PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The 599th Transportation Brigade and partners uploaded 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division and 25th Combat Aviation Brigade cargo and equipment onto both the USNS Britten and USNS Fisher for deployment to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, Aug. 29-Sept. 3.
Although the upload of the two ships itself took only a few days, when the USNS Fisher pulled up the stern ramp and left Pearl Harbor, it culminated months of preparation and more than three weeks of on-the-ground reception staging and loading of cargo and equipment.
This movement had begun with reception and staging at the Multifunctional Deployment Facility (MDF) at Wheeler Army Airfield on Aug. 10. From there, Soldiers convoyed their vehicles, cargo and equipment to the port.
This move was a first in many ways. According to Gordon Lowe, 599th deputy operations director, “The simultaneous berthing of two light, medium-speed roll-on, roll-off vessels (LMSRs) at Fleet Logistics Center, Pearl Harbor, was a first as well as the near simultaneous, back-to-back loading of the two vessels.
“Executing the mission under pandemic conditions was also unprecedented, he added. “This presented several hurdles to obtain the needed reserve support for MDF and port ops, but we ultimately received help from Deployment Support Command and the 9th Mission Support Command. The 12 personnel from DSC had to endure a 14-day restriction-of-movement period upon initial arrival at Schofield Barracks before supporting MDF and port operations.
“Another first was that FLC Pearl Harbor also used its relatively new stevedoring and related terminal services contract to support the loading of the USNS Brittin,” Lowe said. “So industry also contributed to mission accomplishment.”
The first ship in port and to load was the USNS Brittin. Once the ship was in, operations began with commercial stevedores and Soldiers working to upload helicopters and other cargo from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Although it had finished uploading, the Brittin remained in port for a day as the USNS Fisher sailed in to dock at a separate wharf. Twenty-four hour operations began as Soldiers and members of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 uploaded the Fisher beginning on Aug. 31.
The 599th upload team at Pearl Harbor was led by Lt. Col. Joseph Batiste and Sgt. Maj. Carl Woodley, commander and senior enlisted advisor for the 836th Transportation Battalion headquartered in Yokohama, Japan.
“Vessel upload is an arduous and time-consuming process” said Batiste. “It represents the culmination of a gargantuan effort from many stakeholders here on Oahu, from the motor pools of the 2/25th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 25th CAB; the stringent requirements of the MDF; the many convoys movements from the MDF to the port; the tedious process of manifesting and documenting all of the cargo; and the development of the stow plan for two vessels. Without the hard work and collaboration from all stakeholders, vessel operations could not happen.”
The upload team was comprised of personnel from the 25th Infantry Division, 836th Transportation Battalion; 599th Transportation Brigade; 1179th Transportation Battalion Deployment and Distribution Support Team (DDST) from Fort Hamilton, New York; 302nd Reserve Transportation Terminal Battalion; FLC Pearl Harbor personnel; Military Sealift Command ship and support personnel, and the 1st Cargo Handling Battalion from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Members of the Deployment Support Command did not have much time to prepare for the mission.
“The DSC sent out a request for volunteers to all four transportation support brigades four days prior to departure. Most members of the team were locked in 72 hours prior to our arrival in Hawaii with the last team member joining 24 hours prior to departure,” said Cpt. Daniel Morris, commander for the 1179th DDST.
Although the commander and non-commissioned officer in charge of the DDST came from the 1179th Transportation Battalion in Fort Hamilton, New York, other members came from throughout the DSC.
“The [DDST] team is comprised of volunteer Soldiers from four transportation surface brigades within the DSC: 1179th TSB, 1189th TSB, 1394th TSB and the 1190th TSB,” said Master Sgt. Wendell Derilus, operations and mobilization NCO and 652nd Expeditionary Theatre Opening Element detachment sergeant.
The 402nd Army Field Support Battalion, Hawaii, put together support at the MDF and throughout the mission.
According to the 402nd Army Field Support Battalion, the 402nd provided the deploying unit oversight and expertise during the pre-deployment and actual Multifunctional Deployment Facility (MDF) operations, including training units to certify all containers and vehicles were properly labeled and secured in order to meet predetermined mandates and standard.
599th headquarters personnel worked the entire move, from the first day of reception at the MDF until after the ramp went up on the Fisher and all documentation was finished.
