By Mrs. Donna Klapakis (SDDC)March 22, 2019
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The 599thTransportation Brigade assisted port operations on the M/V Cape Orlando here on March 14.
The nighttime discharge of cargo for the 25th Infantry Division's 25th Combat Aviation Brigade began before dark, but dusk had settled by the time the first helicopter was offloaded, and the remainder of the helicopters were offloaded in the dark under lighting at the port.
The Cape Orlando had gotten the call to sail at its homeport of Alameda, California, less than a month before it landed in Hawaii, said vessel master, Andrew Hetz.
"We are part of Military Sealift Command's reserve fleet, and as such we have to be able to get our crew and be ready to go a few days after we are called up," he said.
"There was a problem with the original ship that was slated to do this mission in the ice up in Alaska. We were on the west coast, and our ship was built to deal with ice in the Baltic Sea -- it was built in Sweden in 1981 -- so we were the logical choice," he said.
Ice isn't the only problem transporters deal with in Alaska.
"They had a 19-foot variance in tides when they loaded the ship," said 599th Transportation Brigade traffic management specialist Frank Viray.
"They loaded all the helicopters in an hour-and-a-half before the tide turned, so they loaded them all facing out," he said. "With the way the ship is configured, until a few helicopters were removed there was no room to turn them once they were loaded. Because of that it will take us a lot longer to offload them."
While one tug is powerful enough to push Chinooks through the ship to the ramp, and one is able to offload lighter helicopters by itself, tug engines are not powerful enough to defy gravity, particularly when pushing, on the stern ramp. Two are needed in tandem to offload Chinooks.
The second tug, which could have otherwise brought a second helicopter into place and offloaded it while the first was making its way to the yard, had to chain up to the first tug attached to the helicopter to lower it down the ramp.
The offload was also delayed because of the configuration of the helicopters.
"When they were offloading the first Chinook, I noticed that the antenna below was just about to hit the ramp, so I stopped them so they could bring some steel plates to make less of an angle from the ramp to dock," said Viray.
Once the steel plates were in place, workers at Pearl Harbor also had to bring in boards to buttress them, so they could take the weight of the Chinooks.
"This move started off slow because we didn't have the right equipment, and the Soldiers were not CH-47 mechanics; they work with Black Hawks and attack helicopters," said Viray. "But once we got the right equipment and the Soldiers started to get used to the operation, things moved smoother, and we were able to move everything off in a safe and timely manner."