News: Contractors help ensure smooth sailing
Story by Cpl. Kyle N. Runnels
USS KEARSARGE, At Sea - In preparation for its upcoming deployment, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group are receiving assistance in readying themselves from the Deploying Group Systems Integration Testing team, while underway aboard the USS Kearsarge between January and February 2013.
“DGSIT is composed of contractors who come out and help us make sure all of our systems are working properly,” said Capt. Jared D. Blake, the 26th MEU’s assistant communication officer from Montevallo, Ala. “They come out with pretty much every MEU and help ensure all the systems are up to code. Anything on the ship – blue side or green side – they come out and fix it.”
The contractors specialize in five main areas: intelligence, operations, logistics, air and communications.
Each area is composed of smaller entities. They tend to possess prior military experience, giving them insight and ample firsthand knowledge on the systems employed on ship, as well as the circumstances they’ll be employed in.
“Most of these guys are retired master gunnery sergeants in their respective fields, so they can each bring over 25 years of experience, where, for most of the Marines working on the systems, this could be their first deployment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jim E. Gibson, a Hurley, Va., native, and joint task force enabler chief for the 26th MEU. “They bring a level of expertise that the MEU does not have. Each MEU, especially in the communication field, is allowed to have one master sergeant,” said Gibson. “He may have a data background or a radio background. He is good at his one job, but he doesn’t have the technical expertise of seven master gunnery sergeants, each from their own respective field.”
Blake added, “We are talking about a combination of hundreds of years of experience with particular systems.”
The contractors also have a familiarity with the process of figuring how and what to get anything that needs fixing dealt with, smoothly and efficiently, from personal knowledge of the manufacturers in their field.
“We do not have the contacts with all the vendors that they do. We are at the user level, and we need a sort of advocate for the MEU,” explained Blake.
The contractors are also filling the roles as instructors, as they pass their years of gathered knowledge onto the younger Marines.
Blake said they are being taught from experience; the contractors can pass on useful information that the Marines would never learn from their military occupational school.
At the end of the operation, the contractors had significant statistics and made an immeasurable impact on the systems aboard the ARG ships.
According to a brief by Darryl Davis, Marine Force Command, they provided more than 700 hours of operational mentoring to an estimated 100 ARG and 26th MEU personnel.
“Since most of them are retired military, they have a really good working relationship with Marines,” said Sgt. Elizabeth Russel, 26th MEU assistant radio chief and platoon sergeant from Albemarle, N.C. “I’ve learned a lot from them as far as different ways on how to troubleshoot gear and easier ways to do it. They also gave me the tools to contact certain individuals who would be higher than us in the civilian world, if we had any problems troubleshooting a piece of gear. We appreciate the contractors; their knowledge with everything is extremely helpful to all the Marines and sailors on ship.”
The 26th MEU is currently completing the final phase of a six-month pre-deployment training program, preparing for this year’s deployment.
The MEU is a task-organized, scalable MAGTF, serving as an expeditionary crisis response force operating from the sea, and capable of conducting amphibious operations across the full range of military operations.