NEWS | May 27, 2021

Cargo specialists from Florida, Puerto Rico team up for unique mission in South Carolina

By Julie A. Kelemen 597th Transportation Brigade

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from Florida and Puerto Rico teamed up to assist the 841st Transportation Battalion with an offloading operation here May 14-21 on the USNS Soderman, one of the largest ships in the U.S. Navy fleet.

This vessel is part of the Army Prepositioned Stock program and has traveled the world for years, carrying warfighting equipment such as tanks and wheeled vehicles, according to Sgt. 1st Class Michael Dryden, noncommissioned officer in charge of vessel operations, 841st Transportation Battalion.

Ships like this strategically place U.S. Army combat equipment at sea to supply and sustain deployed U.S. troops during national crises.

The equipment was unloaded for preventive maintenance checks and services by reservists on a 12-month assignment from the 936th Expeditionary Theater Opening Element in Florida and cargo specialists on a one-week assignment from the 390th Co. Transportation Seaport Operations unit, 1st Mission Support Command in Puerto Rico.

"We have worked together before, and they never fail to impress, Dryden said of the reserve unit from Puerto Rico, "They were motivated and ready on day one."

The deployment offered the Soldiers an opportunity work with longshoremen, their civilian counterparts, who also played an important role in the mission to unload the prepositioned stock cargo.

The joint force of reservists and civilians worked on the vessel for three days. The Soldiers were responsible for cargo inventory and inspection, while the contractors were responsible for moving the cargo to a nearby staging area. The yard quickly and looked like a smoldering fire as the vehicles kicked up dust.

Successful port operations depend on a strong military-civilian partnership, according to Cody Hickman, a contractor and operations support specialist who recently returned from Kuwait.

"Everybody out here you see driving military vehicles has taken a class taught by the military and has a special driver's license to move certain vehicles," Hickman said, "It takes some getting used to and it can be intimidating because you have to be very aware of your surroundings."

Moving military equipment is a fast-paced operation. As soon as all of the cargo was unloaded, the next vessel was already on its way in, according to Dryden.

"The reserve unit from Puerto Rico did a phenomenal job," Dryden added, "Everything just flowed like running water."

The operations aren't going away anytime soon, and a dredging operation is underway to allow new, larger cargo ships to enter the port.