MARINE CORPS SUPPORT FACILITY, BLOUNT ISLAND COMMAND, JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --
Marines and civilian-Marines with Marine Corps Support Facility, Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Florida, and soldiers from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, conducted a four-day, joint redeployment operation aboard BICmd, Jan. 13-17.
For the soldiers of the 101st CAB, nicknamed the “Wings of Destiny,” returning to BICmd has brought them full circle. The unit departed BICmd in March 2015 for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
During the joint redeployment operation, several Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters were offloaded from the Cape Race, a vehicle carrier stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and taken to a storage lot aboard BICmd. The aircraft were then reassembled and flown back to Fort Campbell.
Marine Maj. Perry Smith, operations officer, BICmd, said supporting the 101st CAB’s redeployment is a new operation for the command.
“We were asked several months ago to help the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade and we jumped at the opportunity with the deployment and now the redeployment,” Smith said. “It was important for the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade because it gave them a secure place where they could assemble their helicopters and fly them back safely.”
According to Smith, the joint operation is an opportunity to continue to strengthen the joint service relationship and for BICmd to conduct operations outside of supporting Marine expeditionary forces.
“(The operation) is another opportunity to exercise our capabilities as a support facility,” he said.
Army Lt. Col. Kenric Smith, commander, 96th Aviation Support Battalion, 101st CAB, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, said BICmd was critical for 101st CAB’s deployment and redeployment operations.
“This is the culmination of the nine-month event,” Smith said. “I think this is a very complex, expensive undertaking to move a brigade’s worth of aircraft over the sea, assemble them and fly them back to their home station.
“(An operation such as this) takes (several) months (of planning) and hundreds of people to pull it off and we really appreciate all the help we received,” he continued.
“We have been doing port operations at Jacksonville Port, (Jacksonville, Florida) for more than ten years,” Smith added. “In the last year or so, we have built a relationship with the Marine Corps due to the facilities and some of the security they can provide.”
The commander said using BICmd facilities is critical as it helps expedite the 101st CAB’s redeployment and reduces the personnel cost, which is a win for the government.
“I have been working this particular mission for about three months and it has been great,” Smith explained. “There is nothing we have requested that (BICmd) has not provided. More importantly, they have provided a lot of their expertise with other missions they have done to streamline how we are doing our mission now.”
According to Smith, port operations is a fairly new concept for the U.S. Army.
“This is something the U.S. Army could not do by itself,” he concluded. “The fact that we have expertise from the Navy, some Army counterparts and Marine Corps has helped this become a joint operation.”
Army Lt. Col. Ben Walters, commander, 832nd Transportation Battalion, Jacksonville, Florida, assisted in the planning for the 101st CAB’s deployment and redeployment.
“Basically it is a two-fold operation,” Walters said. “We are responsible for all the stevedoring in relation to pulling the cargo off the vessel then members from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, offloaded the helicopters.
“Being encapsulated on the Marine Corps side, the force protection issues are reduced because of the Marine Corps Police; in addition to the large space and areas Blount Island Command is allowing us to use is very conducive to aviation operations and we can do it in a safe fashion,” he said.
The coordination among the different services has been great and the support from the BICmd staff is “world-class.”