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NAVCHAPGRU and MSC Team Up to Backload Equipment From Iraq

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS030722-02

Release Date: 7/22/2003 9:11:00 AM

By Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Veronica Birmingham, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander 5th Fleet Public Affairs

PORT SHUEIBA, Kuwait (NNS) -- As combat operations in Iraq drew to a close in May, military leaders were already planning how to withdraw the enormous amount of equipment and material taken into the war zone.

Recently, military units began blazing a trail from Baghdad, down through the Euphrates Valley into Port Shueiba, Kuwait, with thousands of wheeled vehicles, trailers, tanks, steel bridges, bulldozers and general cargo, in a combined military effort to backload equipment out of Iraq.

Like the longhorn wranglers of the Old West, the men and women of the U.S. Navy Cargo Handling and Port Group (NAVCHAPGRU) began corralling the mammoth metal beasts into a 950-foot floating pen known as USNS Charlton (T-AKR 314).

Even though team members work steady eight hour shifts under the scorching Kuwaiti sun, their resolve is apparent.

"The heat here is intense all the time," said Storekeeper 1st Class (SW) Darl Cord Jr., "but we keep plugging away, because we know the job has to get done." Beyond Cord's sun-bleached eyelashes in his sun-shot eyes brewed a pride and self-respect that showed clearly.

"At times it's hard to see the overall effort, but when we see the Marine's equipment all beat up and riddled with bullet holes, we realize there is a bigger event going on besides what we are doing," said Cord, while kneading his hands, toughened from the effects of rearing and roping a 35-ton tank. "Our little niche we have of loading equipment on this ship fits into the Navy's overall mission in a very vital way. What we do needs to be done in a timely manner. It's small, but it's important."

His job doesn't end with a hard day's labor. At NAVCHAPGRU's homeport in Williamsburg, Va., he is the leading petty officer for the Curriculum Inspectional Standards Office. He is in charge of instructing active-duty and naval Reserve members of the battalion to become master training specialists. Along with that responsibility, he is also the Master Training Specialist program coordinator.

"We are effective at what we do, because we are highly trained," Cord said.

Their expertise was needed all over the world. Before arriving in Kuwait in December, NAVCHAPGRU provided logistics support during the annual resupply of the National Science Foundation facility in Antarctica.

"I went from absolute cold to absolute heat in the same year," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (AW) Robert Smith. Smith is the hatch team's primary crane operator, and he operates Charlton's twin 110-ton, single pedestal cranes. He explained that operating a crane is not like operating a forklift. "If you ever used an etch-a-sketch and tried to draw a line at an angle. operating a crane is kind of like that," said Smith.

Neatly organized equipment, like pieces of a puzzle, sat patiently on blistering hot asphalt waiting for the loadmaster to find their rightful place. Forty-foot long CON-EX boxes define the yard, securing a ship-side boundary. From his pod in the crane overlooking the expanse of the yard, Smith gently reared the weary beasts of war into the hull of the ship, where they were met by NAVCHAPGRU Sailors with lashing equipment who secured them to the deckplates of the ship.

Charlton is one of 20 Large, Medium Speed RO/ROs (LMSR), commonly referred to as roll-on/roll-off ships, operated by Military Sealift Command. When not transporting military equipment and supplies, the ship is prepositioned with U.S. military combat equipment on Diego Garcia. Twenty-nine merchant mariners make up her crew.

"I've been particularly pleased with how well members of NAVCHAPGRU have been working with the crews of the MSC ships, especially the Charlton," said Capt. Tony Heimer, commander, Afloat Prepositioning Ships Squadron 4. "The active-duty members are a great group of people, working their tails off. Of course, the merchant mariners on Charlton are an impeccable group who have risen to the occasion, making the back load process smooth."

Three hatch teams, working in eight-hour shifts around the clock, can fully load an LMSR's 394,000 square feet of cargo stowage area in about four days. In order to help complete the mission on time, NAVCHAPGRU personnel lived aboard the ship.

"It was much better to stay on the ship, because we didn't have to waste a lot of time getting to work," said Seaman Apprentice Joann Sanchez. "I'll miss this ship a lot. The ship is comfortable, and the crew are real nice. I am looking forward to working on loading another USNS ship after this one."

NAVCHAPGRU is homeported in Williamsburg, Va. The active-duty unit consists of 266 combat stevedores. They are an expeditionary unit that deploys worldwide in support of maritime cargo operations. They have the secondary mission of training the 12 Naval Reserve cargo handling training battalions. The unit is divided into independent mission detachments, each one fully capable of deploying as a self-sustaining unit anywhere in the world. NAVCHAPGRU pools members from the Navy community to form a well-rounded unit. Hospital corpsmen, storekeepers and boatswain's mates are just a few of the Sailor's who make up this unique community. Currently, NAVCHAPGRU is forward-deployed to the Arabian Gulf as part of the naval support element in the Central Command area of responsibility.

"We are one of a kind-- NAVCHAPGRU is the only active duty cargo handling battalion in the Navy," said Cord.

With Charlton safely loaded, they knew it would not be long before it got underway. Like the cattle wranglers of the Old West, the equipment wrangler's of NAVCHAPGRU basked in the satisfaction of another 96-hour evolution under their belts.

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