By Master Sgt. Dave ThompsonMarch 28, 2016
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (March 28, 2016) -- Nautical Horizon is a Brigade Inspection Reconnaissance Exercise developed to provide military leaders the opportunity to give their Soldiers hands-on experience with Army watercrafts stored as wartime reserves.
Designed to be executed in seven phases from February until the end of March, Nautical Horizon enhances strategic mobility initiatives and provides an opportunity to exercise various contingency procedures involving the deployment of forces and activation of Army prepositioned vessels within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Under the U.S. Army Central umbrella, APS-5 Kuwait, an army prepositioned stocks storage hub, implemented a system called the Care of Supplies in Storage program designed to maintain stored Army material and machines in ready-for-issue condition and to prevent equipment deterioration.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Theodore "Ted" McGuire, Watercraft Officer with APS-5 Kuwait, oversees the Army boat storage program at Kuwait Naval Base. McGuire, along with his noncommissioned officer, Sgt. 1st Class Scottie Ballew who he refers to as 'his right hand', manages the maintenance and readiness of over 30 Army watercraft.
With their 55-person civilian team and over 30 years of experience in Army watercraft maintenance between them, McGuire and Ballew ramped up operations in preparation for Nautical Horizon.
"This exercise validates the issue and draw process and tests the capabilities of the boats we have here," said McGuire. "Four boats [two Landing Craft Utility (LCU-2000) and two Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM-8)] are being issued and the crews will run them through a series of operations that's designed to mirror their wartime mission."
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Wilson is the Support Operations Watercraft Mobility Officer for 1st Theater Sustainment Command. An LCU-2000 boat captain himself, the affable Wilson serves as the liaison between APS-5 and 1st TSC and is tasked with oversight and validation of the exercise.
"My job is to observe the process," said Wilson. "I interact with all the players, which includes the task force commander, the APS team, the harbor master and the boat crews to make sure the boats are issued and seaworthy and the crews are ready to operate within an established 96-hour window."
The 1TSC provides logistical and sustainment support for all U.S. and coalition warfighters within the Central Command region. Their leaders have a vested interest in the operational ability of Army watercrafts as the boats are integral to meeting heavy sustainment lift requirements.
Army watercraft systems are critical enablers in overcoming austere equipment loading and offloading challenges due to their flat bottom design. From the 273 foot Logistic Support Vessel with a 2,000 ton cargo carrying capacity to the 73 foot LCMs, Army vessels are designed to operate in austere to bare beach environments. These unique assets are not dependent upon developed seaports or infrastructure and can operate in shallow draft, littoral and inland waterways, a capability the U.S. Navy does not have with their deep hull designed vessels.
The start of the exercise was marked with briefings from McGuire, Ballew and task force commander Capt. Sarah Hundley, 524th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, to the boat crews from the 7th Transportation Brigade Expeditionary, 97th Transportation Company out of Joint Base Langley/Eustis, Virginia. They discussed the vessel draw process, inventory timeline, the mission and turn-in procedures of the APS-5 vessels. This effectively started the 96-hours to deliver the four fully mission capable boats and equipment to the crews.
"We had some hiccups and problems that are typical when boats sit and don't get used," said McGuire. "One had an engine problem, but we were able to issue another boat, and another had a reduction gear [malfunction] which we were able to get repaired within 36 hours."
Ballew, who has over eight years of sea time experience as an engineer, lends his expertise and impeccable work ethic to maintaining the boats. He once rebuilt one of the two massive LCU marine diesel engines while underway after a piston exploded and narrowly missed hitting him.
"We have a team of top notch contractors who are as passionate as we are about keeping these boats going," said Ballew. "We find new ways to fix old bridges and facilitate the mission."
McGuire stated the boats needed to be used and put through the paces in order to function properly and many of his challenges with keeping APS boats mission capable was the low operational budget and existing maintenance procedures that he said did not adequately exercise the boat systems.
"I'm working to rewrite the maintenance SOP and establish a good foundation and leave it better than I found it," McGuire said. "The boats are a great and cost-effective mobility asset for the Army, but it takes the proper funding to maintain this program. I'm looking for someone [at the upper decision making level] to champion this effort and keep the Army Watercraft program in the fight."
Staff Sgt. Harcel Rosado, assigned to the 97th, is the boatswain for one of the issued boats, the number 29 LCU. He is responsible for all the components in the boat's hull. Rosado, who hails from Puerto Rico, is an experienced mariner who knows the LCU like the back of his hand. He plans and assigns the daily work schedule to the deck crew and maintains order and cleanliness. Having completed the draw process, he goes through his checklist with methodical precision, making sure everything is in place and the boat is 'shipshape' to get underway.
"Our baby is ready to go," quipped Rosado, an energetic man whose bright eyes and youthful exuberance belies his 32 years. "This exercise gives our crew a great opportunity to improve our skills and showcase how important our mission is. We have the best job in the Army and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."
The exercise took the crews underway where they transported equipment from Kuwait to Oman and returned with a back haul of equipment from Oman, all the while gaining valuable training experience, testing the boats and exercising deployment and redeployment procedures.
TSC anticipates an increase in the use of Army watercraft as a way to alleviate the demand for aircraft use to move Department of Defense cargo throughout the Arabian Peninsula. This not only reduces the demand for the limited aircraft in theater, it also provides movement of cargo at a significantly reduced cost to American taxpayers. Nautical Horizon highlights the critical importance of the APS-5 watercraft mission and serves to validate ongoing planning efforts to support the increased demand for the Army boats.