News: Waterborne soldiers Volume 3: Force behind the Trident
Story by Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez
FORT STORY, Virginia - No man or beast can control the sea, but according to Greek mythology thousands of years ago, only a God can and his name was Poseidon.
Poseidon ruled the ocean and was worshiped because he controlled the mighty sea leaving sailors wondering if today will either be a safe or destructive end, often depended upon his mood. He used a large and possibly impenetrable tool which gave him the ability to command the oceans at will.
Fast forward to the year 2012 to Fort Eustis’ 3rd Port where you will find the Army’s only causeway unit, who manages a mobile, constructable tool able to withstand the power of the ocean. When waters are serene, the tool can resemble the peaceful nature Poseidon is said to possess. The causeway company’s tool is fittingly named the Trident.
The Trident pier is maintained by the 331st Transport Company, “Causeway or No Way”, 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade. The Roll-On/Roll-Off Discharge Facility pier conducts missions that are respected as the most dangerous in the watercraft field. It takes every ounce of muscle and sweat from the approximately 100 Soldiers assigned to the company to assemble the 1,200-foot pier. The highly anticipated Joint Logistics-Over-the-Shore exercise held this summer at Fort Story, Va. showcased the Trident pier and the strength of the troops involved.
When you arrive to the beaches of Fort Story during the preliminary exercises of JLOTS, one phrase you hear constantly is “the pier stabbing is tomorrow.” The stabbing of the beach is the culminating event for the Trident. Two hundred and seventy pieces of steel and compressed air are put together in the shape of a trident which will then be slammed into the beach at Fort Story. The reason for the shape is to better make use of its roll on/roll off capabilities, said 11th Transportation Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Karl Linderman. The middle of the three point ‘spear’ is used for larger vessels to unload the larger equipment and vehicles. The pier is now less than 48 hours from the ‘stabbing of the beach.’
The ride from the beach to Steamship Cape May, one of three Maritime Administration cargo ships manned by the Military Sealift Command, is a short one made possible via small boat by the Navy’s Maritime Prepositioning Force. The multiple-ton sections of the Trident were being held on the SS Cape May approximately a nautical mile off the coast. The only way inside the ship was going up a rope ladder in on the starboard side.
Inside the massive vessel, soldiers and civilians were working together to unlatch chains and locks that held the pier sections on the lower decks of the vessel. The look of perseverance was on the face of every soldier assigned that day to the Cape May.
“With about 38 personnel, we started the mission at about 7:00 a.m. It is amazing but not surprising to see how motivated these soldiers are. They did so well that we are ahead of schedule,” said Sgt. 1st Class Segun Ayodele, senior stevedore for the 149th Seaport Operations Company, 10th Transportation. “We broke the pieces down and pushed them back on the Cape May’s stern elevator which lowered them down for the warping tugs to transport.”
A few of hours later each section was unlatched, beginning the fun part of dropping pier sections into the ocean. The warping tug crew is beginning to bake in the midday sun as they slowly make their way to the stern of the Cape Way. At the same time a few hundred feet away, the first sections are being put together. A few seconds later the nearby warping tug is ready to winch up the next two sections.
Each of the pieces is being held by a cable line which can pull thousands of pounds through any rough part of the ocean. Pfc. Brian Green, watercraft specialist with the 331st Trans. Company and a well versed Solider in the art of the causeway, gives details on the construction of the Trident.
“It’s probably going to take a few hours to complete the pier because of the sea. It is a little choppy and a lot of hard work right now, but we are putting them together with guillotines and hooks moving it as safely as possible,” said Green. “The crew does make it easy because it is a big confidence boost working with people you trust.”
Green gives you the impression that while it is dubbed the toughest job in the watercraft field, the crew makes the handy work appear nonchalant. He seems to display confidence mirroring the peers and seniors in his company.
“The command demands that camaraderie be a big part of the unit. When we all get along you almost forget that its work,” said Green. “Causeway is the hardest job because everything is manual labor. We take all the pieces apart, in and out of water, we repair them, and rebuild all off shore. And with all the solid steel bumping each other all the time accidents happen so you have to be careful.”
A complete pier can withstand waves of up to five feet, said Linderman. Strong, almost metallic, rubber pieces attached to the pier called flexors, allow the pier to ‘flex’ up and down, in and out allowing it to ride the sea waves. It can hold any large vehicle in the Army to include tracked vehicles. So much is dependent upon the Trident to be complete, said Linderman.
“When complete we can use it to off load engineer equipment, graders, bulldozers, Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT), Humvees, Navy vehicles too. In Haiti, where the pier was partially destroyed, we setup adjacent to the pier helped move thousands and thousands of pounds of food, water, medical supplies, vehicles and other items to sustain the country,” said Linderman. “With JLOTS we get some real good training and good team work is found everywhere.”
The Trident can take a beating according to Linderman. While up close and personal with the crew you can feel the camaraderie. It makes you want to trade a patrol cap for a hard hat, find some gloves, and start working. It is an invigorating experience to see men and women working side by side, looking out for each other because they care for one another. Whoever I spoke with told me they wanted to be here and nowhere else.
“You got to be rough and tough and ready to work hard. My favorite part is putting together sections mostly because we are the only soldiers in the Army that do this,” said Cpl. Justin Soucy, a watercraft specialist with the company.
“Best thing about causeway is the hard work and the people. It takes dedication to the unit to do this job. It is hard and dangerous work but only the dedicated stay on,” said Spc. Michael Ray, an assistant Coxswain who has been helping guide the warping tugs, whom have two engines to go lateral, front and back, guide the sections in place.
The next day is more anxious then the one previous. It is 4:30 p.m. and the crowd stands on the shore while three bulldozers maul the beach, pushing and pulling sand, creating a makeshift duck pond. The water-filled pond will allow the pier to extend beyond the shore above the current sea level. It seems to be a large operation for this one moment, even at the beginning stage of JLOTS, which makes you wonder what so important about the Trident?
“This is like our Super Bowl for us. This is the years’ biggest event and this is how we show how important we are to the Army,” said 331st Trans. Co. commander Capt. Christina Shelton. “A perfect example was our recent mission to Antarctica assisting the National Science Foundation. Their ice pier which can usually handle the offloading of trucks, containers, heavy equipment and supplies wasn’t capable this year. We were a great candidate because compared to civilian sea operations and the Navy we are very mobile and able to travel around the world by rail, air, and sea. We had a month to prepare then we headed out the door.”
The pond has been broken setting the stage for the Trident to makes its initial stab. It takes four Landing Craft Mechanized boats to tow the pier in the correct position. The waves were splashing around, dolphins which can be seen in the late evening ocean are moving away as fast they can, when finally, crash! The pier has made the stab! If this was a real world mission, the stabbing would have been called a success. Col Lawrence Kominiak, 7th Sus. Bde. commander, was on hand for the successful attempt.
During JLOTS, the Trident crews worked 12 hour shifts. After the pier heavily pierced the beach, the crews moved across the beach with ease making their way to the buses that will take them home for a much needed break. Then the relief moves on deck knowing the Trident is properly constructed, giving them safe passage along the Atlantic Coast.
The Trident, as in Greek mythology, holds strong and true wielding its strength, flowing easily through the water like a bird in the sky. When devastation occurs on beaches and coasts around the world and a helping hand is in need, the Trident moves into action and gives a sense of ease just the touch of its mighty spear.