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NEWS | July 23, 2018

U.S. Army Reserve harbormasters play huge role in Big LOTS West 18

By Spc. Trenton Fouche Exercise News Day

Nearly 800 Soldiers from 13 units are participating in Big Logistics Over-the-Shore West (BLW) 2018 throughout Port Hueneme, California, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and here July 1-24.

This exercise ensures the combat readiness of transportation and sustainment units in relation to planning operations. Specifically, the watercraft units in support of the 3rd Transportation Brigade — the Army Reserve’s only watercraft brigade with strategic lift capability. This capability secures sea lines of communication for the free flow of goods and services between U.S. allies and friends, deterring adversaries, and providing a timely response to crises short of war.

Reserve Soldiers throughout the nation have traveled to hone their skills and ensure a capable, combat-ready and lethal force; ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. Amongst the fleet are the harbormasters, who have played a pivotal role in BLW 18. 

“This training is very beneficial for the Army’s readiness for combat,” stated Spc. Rolando Foster, a watercraft operator with the 651st Harbormaster Detachment from Houston, Texas.

This training has given Soldiers an opportunity to showcase the Army’s vessels and familiarize themselves with the logistics associated with moving throughout the sea.

“Lessons learned during this training ensures readiness when you have situations where there’s an unimproved beachhead where you can land along the shore to ensure our Soldiers are receiving what they need in a combat environment,” Foster said.

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers operate 27 watercraft in the Army’s 105 vessel fleet. The U.S. Army has eight types of watercraft in its inventory, four of which will be used during Big Lots West 18: Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 2000 Runnymede Class; Small Tug 900 Series Dorchester Heights Class; Large Tug 800 Greene Class and Barge Derick 115 Ton Keystone State Class.

“We’re essentially like air traffic controllers for the water,” said Staff Sgt. Catherine Denham, a watercraft operator with the 651st Harbormaster Detachment. “We track all of the vessels that come to the pier and the vessels that leave. Before they can leave or dock they must ask for permission. We then track the number of people and vehicles into a master log so that we know all of the moving pieces.”

Although many of the Soldiers involved in the training are experienced in their respective military occupational specialties, the training hasn’t been easy. The experience has helped teach Soldiers to work through adversity to ensure the mission is complete.

“Our unit is out of Houston, Texas, so we had to ship all of our equipment here and it didn’t all arrive at the scheduled time. We ended up getting the last piece of equipment the night before the operation started, so we were setting up until 3 o’clock in the morning, but it was still doable and we made it happen,” said Denham.

Despite logistical issues, these Soldiers have taken on each challenge by utilizing teamwork as a valuable resource to overcome adversity.

“We provide support to the vessels in the port,” said Sgt. Great Olusegun Atandasalau, a watercraft operator with the 651st Harbormaster Detachment.

“Leadership is very important, much like communication, because things are always changing. In this system there are some things that people know how to work very well and things people are still learning. We’re all learning, everyone is giving it their all,” he said.

With all of the moving pieces throughout the training, the one thing that has remained the same is the overall mission. Big LOTS West demonstrates the flexibility and capability Army Reserve watercraft units have in discharging troops, vehicles, and material at austere ports, ship-to-ship, and over beaches.

“In order to be a harbormaster, you have to have the ability to be flexible, you have to be on your feet, and able to brace for whatever comes at you,” Denham said.

As the Army Reserve continues to maintain an adept force, the harbormasters have continued to grow and expand on their capabilities to achieve the mission.