“We worked from 10-27 August approximately at the MDF and Aug. 28 to Sept. 4 at Pearl Harbor,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Perez, detachment sergeant, 599th Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment. “Not knowing if we were going to get anyone else to assist, a decision was made to help the battalion with personnel who were already on the ground and had done the mission before.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joel Hernandez, 599th Transportation Brigade mobility warrant officer, explained the role of the MDF in the load out.
“From Aug. 10-27, at the Multifunctional Deployment Facility (MDF) operations on Wheeler Army Airfield, our team played a critical role as cargo entered all facets of the MDF process starting with station one through station seven,” Hernandez said. “We would start by rechecking documentation, validating the length, height, and weight of cargo, checking maintenance, agriculture, performing an inspection, and perform final staging for onward movement.”
Hernandez said he was also able to help streamline the process at both the MDF and port by providing templates he had developed throughout the years on documentation and tracking to 25th I.D. unit movement officers.
A problem occurred with some of the documentation during the convoy from the MDF to Pearl Harbor, but the team was able to resolve it on the fly.
“The team encountered an issue where convoys of equipment arrived at the port with many of the military shipping labels (MSL) required for reception having blown off during travel,” said Derilus. “It was relayed back to the MDF which quickly assured that all equipment departing for the Port had additional MSLs in their packets for replacement. In addition, reprinting capabilities were moved to the port for those pieces of equipment that had already arrived. It was also suggested to all unit movement officers (UMO) to order cases of adhesive spray for the next rotation which would solve this issue.”
In addition to the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command reserve unit, 15 members of the local Army Reserve 302nd Transportation Battalion, 9th Mission Support Command began work at Pearl Harbor on Aug. 24. It was a learning experience for Soldiers who had not worked a big upload operation before.
“The Soldiers learned how to use the ICODES [Integrated Computerized Deployment System] scanner, GATES [Global Air Transportation Execution System] documentation, and I learned how to properly prepare the reports that go up to SDDC headquarters,” said Master Sgt. Rotesa S. Stivers, operations NCOIC for the 302nd Transportation Terminal Battalion. “We also learned how the stow plan was prepared and implemented. I taught the Soldiers how to properly tally and identify hazardous materials, and how to count vehicles with trailers attached and detached.”
“I think being in this mission gave a lot of great opportunities for my Soldiers to see how a terminal and vessel operations works,” she added. “The logistics involved prior to vessel arriving and how to execute the uploading. It gave them self confidence that they can perform outside their MOS [military occupation speciality] and excel on it.”
“Leadership at the port ensured that each team is comprised of one person from the 599th or 836th, one from the 1179th, and one from the 302nd,” said Morris. “That way, members are able to share their expertise during each phase of the mission.”
“The best part about having the DDST integrated with the 599th, 836th, and 302nd is having the chance to train and learn from the active force,” said Derilus. “Our active duty counterparts have the ability to train and do their jobs on a daily basis while Reservists have to work training in as often as we are able to during monthly drills and yearly active training. Opportunities like this provide us with a chance to gain invaluable experience that we normally aren't able to receive. It also allows us to showcase a unique ability within the Reserves to bring civilian occupation skills and knowledge to the table which often enhances our ability to accomplish the mission.”
Safety is always a big concern while working on a port. Because of coronavirus, in addition to the usual precautions everyone working at the MDF and port wore masks and tried to maintain social distancing throughout the operation.
“We must protect Soldiers while we are still actively battling the effects COVID-19 is having on our force,” said Woodley. “Therefore, safety is the most important aspect of the operation here at Pearl Harbor. The Soldiers, NCOs and officers participating in ongoing vessel operations must remain resilient, formulate plans to curtail critical incidents, including threats such as COVID-19 transmission and avoidable mishaps. Understanding these threats and mitigating risks allows us to protect our personnel and safely accomplish the mission”.
“While the rest of the world is at a standstill and trying to figure out how to resume movement, the military has continued to show that we are the world's premier fighting force by continuing to train in large scale operations,” said Derilus.
“Overall great teamwork between Army, Navy, active and reserve components and industry to complete an unprecedented and very challenging mission on time and to standard,” Lowe said. “Lessons learned from this mission will contribute greatly to improvements to the joint deployment process and readiness.”