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The Army Watercraft Returns

June 8, 2011

By Sgt. Robert T. Wagner

UMM QASR, Iraq - Gen. Douglas MacArthur said upon leaving the Philippine Islands during World War II, “I shall return,” and true to his word, he did just that. On May 10, 2011, an Army watercraft, in the spirit of this legendary saying, returned to Iraq for the first time in eight years. 2003 was the last year a United States Army Vessel had received cargo from Iraq, but in a joint effort between U.S. Army Central Command and U.S. Navy Central Command, they reestablished a foothold for Army watercraft in the Iraqi navy’s port in Umm-Qasr, Iraq.

The Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 2018, Five Forks, crewed by the 709th Transportation Detachment and led by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Franky Caraska, departed Kuwait Naval Base on May 10, 2011, to receive cargo and assist with a U.S. Naval dive operation in Iraq. As far as the selection, this crew was the clear choice for this endeavor. The crew of the 709th has continued to set the benchmark for excellence in not only maritime navigation, but being a crew of well-disciplined and professionally minded Soldiers who are always willing to take on new challenges and explore new territories. As Caraska put it, “the 709th has a reputation of accomplishing missions that others said couldn’t have been done.” If you look at their track record, you will see this is no simple boast as they were the first Army Vessel to discharge cargo in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Staff Sgt. Dawn Bayer, Boatswain of the Five Forks, whose last deployment was in 2002 aboard the Logistic Support Vessel 4, also noted a significant change in not only the deployment environment, but also an increase in operations tempo for the vessels since she returned.

On May 21, Staff Sgt. Christopher Baldwin, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge of the 393rd Transportation Harbormaster Operations Detachment, arrived in Umm Qasr to check on the mission progress of the Five Forks and to check on the feasibility of future missions. When he arrived to the vessel, there was an overwhelming sense of espirit de corps of the crew, as well as overall pride among them for reestablishing cargo operations in a port that is a viable resource to the U.S. and Iraq. The importance of the mission this time was not only the movement of cargo and assisting in dive operations, but also to prove the ability of the Army vessels to be able to receive and discharge cargo from this slightly damaged and unimproved port. The benefits to the Army of assisting in port cargo operations in Iraq not only supports Soldiers, but strengthens the partnership with the Iraqis during the Responsible Drawdown mission.

As U.S. Army Mariners often refer to themselves as the best kept secret in the Army, the return to Iraq has made it apparent that the secret is out. It has often been asked, “what benefit do the boats supply the United States Army?” When the LCU 2018 departed Umm Qasr, Iraq, Caraska and crew answered that question: Army watercraft provide efficient, cost-effective logistical support on the water that would either be overwhelmingly, time consuming or financially burdensome to the U.S. government by other means. In the same spirit as Gen. MacArthur’s “I shall return,” the stern light of the Five Forks shown on its voyage back to Kuwait Naval Base enabled her crew to add to the general’s pledge by saying, “I shall return again.”

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