Thursday, January 27, 2011

MSC Ships, Personnel Provide Support for Freedom Banner, Cobra Gold Exercises

By Ed Baxter, Military Sealift Command Public Affairs

CHUK SAMET, Thailand (NNS) -- Three Military Sealift Command ships are offloading hundreds of pieces of U.S. Marine Corps equipment, containerized supplies and personnel in support of exercises Freedom Banner and Cobra Gold at Chuk Samet, Thailand, through Jan. 28.

Freedom Banner 2011 brings multiple commands together to offload Maritime Prepositioning Force ships USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus (T-AK 3011) and USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin (T-AK 3015) while both ships are anchored three miles off of the coast.

U.S. Marines will deploy cargo offloaded from Lummus to the field for their participation in the 30th annual Cobra Gold exercise, which includes more than 11,000 personnel from Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the United States. Participants will conduct computer-simulated and field exercises and take part in civic assistance projects throughout Thailand Feb. 7-18.

Freedom Banner provides Lummus and Martin, both assigned to Pacific-based Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron Three, with valuable training. The ships' mission is to quickly deliver military cargo and supplies in response to a military contingency or to provide humanitarian assistance. Lummus and Martin are crewed by about 30 mariners apiece working for private companies under contract to MSC.

"Freedom Banner not only offers participants valuable, hands-on training, but has the added benefit of supporting a real-world, vital exercise," said Capt. Herman Awai, MPS Squadron Three commander.

Both ships arrived off Thailand's coast Jan. 19. The first phase of Freedom Banner, Jan. 20-22, included the offload and assembly of the Improved Navy Lighterage System. INLS includes various causeway sections and tugs used to offload combat equipment and supplies where conventional port facilities may be damaged, inadequate or non-existent.

The INLS assembles at sea and connects together like building blocks to form ferries, causeway piers or a large staging area for cargo called a Roll-on/Roll-off Discharge Facility, or RRDF.

Sailors from Williamsburg, Va.-based Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One went to work Jan. 20, aboard Lummus, offloading warping tugs, utility boats, and powered and non-powered modules that make up the INLS. Working around the clock, all cargo was offloaded Jan. 21.

Nine interconnected modules forming the RRDF were offloaded from Martin Jan. 21-22. Fully assembled, the RRDF is equal in size to two basketball courts. NCHB-1 Sailors operated Martin's heavy-lift cranes and placed each 80-ton module safely into the water.

Sailors from San Diego-based Assault Craft Unit One operated warping tugs to carefully position each module. Next, Sailors from San Diego-based Amphibious Construction Battalion One connected the modules until the platform was fully assembled. Tug boats pushed the RRDF behind Lummus' stern and the ship's ramp was lowered onto the RRDF, Jan. 22. Three inter-connected barges, one of which is powered by a water jet propulsion system, then attached itself to the RRDF.

Marines from Okinawa-based Combat Logistics Group Three then began driving wheeled and tracked vehicles onto the causeway sections Jan. 23. In total, 176 pieces of cargo, including Humvees, trucks, amphibious assault vehicles, will be delivered ashore by Jan. 28. Martin will backload the RRDF Jan. 29-31, and then return to Guam. Lummus will remain off the coast and will backload equipment following the completion of Cobra Gold.

Also supporting Cobra Gold is MSC chartered high speed vessel HSV Westpac Express, which delivered 246 Marines from the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force to Chuk Samet Jan. 22. The ship will return to Okinawa in early February.

MSC reservists also played an important role. Members from Expeditionary Port Unit 113 from Fort Worth, Texas, and EPU 102 from New York City deployed in support of the exercises. Reservists crewed a mobile sealift operations command center, a portable communications facility designed to operate and manage port operations, even if port infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. EPU's can quickly deploy to a contingency operation and manage the arrival and departures of cargo ships in port.

MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.