Soldiers on Deck: The Army Reserve's Multifunctional Mariners

December 27, 2013
“We always like to sail; it’s what we do; it’s what we love to do."
​Soldiers from the 824th Transportation Company, Detachment 3, Morehead City, N.C., test their accuracy with the Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun Nov. 25 here. The Army mariners also trained on the Beretta M9 pistol and .50 cal. machine gun. The mariners place large plastic barrels in the water to simulate floating targets.
Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay
143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command
KUWAIT NAVAL BASE - The 3 a.m. wake up call blasts through the speakers of the Churubusco, a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) vessel currently nesting in Kuwait Naval Base’s serene backdrop. Most of the crew is already dressed and ready and moving to their perspective duty stations.
The crew is anxiously anticipating their new mission, as it marks only the third overnight departure from port since arriving in July and a chance to cast off is one they fully appreciate.
“We always like to sail; it’s what we do; it’s what we love to do,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin W. Foley, boatswain, 824th Transportation Company, Detachment 3, Morehead City, N.C. “The more we can get out, the more we enjoy it,”
As the deckhands or “deckies” begin to untie the Churubusco from the LSV 5 (Logistics Support Vessel) docked beside it, the vessel master Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael J. Byrne, 824th Transportation Co., Det 3, makes cast-off preparations on the bridge.
“This week we’re carrying out the movement of targets for the aviators,” said Byrne. “We’re going to a sea range [where] we will place two targets in each run track. Helicopters will fly overhead, orientate themselves with us and then make their runs at those targets.”
It’s now 0330 and its pitch black on the bridge. With only the multicolored lights of the instrumentation and green glow of the radar to guide Byrne. Bright white lights are prohibited during the early morning hours, in order to keep the mariners eyes from having to re-adjust.
Ten minutes later the Soldiers muster into the galley for a mission and safety briefing. The mission is simple: sail out and drop off air to ground targets northeast of Jazirah Faylakah, Kuwait. The crew is also made aware of the two passengers accompanying them on this mission, a seasoned pilot coordinating the target shooting exercise with the pilots in the sky and a public affairs journalist with the 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) set to document the event. The ground rules are set, and by 4 a.m. the Churubusco is underway.
The mission itself is a new undertaking for the aviation unit taking part in the training exercise.
“We’re trying to develop tactics techniques procedures (TTPs) for overwater [targeting, combat],” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Grogan, AH-64 Delta Apache helicopter pilot, 4th Battalion 4-227th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas.. Having come off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, actually doing engagements overwater is a new realm for us,” “My purpose here is to act as a liaison for the aviation when they get on station, someone on the boat who is familiar with their terms and what they are trying to accomplish.”
Hovering around 4,000 Soldiers, the Army watercraft family is small, and it’s an opportunity few get the chance to experience.
“It’s a unique field,” said Foley. “It’s the Army’s best kept secret. It takes a unique person. People that can work together in tight quarters and it can pretty out in ocean or it can be bad, and you have to be able to adapt to different situations.”
The crew of the LCU 13 comprises 16 Army Mariners or “boaties” as they sometimes call themselves; 10 hail from Morehead City, N.C., six from Tampa, Fla., and a theater provided medic.
“There are two sides of the house, deck personnel “deckies” or engine personnel,” said Byrne. “Normally on a vessel deckies and engineers continually pick on each other.”
The deck hands and engineers have plenty of opportunities to show one another up during fire or man overboard drills, medical or weapons training.
“There’s always competiveness between the deckies and the engineers,” said Foley. “A lot of good quality training that happens with that competitive edge.”
Deckies handle everything above board. Things like latching down cargo, making sure compartments are secure, and sea and anchor detail. Deckies give the bridge crew full appraisal of the surrounding landscape. They’re positioned to see farther and lower than those steering the vessel on the bridge.
The engineers or “moles” as the deck hands jokingly call them manage everything below deck from transferring fuel, monitoring engine temperatures or swapping power between generators.
“My job is critical, if anything goes wrong down here, [it] can stop the entire mission,” said Spc. Miguel Rodriguez, watercraft engineer, 824th Transportation Co., Det 3, Tampa, Fla. “Something small like forgetting to tighten a clamp on a hose can lead to a leak on an engine or generator.”
When out to sea or underway the deck hands and engineers both pull 24/7 watch. Watch allows the deckhands to monitor the surrounding area, while the engineers monitor the engines and generators below.
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