Story by Sgt. Marc Loi
200th Military Police Command
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (July 25, 2013) -- Thirty-one Soldiers from the Army Reserve's 805th Transportation Detachment arrived at Pier 3 here aboard the Logistics Support Vessel Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls, July 24, ending their 10-month deployment to the Persian Gulf in support of Operating Enduring Freedom.
The 805th crew sailed the 273-foot-long, 4200-ton vessel from Kuwait, on the way to its homeport of Baltimore.
A subordinate unit of the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command's 385th Transportation Battalion, The 805th is located in Tacoma, Wash.
Although Army personnel traditionally deploy to land-based locations in support of war efforts, the 805th's Soldiers spent most of their time at sea because their mission focused on the delivery and recovery of large military assets to and from various theaters of operations, said Warrant Officer James Ackroyd, the unit's cargo officer.
"Wheeled- and tracked-vehicles, cargo and other supplies -- we moved anything and everything," Ackroyd, of Washington Township, N.J., said. "We also supported other services with everything they had to move."
Although based in Kuwait, the crew made stops in various ports in the Middle East and Europe, including Bahrain and Greece, and Spain on their trip home. One reason for the various port calls, Ackroyd said, was to deliver goods and supplies to support the larger warfighting efforts.
"We also provided a large bulk of cargo in a short period of time -- be it tactical or sustainment cargo," Ackroyd continued.
Ackroyd added that seeing firsthand the complexities of military logistics not only helped him recognize the importance of the unit's mission, but also how it fit into the larger picture.
"Being able to see how the various pieces of the puzzle fit, and how we directly and indirectly supported the war effort, gave me a deeper appreciation of logistics," he said.
Part of that appreciation, Ackroyd said, was for the Army's sea-based assets, which the general population often associates with the Navy.
"We're the Army's best-kept secret," Ackroyd said. "Very few people know about our capabilities and what we can provide in support of our nation's defense."
For example, the vessel Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls can transport 21 M-1 Abrams at a time for tactical purposes. For sustainment purposes, it can carry as many as 84 forty-foot containers of supplies and equipment in intra- and inter-theater operations.
Yet, it isn't just its war-supporting capabilities that make Smalls, along with its crew, an asset. With its top speed of just over 12 knots, which is 14 miles per hour, the Smalls and vessels like it, also prove useful in emergency rescue situations like the one the 805th's Soldiers found themselves in during the certification process prior to deployment.
On a vessel similar to Smalls just off the California coast, the unit received a call from the Coast Guard, informing it of a civilian boat in distress and requesting that it execute a rescue mission, as it could get to the distressed boat faster than the Coast Guard could. The unit responded.
"By the time we got to the coordinate we were given, the boat was about 100 miles off the coast," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Rankin. "There was a cloud of fog and 12-foot waves. He had only three flares and (had) used the last one."
"With the searchlight, we were able to locate him," Rankin explained. "It took us 2.5 hours to get him onto our boat."
By the time the unit extracted the civilian and helped him onto their own vessel, the boat in distressed had nearly sunk, and the mariner in distressed had spent all his energy and resources fighting the waves, Rankin said.
Although rescuing civilian boats isn't a part of the unit's job description, Rankin said the event, which took place just days before the unit's deployment, helped solidify what it means to be sea-based Soldiers.
"It was an awesome feeling to know we helped save someone's life," said Rankin. "There's always a rule that, as a mariner, you don't leave anyone behind if you could help it."
The ability to make real-life impact, both in the warfighting level and during emergency situations like the one the crew part took in, said Ackroyd, is one of the reasons he became a sea-based Soldier.
"It's an entirely different job than anything else in the Army," he said. "We have a lot of challenges, but because we are on a boat, we also have some of the comforts of home -- but the home tends to rock and roll on occasions."
"On days where there are 30-to-35-foot waves, it's like living in a dryer machine," Ackroyd continued. "All your possessions sometimes just fly by your head as the waves hit."
It will be a while longer, however, before the Reserve Soldiers can get back to their real homes. Fort Eustis was a temporary, one-day stop to unload cargo before another 18-hour journey to Baltimore, where they will dock, prior to heading to Fort Dix, N.J., for their demobilization process.