KUWAIT NAVAL BASE - The Logistics Support Vessel-8 (LSV-8) Major General Robert Smalls is the first Army vessel to be named in honor of an African-American. As part of the 203rd Transportation Detachment based in Curtis Bay, Md., she is one of the newest vessels in the Army fleet. LSV-8 was commissioned Sept. 15, 2007, and her crew is comprised of eight officers and 23 enlisted. The Master of the Ship is Chief Warrant Four Steven C. Brown. He is responsible for every aspect of the mission, and life in general, on the ship. The detachment sergeant, who is the ship-side equivalent of a first sergeant, is Sgt. 1st Class Victor D. Michaud.

Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls, the namesake of the ship, was an African-American slave during the Civil War who commandeered a Confederate ship, and with his family and several others, escaped to freedom in the North. He joined the Union Army and attained the rank of major general. He later became a congressman and the first U.S. ambassador to Haiti. "The level of achievement he attained is pretty incredible (for) the time frame," says Staff Sgt. Seymore Daniel, the Senior Engineman. "(I am) glad to see the Army giving acknowledgement to an African-American."

The LSV-8's mission is to provide theater logistics support by water. The ship is capable of 'landing,' meaning actually pulling up onto the beach with minimal draft, the amount of boat actually still under the water line. This allows access to unimproved and shallow draft harbors and lends flexibility to mission parameters. She can also open her bow and stern ramps and act as a causeway for transfers from ship-to-ship and from ship-to-land. The LSV-8 runs on engines capable of producing over 2,000 horsepower each, and two ship service generators, each of which produces 320 kilowatt hours and 460 volts. A shared trait of the LSV-8 and her predecessor, the LSV-7, is both are the only Army vessels with stern thrusters. However, unique to the LSV-8 is her bow. Instead of the ramp being the bow, there is a rounded bow that "clamshells" open to allow the ramp to fold down, allowing for a smoother voyage.

Scheduling conflicts involving the mission of the other military services are part of the reason the Army has a fleet of ships for its own use. "Because we have cargo or equipment to move, and we can't wait for another service." says Michaud. He continued, "it is sometimes logistically more beneficial to move by water than by truck." Water is faster than land and there is also the security aspect of moving a large amount of supplies by water, as this alleviates the chance of encountering roadside bombs.

As for her crew, they are much like their 'grounded' Army brethren. They work hard, play games together and live like any other family. During a pause in the Red Sea for a "man overboard" drill, the crew followed up immediately with morale Swim Call. "We installed an intranet to share pictures and information with fellow shipmates," says Sgt. Michael A. VanDam, the quartermaster. There is also a small garden to be tended in pots, which is lead by Spc. Michael Zollner, in charge of communications, and Chief Warrant 2 John Kinlein, the Chief Mate. "It is little things like this that we are doing to spice up life," says VanDam.

The voyage of the MG Robert Smalls to theater began in Baltimore, Md. on March 13, 2011. She sailed roughly 9,350 nautical miles, stopping in Rota, Spain, and transiting the Suez Canal to arrive at Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, on April 21, 2011. This LSV-8 spent about 40 days to make the journey, and even then, there was no rest for her crew. They jumped right into their mission and are moving forward with pride and absolute professionalism.