By Johnathon OrrellApril 22, 2016
Jacksonville, Florida (22 April 2016) -- As the final piece of equipment was driven onto the Military Sealift Command's U.S. Naval Ship Benavidez, April 21, the JAXPORT operations phase to the biggest sealift exercises the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) has participated in since before 9/11 came to an end.
The JAXPORT phase of the Sealift Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (SEDRE), was comprised of 11-days of ground operations -- which included the work of nearly 250-personnel from multiple entities throughout the Department of Defense and civilian transportation fields moving almost 900-pieces of equipment and cargo from the Jacksonville Port Authority's newly christened Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), to the JAXPORT Cruise Terminal, onto the Benavidez.
Designed to train units for deployment readiness, a SEDRE includes the deployment of unit personnel and equipment, as well as an upload and offload of a brigade-sized task force, using real port facilities and ships. This is the first SEDRE SDDC has participated in since 2000.
Army Sgt. Tyler Kline, the operator of the final vehicle to be loaded onto the Benavidez, said he felt "pretty good" about the accomplishments of he and his teammates, and said his biggest take-away was the "experience of the operations process."
He added, "even as a seasoned NCO (noncommissioned officer), I enjoyed being able to do something like this and to learn more about the logistics and planning that goes along with it."
Once it arrived at the top of the load-ramp, the vehicle was greeted with thunderous applause and celebration strong enough to drown out the noticeable exhaustion on the faces of the participants.
Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell and the 11th Transportation Battalion, out of Fort Story, Virginia -- most of whom had never met before, and had never done some of the duties they learned via on-the-job -- gathered together at the top of the ramp to recount what the last two-weeks had been like for them.
Expressions ranged from "exciting," "awesome," "outstanding," "amazing," and "unforgettable," to "exhausting," "stressful," "confusing," to the even the more boisterous expressions of "fan-freaking-tastic," and "splendiferous" (to be fair, I am pretty sure that last Soldier knew I was listening in on the conversation).
The overall comments coming from senior leadership and exercise planners was that of pride in the success of the mission, but also the always stoic "we will keep training to keep getting better."
Bambi Beatty, with the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) G4 Mobility Operations Section, recognized that in the end there was many lessons learned, but was most impressed with the amount of teamwork and determination shown by all throughout this phase of the exercise.
"You looked around and you had the 11th Trans. in yellow vests, the 101st in orange vests, and people from SDDC, Marine Corps, Navy, TRANSCOM (U.S. Transportation Command), FORSCOM, and JAXPORT mixed between the two colors," she said.
"But instead of seeing divided sections of colored vests sitting around saying 'well, that's not my job," you saw nothing but a sea of yellow and orange intertwined doing whatever they could do to complete the mission in the most safe and effective way -- while learning something new at the same time."
Early this morning, before the sun had shown itself, the 11th had already begun their convoy back to Fort Story, and at 8 a.m., SDDC participants returned to their areas of responsibility, and the Captain of the Benavidez gave the order to raise the load ramp, lift the anchors, and sound the bell -- bringing an end to the 2016 SEDRE phase in Jacksonville to an official close.
From here the equipment and personnel aboard the ship will set sail to Port Arthur, near Beaumont, Texas, where they will then debark the Benavidez -- with hopefully the same successes as they had at JAXPORT.
In the end, everyone agreed on one thing, exercises like these need to be more frequent for the success of the total force integration and worldwide operations to be possible.