By Staff Sgt. Neil McCabe
310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command
The deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command observed on-load, off-load operations of ammunition here April 24.
Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Justin Swanson, who is also the commanding general of the Army Reserve's Indianapolis-based 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), had the opportunity to tour the port and observe the Soldiers of the 595th Transportation Brigade (SDDC) and the 1185th Deployment and Distribution Support Battalion conduct the port operations.
"I am honored to be here and receive the tour by the team that's executing this amazing mission," said Swanson, whose Soldiers staff 1st TSC's operational command post at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
"They pulled off the largest classified import-export in the last 10 years here," said the general, who was joined by his chief of staff Col. Karen Monday-Gresham and his senior enlisted advisor at both 1st TSC-OCP and 310th ESC, Command Sgt. Maj. Keith A. Gwin.
"What we are looking to see is how everything is synchronized between the ground movement of the exported equipment and ammunition from the ASP to the vessel; and then the reverse, off the vessel into the yard and into the ASP," Swanson said. ASP is shorthand for Ammunition Supply Point, such as the one at Camp Arifjan.
"It's a dance--if you will--of many different units and organizations," the New Orleans native said. "A lot has to be synchronized with the Kuwaiti government here, getting the escorts and everything else, and it all came together in a matter of hours."
Standing at the pier next to the vessel Sagamore, the general said, "By tomorrow at this time, it'll be gone from here. It's just an amazing operation."
Gwin said the noncommissioned officers were critical to the success of the ammunition onload and offload operations because of the close on-the-spot leadership the operations demand.
"It's a complex operation that requires constant oversight and supervision, in addition to the training the Soldiers get going into this from the NCOs, just to make sure everything works smoothly and everybody stays safe throughout the entire process," he said.
During his tour, Col. Michael Ludwick, the commander of the 595th Transportation Brigade (SDDC), led the general aboard the container ship, where he greeted Sagamore’s crewmembers and met with the ship's master, Capt. Peter Matesic.
Just before going ashore, Swanson stopped Matesic on one of the aft weather decks and presented him with his commander's coin, along with wishes for the safe return home for him and his crew.
Matesic said afterwards he was thrilled to have the general aboard.
"It's an awesome experience," he said. "It definitely shows the importance of the mission and what we do here and what the Army does for us."
Army Reserve Capt. Deion Stalling, 1185th SDDSB, said working with the ship's crew was one of the more rewarding experiences of his deployment.
"They go the extra mile for us, because we treat them like family," said Stalling, who is the officer in charge of the terminal management team. "They don't work for us, and we don't work for them; because it's family, and as long as we have that shared, common understanding things, just go smoothly."
Ludwick said he welcomed the opportunity to brief Swanson and take him out to the pier and about Sagamore. The brigade falls under the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and conducts operations in partnership and coordination with the 1st TSC.
"He has a complete understanding of the SDDC functions and how we operate within theater, how we require partnerships to accomplish everything that we do," the colonel said. "That's the reason for his visit--to make sure we're doing our job right."
Ludwick said Sagamore is a Military Sealift Command ship assigned to resupply the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, and the port call at Shuaiba is just one of several stops her crew is making on this voyage.
"The importance of the resupply of munitions that are coming into theater--we do this regularly--is that munitions are coming in, they're refitting to meet CENTCOM objectives, specifically munition objectives, and then we're sending back, retrograding, some munitions that need maintenance or require some kind of upgrade," he said.
In addition to Sagamore, there are two other ships in close order.
"One vessel is totally dedicated to the redeployment of the 2-1 ABCT, which is the theater reserve for the CENTCOM AOR and also taking back 3-2 ADA," Ludwick said. 2-1 ABCT is the shorthand for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division and 3-2 ADA is shorthand for 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
"Those two vessels are back-to-back," the Denver native said. "A third vessel, which has the majority of the 2-1 ABCT equipment that was already uploaded--about 900 pieces."
Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Benitez, senior enlisted advisor, 595th TB (SDDC), said one of the challenges that his Soldiers overcame was that there are multiple ships, but only one berth, however they made it work by putting the mission first.
"The mission is all about bringing supplies into the theater," he said. "It's bringing in the resupply for the entire theater, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, so if something happens, we have the capability to defend ourselves."
Actual port operations here are handled by the Army Reserve Soldiers of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based 1185th DDSB. Before Swanson went out to the dock, he was briefed by Lt. Col. Dion Haverstraw, commander 1185th DDSB, and his senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael A. Saldana.
"This is our reoccurring mission," Haverstraw said. "It is the most high-visibility, most important mission that we do here, and we walked the general through where we are in the process of execution."
The Rolla, North Dakota, native said being an Army Reserve unit brings advantages for this kind of work.
"We have numerous people who do this on the civilian side, the exact same thing," he said. "We also have a lot of Soldiers who have been on this mission many times before, some four and five times, some who have executed this specific mission, the prograde and retrograde mission, many times."
Stalling, who is an operations manager for Amazon in his civilian career, said Army Reserve Soldiers contribute with their civilian experience, just as the active-duty Soldiers teach the Army Reserve Soldiers about the real-world mission.
"We have such a wealth of civilian and military experience that there is an integration that creates a bond between the two components," he said. "I have seen the big cross-pollination between the active-duty component and the Army Reserve."
Saldana said he relies on his NCOs to execute the unit's missions.
"Safety is our priority," he said. "We do composite risk management on a daily basis. We do AARs, After Action Reports, after every vessel operation.”
The Frederick, Maryland, resident said he makes sure his Soldiers are conducting Interim Progress Reviews through touchpoint discussions and dialogues within the team.
"We have a shared understanding across the spectrum, but more than that, we do rehearsals after rehearsals," he said. "We drive the system, so the system does not drive us, and so we can get better and more fluent in our craft."
Staff Sgt. Armando Ramirez, 1185th DDSB, said he and his team took great care when orchestrating the munitions onload.
"On this mission, we have a lot of ammo and we have to make sure it is all safe and everything is compatible," said Ramirez, who drives a fork truck at the Port of Long Beach, California, as a civilian.
"We don't want to have bad compatibility and have something happen at sea," the Carson, California resident said. "We want to protect the vessel and we want to protect the crew."