cargo must be raised to clear obstacles such as hatch covers, lights and railings, he said.

Finding a comfortable position in his chair, which he called “sitting catawampus,” Crews leaned forward, bending at the waist and gently gripped the controller while keeping the containers and workers below in view.

Wearing a custom-made University of Florida Gators football welding cap, Crews focused on a flagman signaling where to place a manual spreader bar on a container.

“The workers depend on my expertise and they tell me what they want me to do,” he said. “I look down and I give them what they really want because I can see what they need from here. I combine my experience with what they want and we have a happy marriage.”

While looking through plexiglass windows, Crews maneuvered the spreader bar slowly and smoothly, placing it on top of a container, connecting each corner and locking it into place with precision.

“Perfect hit!” he said, from his office space 200 feet in the air.

Crews said the spreader bar was customized to help put containers in hard-to-reach areas of a ship. He explained each 20-foot container could weigh as much as 15-30 tons.

Making sure he did not hit the ship’s crane, Crews began to lower another container into the ship when he noticed a worker below bent over adjusting locks on a container.

He calmly warned the worker announcing “coming down” over his radio.

The worker then backed up, watched and waited while Crews placed the container into its designated place.

Crews said his job is important because every lift is critical and there is absolutely no room for error.

“When lifting a 15 – 30 ton container around fragile human beings, believe you me, every lift is important,” he said. “(Anything can happen but) my main goal each day is that everyone goes home safely.”

Crews said the workers are not the only ones who depend on him.

“The government depends on me to handle its merchandise so the taxpayers get the maximum bang for their buck,” he said.

“My company depends on me to keep their customers satisfied. Everybody is depending on the old man to deliver, just on different fronts,” Crews added.

Crews said being a crane operator “means a lot because there are many people around the world who depend on those supplies. I don’t want anyone to say the “old man” tore my ship up or caused my supplies to be late.”

Sgt. Jonathan Nichols, ammunition technician, BICMD, said Big Red and its operator are vital to BICMD.

 “Without Big Red and its operator, production slows down to a crawl,” Nichols said. “They are the most important part of the operation and are vital in keeping production on track.