JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from Florida and Puerto Rico teamed up to assist the 841st Transportation Battalion with an offloading operation at Joint Base Charleston May 14-21 aboard the USNS Soderman, one of the largest ships in the U.S. Navy fleet.
This vessel is part of the Army Prepositioned Stock program and has traveled the world for years, carrying warfighting equipment such as tanks and wheeled vehicles, according to Sgt. First Class Michael Dryden, noncommissioned officer in charge of vessel operations, 841st Transportation Battalion.
The equipment was unloaded for preventive maintenance checks and services by reservists on a 12-month assignment from the 936th Expeditionary Theater Opening Element in Florida and cargo specialists on a one-week assignment from the 390th Company Transportation Seaport Operations unit, 1st Mission Support Command in Puerto Rico.
"We have worked together before, and they never fail to impress," Dryden said of the reserve unit from Puerto Rico. "They were motivated and ready on day one."
The deployment offered the Soldiers an opportunity work with longshoremen, their civilian counterparts, who also play an important role in unloading prepositioned cargo.
The joint force of reservists and civilians worked on the vessel for three days. Soldiers were responsible for cargo inventory and inspection, while contractors worked transporting cargo to a nearby staging area. The yard was quickly filled, resembling a smoldering fire as vehicle traffic kicked up dust.
Successful port operations depend on a strong military-civilian partnership, according to Cody Hickman, a contractor and operations support specialist who recently returned from Kuwait.
"Everybody out here you see driving military vehicles has taken a class taught by the military and has a special driver's license to move certain vehicles," Hickman said. "It takes some getting used to and it can be intimidating because you have to be very aware of your surroundings."
Moving military equipment is a fast-paced operation. As soon as all of the cargo was unloaded, the next vessel was already on its way in, according to Dryden.
"The reserve unit from Puerto Rico did a phenomenal job," Dryden added. "Everything just flowed like running water."
Cargo unloading isn't going away anytime soon, and a dredging operation is underway to allow new, larger cargo ships to enter the port.