News: Rime of the Army Mariner, Waterborne soldiers accomplish missions on high seas
Story by Sgt. Scott Akanewich
TOKYO – On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, at approximately 2:28 p.m. local time, a magnitude-nine earthquake rumbled roughly 40 miles off the Pacific coast of Japan, creating a tsunami with walls of water in excess of 130 feet striking as far as six miles inland. The devastation resulted in more than 15,000 dead and caused a meltdown in three reactors at a nuclear plant in the city of Fukushima. Thousands of displaced residents were left stranded without electricity and basic supplies such as food and water for days.
Since the disaster, the Japanese government has shown understandable concern over contingency plans should another such incident take place.
As a result, Operation Pacific Response was held Feb. 3, which was a joint effort coordinated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and involved participation from the Army, Navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japan Coast Guard.
At the forefront of this exercise stood Army Reserve Soldiers of the 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat), 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, based out of Vallejo, Calif., which manned the United States Army Vessel Fort McHenry. As part of the Army’s marine force, they serve as Soldier-Mariners aboard the vessel. When they arrived in country, they immediately began preparing the watercraft for action, a simulated evacuation operation in Tokyo Bay.
According to Staff Sgt. David Sublett, 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat), boatswain, most people are surprised when they see a ship manned with soldiers.
“Nobody ever thinks about boats when it comes to the Army,” said Sublett, an 18-year veteran as an Army mariner. “When, in fact, Army boats have been here since the beginning.”
Sublett pointed out the differences between how the Army and Navy operate while underway.
“As an Army mariner, you do much more than a sailor in the Navy,” he said. “While the Navy has separate crews for every function on a ship due to the much larger crew one of their vessels has, our crews are relatively small in comparison. What this means is Soldiers on a boat, be they deckhands or engineers, are required to cross over and be more well-rounded in all aspects of what we do.”
Along with creating a more efficient crew, this also promotes a higher level of camaraderie amongst everyone on board, said Sublett.
“This creates the kind of cohesion you won’t find in many other military occupational specialties,” he said.
As a result, becoming an Army mariner is one of the more challenging jobs throughout the entire Army, said Sublett.
“In my opinion, the only MOSs that are as difficult to grasp are perhaps military intelligence and linguist,” he said.
On this day in the Land of the Rising Sun, the mission of the crew of the Fort McHenry sailed from Yokohama North Dock to Tokyo Bay to pick up “refugees” in a simulated rescue mission to show the capabilities the Army has as a rapid responder to evacuate those in need during a time of crisis.
Landing Craft Utilities are capable of transporting as many as 250 people on the deck, delivering them from danger. Although they were not called upon to aid in the evacuation efforts during Operation Tomodachi, they were on call, ready to move out at a moment’s notice.
Having a fleet of vessels capable of carrying out missions such as this are critical to the Army, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tony Moschella, 481st Trans. Company, vessel master.
“For the Army to have organic water transportation capabilities is important because two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered by water and when there is a critical route to be navigated that is too small for a naval vessel, we can get in there and re-supply troops or carry out any other missions such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief,” said Moschella. “It’s also a lot less expensive than using air assets.”
At the beginning of the operation in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, the McHenry sailed from Yokohama Bay on its 2 ½-hour voyage to Tokyo, arriving on time and picking up officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for their sealift back to Yokohama.
After arriving at the dock in downtown Tokyo, the gangplank was lowered and the crew met with their passengers for the day, along with a swath of media that had gathered for the event, before Moschella, along with Lt. Col. Gregory Bunn, commander of the 836th Transportation Battalion at Yokohama North Dock, held court with those in attendance.
“There is such a close tie between the U.S and Japan, that when many of us heard about the earthquake and tsunami, we all wanted to rush out and come here to help and provide whatever assistance we could,” said Moschella. “The Department of Defense wants to be able to demonstrate that we can use the assets located here to help the Japanese people.”
Moschella also talked about the capabilities of his vessel.
“We will demonstrate how many passengers the LCU can carry, how we can pick passengers up and show the craft’s unique abilities, such as going into shallow waters," said Moschella. “During a tsunami, the water level will have a lot of debris, but we can push our way through that debris to get to people and get them onboard so we can take them to safety.”
Bunn spoke of strengthening the ties between the U.S. and its allies in the region through exercises such as Pacific Response.
“Every opportunity we get as an Army to participate in an exercise with bilateral partners or any other partners throughout the Pacific is a fantastic training opportunity - not only for us, but also for different agencies from the government of Japan that would respond to any type of scenario that is going on,” said Bunn. “It demonstrates our capabilities, it demonstrates the existing capabilities of the government of Japan and it allows us to see how we can best respond by combining our collective effort when we respond to any sort of humanitarian crisis.”
After the assembled masses had boarded the McHenry, the crew untied the ropes securing the boat to the dock and began the return trip to Yokohama. It wasn’t long before the crew, passengers and media began mingling on the deck during the smooth sail back to “safety.”
Despite the language barrier existing between the crew and the Japanese contingent, there was a feeling of goodwill as the McHenry cut through the choppy waters.
Of course, no waterborne vessel can run without the men behind the machines and Army boats are no exception. The engineers of the 481st remain below the decks in the engine room, ensuring the boat’s myriad mechanical devices and machinery that make the vessel mission-ready and combat-effective run efficiently and effectively. Down here, the sounds and smells of the sea are replaced by the deafening din of the engines and stench of diesel fumes that constantly fill the air.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Salata, the crew’s senior engineer, has been a “boatie” for 10 years and is accustomed to dealing with the various problems that arise in this environment.
“Generally, electrical issues are what we deal with most often,” said Salata. “There are a lot of components involved which are pretty frail.”
This is when the fun begins for Salata, he said.
“I like electricity,” said Salata. “So, when something goes wrong, to a degree it can be enjoyable to figure out the problem and how to fix it.”
Ironically, Salata became an Army mariner after passing on joining the Navy.
“I always knew I was going to be in the military,” he said. “But, I didn’t want to be out on the water. Yet, here I am now in the Army’s navy, instead.”
Sublett summed up the mission of the Army mariner rather succinctly.
“Not everybody can do this job,” he said. “It’s very demanding, but we put our hearts and souls into it because it’s our lifeblood.”
Once the McHenry arrived safely back in Yokohama, the mission a success, there was a feeling of brotherhood amongst all involved and a sense of security that if another disaster of such proportions were to occur, the involved parties were properly equipped to handle it.
“We really appreciate the U.S. Army doing this disaster-relief exercise,” said Akinori Muramatsu, senior director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Disaster Prevention Bureau. “We think that it is essential to have measures in place to support stranded commuters promptly after any type of disaster. This is sixth time for us to have a bilateral disaster-relief exercise that included a sealift coordinated between the Japanese government and U.S. military forces. We would like to make a strong effort to continue having training like this.”
Moschella summed up the entire operation.
“The feedback we got from the passengers was great,” he said. “They were happy with the comfort and safety provided by the ship. Within 16 hours of arrival, we were able to get the vessel out and running, so it was a good demonstration of the flexibility of the Army Reserve as an operational organization in the watercraft field.”
This work, Rime of the Army Mariner, Waterborne soldiers accomplish missions on high seas, by SGT Scott Akanewich, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.