News: Land, sea, air the Army does it all
Story by Staff Sgt. Peter Berardi
KUWAIT NAVAL BASE, Kuwait - Cruising through the calm, vibrant blue waters of the Persian Gulf aboard the USAV Five Forks (LCU 2018) at close to 12 knots, the nearly 140 tons of two M1A2 Abrams tanks did not slow it down at all. The soldiers aboard the vessel were participating in a communication and logistics exercise.
The exercise involved soldiers and equipment from several units, including M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, AH-64D Apache helicopters from the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, the Five Forks from the 420th Movement Control Battalion and logistics support from the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
The goals of the exercise were to drive Abrams tanks directly onto the Five Forks and sail around the Persian Gulf while conducting multiple drills and cross-training for the soldiers aboard. Included in the training, was a communication portion involving Apache helicopters assisting the vessel with possible threats.
The main intent of the mission was logistics-in-motion and integrated Army watercraft, armor and aviation assets, working on communication and sustainability. “I think it was a great experience for all,” said Lt. Col. Jon Comis, a resident of Pittsburgh and the 316th mobility officer in charge. “The 3rd ABCT and 35th aviation integration and communication went really well. We also got some training with the vessel crew and tank crews.”
The exercise took more than two months of planning and coordination before it could even begin. The movement of the M1A2 Abrams tanks from Camp Buehring, Kuwait, to Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, ended with the tanks being loaded onto the Five Forks, the first time in more than seven years that tanks have been driven onto a boat in Kuwait, said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph D. Sherling, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 492nd Harbor Master Detachment.
In the heavy, humid night air of Oct. 23 at Kuwait Naval Base with the tide rolling in, the tanks arrived from Camp Buehring ready to be driven onto the deck of the Five Forks. “It’s what we call ro ro, or roll on roll off, and it’s to actually simulate a theater support to another beach,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Dempsey, a resident of Sabastian, Fla. and the assistant chief engineer of the vessel.
Loading the tanks at night provided a little more of a challenge, but things went smoothly for the soldiers of the 3rd ABCT. “It’s the first time any of us have ever done it,” explained 1st Lt. Jacob Glover, a native of Akron, Ohio and the tank platoon leader. “The opening of the boat leaves only a couple of feet on each side for the tank, but I have such experienced drivers and crew that they were able to get it in with no problems.”
With the water level rising from the tides, one of the Abrams drivers got a little wet getting his tank onto the Five Forks. “It was scary at first, cause I had to back up the ramp onto it and all of this water came up into the drivers hole,” explained Pfc. Andrew Meister, a native of Philadelphia. “But it went really smooth. I’ve never gotten to do anything like that before, it’s a good opportunity for any driver to get to do.”
Early the following morning, Oct. 24, the vessel was underway. The crew and the additional soldiers aboard were ready for the training to begin.
The crewmembers of the ship performed several drills. “The three more critical drills are man overboard, simulated with a dummy named Oscar, a fire drill and an abandon ship drill,” said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Gambea, a resident of San Antonio and mate of the vessel.
After the drills, there was an opportunity for cross-training. The tankers gave tours of the Abrams and taught the vessel crew about the tanks capabilities. “The cross training with the crew of the Five Forks has really been a wonderful, educational experience for my guys, and me” said Glover.
After nearly 10 hours aboard, with the sun dropping towards the horizon, the Apaches of the 35th arrived on station to conduct the communications portion of the exercise.
“Initially it was kind of hard to get an accurate position to the aircraft from the ship,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Honcik, a resident of Pittsburgh and the 3-159th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 35th CAB fire support non-commissioned officer. “But we worked through that, they got a good position and found us. I’d have to say it was a huge accomplishment on the aviation side for them to be able to come out identify us, find our exact location and be able to broaden the situational awareness of the vessel.”
The vessel crew also appreciated the experience of communicating directly with the Apaches. “The communication portion was really good,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Plummer, a resident of Elk Grove, Calif. and the vessel boatswain mate. “To talk to the aircraft, get them to go check out a target, ID [identify] if it’s hostile or not, deal with the situation and come report back, that was pretty cool.”
“It was great to get to see other perspectives,” said Honick. “It heightens your overall situational awareness of the entire scheme of maneuver and how everyone comes together. It was a huge success to get the cross level experience that can significantly improve everyone’s career.”