AT SEA --
An entire company of Marines squeeze through the tight hallways of the USS Essex (LHD 2) wearing their flaks and Kevlars, carrying their weapons along with packs filled with everything they need to sustain them for a few days in the field.
As they walk into the hanger bay, cones are lined up telling the Marines exactly where they need to be. They stage their gear in their designated place and wait to make their movement off of the boat.
A few hours later, a new set of cones will be placed in the hanger bay along with another group of personnel departing the ship.
During the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s pre-deployment workups, hundreds of personnel arrive and depart the ship every day. No matter where they are going or whether it’s by landing craft, air cushion, landing craft utility, or an MV-22B Osprey, each person is accounted for and manifested by combat cargo. They make sure everything and everyone is where it needs to be so the MEU can be combat ready.
Gunnery Sgt. Frankie Torres, a combat cargo assistant on the USS Essex, explained what exactly combat cargo does, and why it is essential to each movement aboard ship.
“In order for Marines to go ashore, they have to go through combat cargo,” Torres said. “Whether is an amphibious landing out of the well deck or from the flight deck, they go through us.”
They are accountable for everything and everyone coming on and leaving the ship.
“Whether it’s a civilian contractor, Navy or Marine Corps, we have to manifest everyone. We are responsible for accountability and report to the ship and the MEU to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Torres said.
Combat cargo’s work day can start and end at any hour of the day. When there are amphibious assaults, vertical raids, vessel, board, search and seizure missions, or simply personnel moving from one ship to another, they are playing a part in the movement.
“I have a finger in everything that’s going on operations wise,” Torres said. “Nothing happens unless we’re involved.”
Combat cargo musters everyone and has them stage to keep them updated on what is going on either on the flight deck or in the well deck.
“Word changes regularly,” Torres said. “I always know the latest information and I get to pass along that information to the Marines on the ramp, hanger bay or wherever they’re staged to get off the ship.”
They get the Marines accounted for, get them a manifest and on the ramp, staged and ready to load up and leave. When they take off, combat cargo moves onto the next wave of people they are receiving or sending out.
Combat cargo brings organization to busy days of moving personnel and gear. Lance Cpl. Arabia Thomas, a combat cargo Marine aboard the USS Essex explained how essential that organization is to the mission.
“When we set up our LCACs and our flights, we have manifests for everything,” Thomas said. “We have every name of every Marine, Sailor or civilian that’s leaving the ship. We make sure they’re accounted for and good to go so we can get them where they need to be.”
Each unit in the MEU gave up some of their Marines to combat cargo to ensure the ship keeps running smoothly while they are embarked. These Marines come from different fields and are assigned to the ship to take on the job of tracking each individual coming and leaving the ship.
“I think it’s really unique,” Torres said. “There are so many Marines and they all have different [military occupational specialties]. Some are communications, a lot come from the [aviation combat element] or some are actually infantrymen. It’s really cool that we have a little bit of everybody. It makes us really diverse.”
Having so many different types of Marines helps them learn new things, bring in different perspectives and use different methods to complete a task.
“Everybody working together with different MOS’s just gets the job done faster,” Thomas said. “Just the overall knowledge of everyone … For example a Humvee was locked and even a [motor transportation technician] couldn’t find out how to open it, but a grunt figured out how to get in. Just the different mindset; everyone comes from different sections and backgrounds and it helps us get the job done.”
The combat cargo Marines will continue working hard throughout the MEU’s workups and deployment. Their job is essential each day as passengers, mail and cargo come onto and leave the ship. With their help, the MEU will stay combat ready and well-prepared for anything that they may encounter.