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Waterborne Soldiers Volume 3: Force behind the Trident Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez

A bulldozer is used to make a duck pond, a water-filled ditch that will allow the pier to extend beyond the shore above the current sea level, before the Trident can attempt to ‘stab the beach’ during the preliminary stages of Joint Logistics-Over-the-Shore exercise Aug.17 at Fort Story.

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.


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Public Domain Mark
This work, Waterborne soldiers Volume 3: Force behind the Trident, by SGT Edwin Rodriguez, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:08.17.2012

Date Posted:08.29.2012 20:51

Location:FORT STORY, VA, USGlobe

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  • Your average story about a U.S.- Afghan partnership involves a foot patrol with the infantry through some dangerous territory.  

Because of the terrain in eastern Afghanistan, helicopters are critical for troop and supply transportation. When Americans head home, we’ll take our air support with us, leaving Afghan forces to continue the aerial mission themselves.

This partnership isn’t about guts-and-glory battles with the Taliban, but about battles that won’t take place once the United States is gone unless the country’s helicopter maintenance programs progress to self-sufficiency.

The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade hasn’t had much opportunity to partner with Afghan forces.  U.S. Army Lt. Col. Darryl Gerow, 122nd Aviation Support Battalion commander, a former special operations pilot and 160th SOAR company commander, sought colleagues working with federal police forces who frequently use helicopters to see what he could do to improve Afghan aviation assets.

“They have helicopters that need to be fixed, and we have helicopters that need to be fixed, so we thought ‘let’s put a program together, see if they’re receptive to it, and make something more enduring,’” said Gerow, a Middletown, N.Y. native.  

They partnered with the Afghan Special Missions Wing, formerly known as the Air Interdiction Unit, a special federal police unit operating under the Ministry of the Interior.  

“This is day one of what we hope to be an enduring process, going forward and partnering with Afghan helicopter maintainers.”

According to a May 13, 2010 Air Force news article, the SMW is a U.S. Army-mentored counternarcotics aviation unit stationed at Kabul International Airport, which provides support to a variety of ground units with its fleet of Mi-17 helicopters. The Afghan-only Mi-17 crews regularly conduct training and operational missions in support of the MOI, the Afghan National Police and other counternarcotics forces around Afghanistan.
  
The U.S. Army’s 122nd ASB provides mechanic support to the 82nd CAB’s nearly 200 airframes, tearing apart and reassembling helicopters in record time to maintain a constant aviation presence over the Regional Command-East battlefield.  

Afghan maintainers currently operate under an old Soviet maintenance model, which means “everyone does everything.”  They lack the specialized shops Americans use- a system which allows each section to focus knowledge on a specific piece of the aircraft, coming together to accomplish the large project much faster.

“One of the things we show them is how we set up our shops, our maintenance, our avionics, and our production control to give them that exposure,” said Gerow.  “The other thing it gets them is exposure to just tools, processes, how we work, and how they might be able to adapt that to their own aircraft.”

Americans and Afghans swarm a U.S.-built CH-47 Chinook.  The aircraft is different from the Russian-made Mi-17 the Afghans operate, but they catch on quickly.

“We showed them the engine, then we went for a break, and when we came back they were already on the other one, and they were doing a pretty good job, said U.S. Army Spc. Israel Vela, of Houston, Texas. “Basically, we just supervised them from that point on.  They catch on quick. They kept on saying it was too easy. They could probably fix anything.”

“Even though they’re different aircraft, sheet metal is sheet metal, avionics are avionics, hydraulics are hydraulics,” said Gerow.  “So they might be different airframes, but what makes a helicopter fly is all the same.”

The hope is Afghan maintainers can take back some of the safety measures they learn on the aircraft and apply it to their own equipment.

“We came here to learn new techniques,” said Afghan Lt. Col. Abdulsatar Noori, the SMW maintenance unit commander, via a translator.  “We haven’t seen anything like this before, so we’re trying to learn a new way of doing things.”

In the hydraulics shop, Noori learns to make a hydraulic line, then test it under 3,000 pounds of pressure to check his work.  As U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Carr, of Pensacola, Fla., shows the senior commander the process, the group looks impressed.  They talk excitedly between one another, pointing first at the testing bench, then the hydraulic line in Carr’s hand.  The impression is they may have just solved a problem in their own shop.

“What we learn here, absolutely, we can use these things,” said Noori.  “This is what we hope to use in the future.  We can think, ‘O.K., we’ve done this before’ when we take it over there.  We learn new ways of doing things, and we can apply them because the basic techniques are similar.”

Beyond technical knowledge, both the Afghans and Americans enjoy working with and meeting each other.  They were a bit weary of each other early in the morning, but by lunch time, troops from both countries are working side-by-side.

“It was fun teaching and I like to learn,” said Vela. “It’s a two-way street.  These guys have 20 or 30 years of experience.  It’s actually a little intimidating.  I’m only two years in the making.  They learn, I learn, they teach, I’ll teach, and everyone benefits.”

For the 122nd’s Afghan partners, the opportunity is a point of pride to show off their knowledge and learn to apply their skills in new ways.

“If I work here for one more day, I don’t need any more help; I can install an remove an engine on a Chinook aircraft easily,” said Afghan Sgt. Said Igball, an SMW mechanic.  “Next time I want to work on removing and installing rotor blades, work on transmissions, and go deeper and learn more about this aircraft.  It is all so interesting.”

The hope is to continue the program, establishing a training schedule and milestones, then pass it off to the 101st CAB when the 82nd leaves in about three months.  

“My goal is to get the ball rolling on an initial partnership program, and turn the blueprint over to the 101st when they hit the ground,” said Gerow.  “Right from day one, they’ll have nine months to make a more enduring program, process, educational tools, and partnership effort.”

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