SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (April 15, 2011) - The men and women of 834th Transportation Battalion, Military Ocean Terminal Concord, Calif., spent several days recently unloading and loading more than 550 large, 20-foot-by-10-foot containers to and from a Military Sealift Command vessel, the "TSgt. John A. Chapman."

Military Ocean Terminal Concord - or MOTCO, for short - is Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's California port, responsible for loading and unloading Department of Defense general cargo and ammunition shipments from commercially-contracted vessels in that area of responsibility.

Although this type of mission would seem like standard operating procedure for the folks at MOTCO, the operation was anything but ordinary.

The port mission at MOTCO is normally handled by commercially-contracted stevedores, with oversight by military personnel and civil service employees assigned to SDDC's 834th Transportation Battalion. In 2010 alone, MOTCO handled 21 missions, including seven ammunition shipments and 14 general cargo shipments.

However, instead of using the civilian stevedores, this mission was altered to provide additional training and familiarization for active-duty and Reserve Soldiers and Sailors who traveled from various locations around the United States.

The week-long operation - called a preposition, or "pre-po," mission - involved the safe, effective discharge (unloading) of 262 large munitions containers. Additionally, as containers were unloaded, the team simultaneously loaded more than 290 containers; more than half of which contained sensitive ammunition.

According to a Military Sealift Command website, afloat prepositioning strategically places military equipment and supplies aboard ships located in key ocean areas to ensure rapid availability during a major theater war, a humanitarian operation or other contingency. MSC's 31 prepositioning ships support the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Defense Logistics Agency. The pre-positioning vessel "TSgt. John A. Chapman" is named in honor of a U.S. Air Force combat controller killed in Afghanistan in 2002.

To ensure the recent MOTCO prepositioning mission was successful, the 834th Trans. Bn. called on about 50 active-duty and Reserve Soldiers and Sailors and two government civilian employees. The mission roster included truck drivers, top pickers, lashers, cargo handlers, forklift operators, and gantry crane operators, to name a few.

Contributing to the mission were the 159th Seaport Operations Company and 11th Transportation Battalion from Fort Story, Va.; the 1185th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion from Lancaster, Pa.; the 1179th Transportation Brigade from Fort Hamilton, N.Y.; the 489th Transportation Company from Jacksonville, Fla.; Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown - Cheatham Annex, Va., and the 596th Transportation Brigade's Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, N.C. In addition to the Army and Navy mariners, the U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to provide port security.

Lt. Col. Chris Hart, 834th Trans. Bn. commander, said pulling nearly 50 Soldiers and sailors together in time for the large mission was a demonstration of willpower and tenacity on the part of his operations folks.

He said their initial request for reservists went out only three weeks before mission start time. The request was made to Deployment Support Command, through SDDC's Training Directorate, G3/7.

"It just shows that sheer force of will works, and we have industrious, hard-working folks like [U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Carla] Berg, who went out and found the people to do the job," added Hart. "When other units said 'no,' she found units who would say 'yes.' It speaks volumes about her and her operations team."

Hart said although the mission was used to provide additional training for the Soldiers and Sailors, they are by no means unskilled at performing this mission.

"We're giving them more opportunities to get better, but these folks are all qualified, professional Soldiers and sailors, and this is a great opportunity [for them] to get additional training on their wartime skills," he said.

Hart said having fewer people to complete the mission was difficult, but not a problem.

"We often have more labor than we absolutely need, which gives us the flexibility to work two shifts, day and night, and it gives us the flexibility to do more ammunition movement," explained Hart. "In this case, we had the bare minimum to get the mission done. I'm really happy we have enough people to operate two cranes, with the associated [loading] gangs and truck drivers to make the mission happen."

He said he was extremely satisfied with the units that showed up.

"We kind of had to cobble [the participating units] together in short order, and one of the units - the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 - didn't show up until 3 a.m. [the day before] mission start time," added Hart. "They basically came right from the airport to our terminal without checking in to their hotel. They were here for our initial in-brief, our mission brief, and our rehearsal of concept, and they conducted their rehearsals on the routes and equipment so they were ready to go first thing the next morning. That's impressive."

Because the units were pulled together from different locations, and because the Soldiers and sailors were not familiar with working together or with the routes and equipment at MOTCO, Sgt. Maj. Adam Frye, 834th Trans. Bn. senior NCO, said he and the other MOTCO team members stressed safety and teamwork throughout the entire operation.

According to Hart, mixing safety and teamwork with positive attitudes was a recipe for success.

"It's amazing what a can-do attitude does for an operation," he said. "And positive attitudes are infectious. Everyone's walking around with a smile on their face, they're saying 'hooah,' and they're getting the mission done. Positive attitudes are a force multiplier."

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Carla Berg, 834th Chief of Operations, said she was always confident the mission would happen.

"[Deployment Support Command] has always been there to support us and they work long days to make sure we get what we need," added Berg. "They understand what the 834th is all about, the seaports we operate and support, and [they understand] that our missions can sometimes be short-fused."

According to Hart, at the conclusion of the safe and successful operation, he and the sergeant major recognized each of Soldiers, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen with certificates and 834th Trans. Bn. command coins, and a select few earned an Army Achievement Medal.

This is the second preposition mission completed by MOTCO during the past year, and the battalion will complete another similar mission later this year.

Located in Concord, Calif., just off the Sacramento River, MOTCO consists of a 115-acre inland area, and a tidal area that spans more than 6,600 acres.

In addition to terminal operations, the 834th Trans. Bn. provides customs clearance for all the Department of Defense cargo coming into California seaports, and is also responsible for manifesting vessels that transport DOD cargo entering and leaving the battalion area of responsibility. The battalion also manages the deployment and distribution support teams at numerous strategic seaports in California in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, performs ammunition missions and tends to installation management responsibilities at MOTCO.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16