Story and photo by Spc. Aaron Ellerman
143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command
KUWAIT NAVAL BASE, Kuwait - Two boats float side by side upon the salty greenish-blue water here Oct. 25. The Five Forks, Landing Craft Utility 2018, and the Corinth, LCU 2016, are home to a crew of Army mariners from the 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat) – Detachment 3, 371st Sustainment Brigade, 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
The Army mariners of the 481st spent the first couple months of their nine-month deployment here, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, stationed aboard the Five Forks. Now they must bid farewell as the vessel is scheduled to return to the U.S. for On Condition Cyclic Maintenance (OCCM).
“Army watercraft are set up for maintenance on a three-year rotation. The OCCM period is a 90 to 120 day depot level maintenance program that compliments crew level maintenance for optimum operational readiness,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chad Troyer, marine maintenance officer for the 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
During the process of drawing equipment from Army Preposition Stock (APS), Army units normally fund the preparation and issue of a loan vessel for use while their vessel is in OCCM. Upon completion of OCCM, units would fund the cost of turning in the loaned vessel and the cost of issuing the original vessel. The new process avoids these costs along with the additional costs associated with shortages a unit may discover during the process.
“The 143d ESC provides oversight of the transfer process, ensuring cost effectiveness and efficiency. We work to coordinate the property transfer and the maintenance condition of the equipment,” said Troyer.
The new process is different from past exchanges as the Five Forks will not return to the unit but to the APS storage facility instead. The new exchange procedure is estimated to avoid approximately $50,000 in additional costs without reducing mission capability.
“The Five Forks has been through a lot and is aged by its use,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael R. Roberts, vessel master and 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat) detachment 3 commander. “The more hours a watercraft has the more maintenance is required to keep it operational. The new exchange process will equal out the number of hours each ship has further reducing maintenance costs.”
Army watercraft provide efficient, cost-effective logistical support that would be time consuming or financially burdensome for the U.S. Army by other means.
The Army LCU class vessel can carry a payload of approximately 350 tons, or five M1 Abrahams tanks. The vessels’ low draft allows it to pick up and deliver cargo to places other ships of its size cannot.
“The Army watercraft is relied upon for steady state operations for the re-position of assets throughout the theater. The steady state operations serve a twofold purpose of exercising the equipment and maintaining the proficiency of the crew. Army watercraft supports contingency operations by transporting the much needed resupplies to forward operating elements,” said Troyer.
The Five Forks once held the record for the most nautical miles and tonnage hauled for an Army Watercraft. In May 2011 it was the first Army vessel to return to Iraq since 2003, thus re-establishing a presence for Army watercraft in the port of Umm-Qasr, Iraq.
In exchange for the Five Forks, the crew received the Corinth. The Corinth has been in the APS shipyard since 2003.
“I like that we are able to start fresh and put our mark on something new,” said Spc. Ricky Mullen, a Burson , Calif. native and watercraft operator with the 481st TC (Heavy Boat) – Det. 3.
Throughout the new process of transferring vessels the crew faced several challenges that they were able to overcome.
“The biggest challenge for us is transferring the theater specific equipment from the Five Forks to the Corinth. Many of the vessels that are prepositioned in the states don’t come with the additional equipment that we need to operate here, such as weapons mounts and communications system,” said Roberts.
The crew of 17 consists of watercraft operators, engineers, a medic, a cook, and a vessel master who are trained to perform multiple jobs and additional duties on board the vessel.
The crew inspects every piece of equipment regularly ensuring everything from the lights on life vests to the boats’ ramp function properly.
To be able to work aboard the vessel each mariner must successfully complete a series of certifications. Some Soldiers aboard the Five Forks became certified during the Transportation Logistics Over the Shore (TransLOTS) operation 2012, while training on 143d ESC watercraft off the coast of Puerto Rico.
“You have to be able to work physically for long hours and are responsible for operating expensive equipment. Every small decision you make here can have huge consequences,” said Mullen.
The crew lives and works aboard the vessel 24/7 and considers it their home, so moving to a new ship is like moving to a new home for them.
“Living in close quarters requires a lot of patience, but I like it on the ship we are like a family because we are so close all the time,” said Mullen.
“It is important to recognize that throughout the organization every Soldier can contribute to helping find ways to avoid unnecessary spending in all facets of their daily routines whether it is by land, air or sea,” said Troyer.