By Donna KlapakisMay 24, 2017
YOKOHAMA NORTH DOCK, Japan -- Marines and 836th Transportation Battalion conducted port operations on the USNS Westpac Express here on May 15.
"The Westpac Express comes and goes all the time about two-three times a month with no set schedule," said Bob Meno, 836th Transportation Battalion cargo and distribution section chief.
"This time they had twenty-four pieces with six howitzers and the rest were vehicles including one LMTV, and 100 Marines," he added.
Marines from India Battery 1-10 in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which is attached to 3-12 Artillery on Okinawa first offloaded cargo from Okinawa destined for Exercise Mount Fuji 17-4, then uploaded cargo. The cargo is from Camp Fuji going to Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) 17-10, said Marine Corps Lt. Paul Reese, originally from San Diego, California.
Reese said the Marines are applying lessons learned from their last move to offload and load the equipment much faster than they could during their first port operation.
Westpac Express captain, Adam Parsons, was the captain of the Hawaii Superferry when it plied the waters between Oahu and Maui from 2007-2009.
The Westpac Express has been sailing for the Marines since 2001. The ship originally had a foreign crew, then in 2003, the Military Sealift Command took it over and furnished an all U.S. crew, said Parsons.
Parsons has been captain of the vessel since 2009. It visits five ports in Korea, eight ports in Japan, and is homeported in Okinawa, he said.
"It's a privilege to operate this vessel in support of the Marines, said Parsons. "This is a fun ship to be on. The Marines keep us busy, especially in the last two years with the pivot to Asia," Parsons said.
"In addition to the cargo, the ship can carry 900 people, but normal loads are 200-300," Parsons said. "The Marines like the vessel because it can move people and cargo at the same time. The Marines work well with us and we enjoy working with them."
"It's a contracted Military Sealift Command vessel that provides the Marines their own sealift in and out of Japan, Korea and Okinawa," said Meno.
While the Wespac Express is dedicated solely to III Marine Expeditionary Force, once in a while the Army or Navy will go through the Marines for an opportune sealift, Parsons said.
"Huakai, the sister ship to the Alakai Superferry, has been rechristened USNS Guam. It will come to replace the HSV Westpac Express later this year," said Parsons.
John Wilson, chief mate for the Westpac Express, said they began the offload at 6:06 a.m. and finished the upload at 9:25 a.m.
"We had allowed for an eight-hour upload, but this will end up being a four-hour-total port call," Wilson said. "We will finish lashing the cargo, do a safety briefing, finish fueling, and leave."