NATIONAL CITY, Calif. -- NATIONAL CITY, Calif. -- Lined up like Marines in a parade formation, nearly a thousand trucks, trailers and other tactical equipment quietly waited their turn to board the commercial cargo ship for transit to the Persian Gulf region to support Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
And the responsibility of loading that equipment rested with the MEU Service Support Group 15, which will detach from the 1st Force Service Support Group in June to become the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's combat service support element.
MSSG-15 was called in to assist with the loading because of the large number of units scheduled to deploy from the I Marine Expeditionary Force. Nearly all of the major subordinate units throughout I MEF are busy preparing their gear and Marines for an upcoming deployment. Because MSSG-15 does not to deploy until later this year, it was given the task to help out. MSSG-15 returned to Camp Pendleton in July after a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region with the 15th MEU where they participated in combat actions in Iraq.
The equipment, which arrived a few days ago in convoys from Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, and Yuma, Ariz., is being loaded on civilian cargo vessels and transported to the Gulf Region so that it will be available for I MEF units arriving in country this spring.
The detachment working at the port is comprised of about 130 landing support specialists, motor vehicle operators, engineers and a handful of corpsman. Additionally, the MSSG-15 Marines and Sailors are being assisted by Combat Service Support Company 137, a reserve unit from California, Ohio and Puerto Rico.
Work began at the San Diego Naval Station area a couple of weeks ago, when Marines loaded the USS Boxer (LHD-4), according to SSgt. Daniel Fowler, 28, a landing support specialist with MSSG-15. Once the Boxer was loaded, they moved to the National City Pier 24 Marine Terminal for the second part of their mission. They are currently in the process of loading about 10 civilian-style cargo ships, which will take about a month to reach its destination and upon arrival, the cargo will be staged for pick-up by the owning units.
The unique part of MSSG-15’s mission is that they are working hand-in-hand with Army personnel and contracted civilians, Fowler said. Because the military is using a civilian shipping port, the Army's 834th Transportation Battalion is handling the port contracts and other installation arrangements. Part of the agreement to use the port is that the government must contract the civilian workers to assist with the loading, since they cannot work in their normal commercial role at the pier, he added.
Working with the civilians has mostly been a positive experience according to Fowler, but there have been some challenges. "The [primary challenge] was trying to find out responsibilities of Army, civilians and Marines."
He said the current load plan is scheduled to take until the middle of February to load all of the equipment, but "It’s all according to ships' schedules and how fast the union goes. We can only go at their speed." Fowler suspects the loading might take longer than expected.
There have also been some new experiences working with the Army, Fowler added. The Army is always in charge of port operations when working in a civilian port and they sometimes have a different way of operating. The MSSG Marines are carefully integrating their experience in force protection, equipment accountability and delegation of authority to accomplish the mission. The Marines have divided their workforce into three shifts that work nearly around the clock to ensure personnel are utilized to their full potential.
MSSG-15 has also teamed up with the Army to devise a good loading plan for the civilian ships. Everything must be loaded in the correct order to maximize the cargo space and facilitates an orderly offload. The equipment ranges from heavy lift vehicles to small trailers and containers, and it all must be loaded according to its height and size characteristics.
Soon, the Marines of CSSC-137 will leave MSSG-15 to assist deploying squadrons from Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar with their embark requirements. The Marine Corps is also using commercial shipping assets to transport aviation assets, Fowler said.
Besides this being hard work for the Marines, Fowler said they are learning new aspects of their jobs. "A lot of Marines came straight out of school and went straight to Iraq, and didn’t have a chance to do their [Military Occupational Specialty]. One of the biggest parts is port ops so this is another check in the box as far as training goes."
Corporal Torrey Mossing, a landing support specialist with MSSG-15 from Toledo, Ohio said that his experiences at the pier are fairly new to him. "It’s definitely been a learning experience for me." He said that he is still getting used to the way the Army refers to its senior staff non-commissioned officers as "sergeants."
In addition to his responsibilities as a landing support specialist, he has also been working directly with the guard force to ensure the safety of his Marines and the equipment.
One of Fowler's primary objectives from this experience is building his team’s cohesion. Later this year, he will deploy with his Marines and he wants to ensure his team is "tight" - ensuring unit cohesion. "This is also bringing a lot of our guys closer together because we’re getting to know each other better. It’s definitely helping," he added.