REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Oct. 17, 2013) -- On opposite sides of the continent sit two Military Ocean Terminals unassumingly shipping munitions across the globe. With an air of efficiency only achieved after decades of operations, the ports neither hide nor broadcast their operations; they simply accomplish their mission: to safely provide ammunition terminal services to meet the nation's objectives.
Situated on the East Coast in Sunny Point, N.C., Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, or MOTSU, serves as the primary Continental United States common-user ammunition terminal in support of forces deployed around the world. MOTSU has shipped more than 85 percent of munitions resupply to American forces in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and continues to support the Central Command area of operations today.
Across the country in Concord, Calif., Military Ocean Terminal Concord, or MOTCO, supports the Pacific Command area of operation, an effort becoming increasingly important as the nation's leaders pivot focus there.
The terminals belong to the 596th Transportation Brigade under the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command and Army Service Component Command to U.S. Transportation Command.
To maximize safe operations, the ports' focus on moving munitions; general cargo and equipment rarely go through MOTSU or MOTCO. While the ports may not be as familiar or identifiable as larger military installations, their strategic national importance cannot be denied.
"The capabilities MOTSU and MOTCO give us to safely ship and store munitions are absolutely critical," said Gen. Dennis L. Via, AMC commanding general, who recently visited both ports. "We're operating in a complex world, and need to be prepared for future contingencies. These ports allow us to respond to any conflict quickly and effectively."
Other senior military leaders are noting the ports' significance, as well.
"Within the last 18 months, we've had visits from the TRANSCOM Commander General [William] Fraser, the Honorable [Katherine] Hammack, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy and Environment), and Lieutenant General [Thomas] Conant, the U.S. Pacific Command deputy commander," said Col. James Rupkalvis, commander of the 596th Transportation Brigade. "Our leaders are seeing first-hand the value of these ports, and their visits here allow them to gain an even better appreciation for our capabilities."
Constructed in 1955, MOTSU's design was firmly established in response to a catastrophic event a decade earlier at the Naval Magazine, Port Chicago, Calif., (which later became MOTCO). An explosion in 1944, termed the "Port Chicago incident," destroyed the terminal when munitions being loaded onto a cargo vessel detonated, killing 320 servicemen and civilians and injuring 390 others. The Army developed the East Coast port using lessons-learned from the accident, including an explosive safety plan that features an expansive explosive safety arc -- a buffer zone -- of more than 2,000 acres of non-developed property.
Today, around 250 civilians and 3 military personnel work at MOTSU, home to the brigade's headquarters. The port's Center Wharf, where most work is done, received major modernization upgrades in October 2012, including procurement and installation of two new ship-to-shore container cranes that allow for more throughput velocity. MOTSU represents 55 percent of total military ammunition ocean terminal capacity in the U.S. with the largest ammunition shipping capability on the east coast.
MOTCO was built in 1942 as a U.S. Navy facility with a mission to provide ammunition out-loading capability during World War II. Following the Port Chicago incident, three new piers were added to the terminal. MOTCO was transferred to the Army in 2008, under Base Realignment and Closure 2005. Boasting the same safety explosion arcs, MOTCO is the only strategic seaport for shipping ammunition to the Pacific region. Major modernization efforts, including the procurement of two new ship-to-shore container cranes, are underway at the terminal, focused on upgrading Pier 2 where future work will be concentrated.
Today, around 100 employees work at MOTCO. It remains the only port capable of safely storing and moving ammunition, with the largest ammunition shipping capacity, on the West Coast. Pier modernization in the next few years will increase the throughput velocity at MOTCO, better allowing the port to surge capabilities as needed to meet PACOM requirements.
Both ports are directly linked to military installations, depots and arsenals through a network of commercial rail lines that expand across the U.S. The rail line connections facilitate shipments of ammo quickly and cost-effectively. A combatant commander identifies a requirement for ammunition; Joint Munitions Command sends it, through SDDC, via rail directly to one of the ports, which then loads it and ships it.
The ports also play a major role in retrograde operations, receiving munitions back from theater and sending them to a final destination at an installation, depot or arsenal.
"The significance of the strategic rail network that connects our Military Ocean Terminals to our Industrial Base cannot be overstated," said Via. "It provides the capability to safely ship our munitions across the country, and then across the sea, to our Warfighters when they need it. Our ammo ports are absolutely indispensible to our National Military Strategy."
While supplying forces during wartime is the critical mission, MOTSU and MOTCO support a variety of other missions, as well. The ports ship munitions to ally nations with Foreign Military Sales. They also support a variety of national and international exercises. Finally, both ports provide support to Pre-positioned Stocks, maintaining the munitions supply to ensure the Defense Department's capability to deliver munitions to theater destinations.
Because of the inherent risk involved with handling munitions, both ports focus much attention on safety, on land and in the water. Safety procedures include mandatory training and protective gear for all personnel handling munitions, lightning protection around storage lots, and a robust fire and safety team. MOTSU has the first state-of-the-art fire boat in DOD equipped to respond to emergencies in the water, and MOTCO plans to acquire one within the next year.
Since World War II, MOTSU and MOTCO have safely and efficiently managed the movement of munitions across the globe. Our forces have unknowingly relied on these terminals for decades, and as the ports modernize, their capabilities will remain relied upon for generations of Warfighters to follow.