USNS Mendonca and JLOTS in Alaska

The following blog is by Exercise Branch Chief Linda Shepard, Military Sealift Command.

In recent years, we’ve seen the destruction natural disasters can wreak on coastal areas, from the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan to the massive typhoon that hit the Philippines last November.

Earlier this month, Military Sealift Command completed practicing for just such an event with other military and civilian organizations in the cold Alaskan environment.

MSC provided several hundred personnel and USNS Mendonca (T-AKR 303) to join U.S. Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 14 exercise March 27 to April 2.

USNS Mendonca (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

USNS Mendonca (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

The exercise played a part in a larger series of 14 linked disaster-response exercises, based on a major Alaskan earthquake in 1964. With the state of Alaska simulating the earthquake crisis, emergency response teams from local authorities, the Alaska’s National Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency all worked to respond to the disaster scenario. 

Through U.S. Transportation Command and its components, including MSC, a Joint Task Force – Port Opening Joint Assessment Team deployed to assess the severely damaged port of Anchorage. As part of this team, MSC Seattle port representative Bruce Leach helped conduct the “assessment” of the port.

Afterward, Mendonca performed a Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore exercise, which moved supplies for the simulated victims of the earthquake, and responders who needed equipment and tools to help the clean-up process. JLOTS exercises, sponsored annually by U.S. Transportation Command, are designed to demonstrate the real-world capabilities of our military to transport supplies to shore from ships at sea, even when a port is damaged or nonexistent.

Cargo is loaded aboard an Army watercraft for transport to shore. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

 Cargo is loaded on board the Army’s SSGT Robert T. Kuroda (LSV-7) for transport to shore. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

This particular JLOTS served as a proof-of-concept opportunity for the exercise, to assess the ability to conduct cargo operations in cold-weather conditions, including ice-laden waters. Mendonca is modified to withstand the icy conditions it encountered in Alaska; simply put, when it takes in surrounding water to help cool the ship, the cooling system won’t freeze up.

 “The extreme tides, strong currents and floating ice made a big challenge even bigger. The key players from all the services pulled together and made the near-impossible [seem] routine.” – Capt. Michael Wachter, master, USNS Mendonca

Leach helped to coordinate the JLOTS operations, along with Reserve personnel from MSC’s Expeditionary Port Units 116 and 117. EPUs are highly mobile units which can quickly deploy to a contingency operation, establish port operations and manage the arrivals and departures of cargo ships in port. Coordinating with Army counterparts from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), personnel from the EPUs worked ashore to support the JLOTS commander, and aboard Mendonca to liaise for the ship’s master during load and offload operations.

 “Working closely with the Army in a joint environment was an invaluable experience for our team and it was a great opportunity to illustrate MSC’s capability to support an operation of that type and complexity.” – Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Hobbs, EPU 117’s executive officer

 “The [watercraft] drivers got very proficient operating in an ice and strong current environment by the end of the exercise.” – Bruce Leach, MSC Seattle port representative

 

Mendonca lowers one of two U.S. Army tugs it carried to Alaska. The tugs assisted the docking of larger watercraft, and transported personnel from Mendonca. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

Mendonca lowers one of two U.S. Army tugs it carried to Alaska. The tugs assisted the docking of larger watercraft, and transported personnel from Mendonca. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Michael Wachter)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska. (March 27, 2014) Sailors assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 lift the U.S. Army's small tug Scholarie (ST 905) from USNS Medonca (T-AKR 303) during Alaska Shield 2014 as part of Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore operations (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Mumbali G. Ngwa/Released)

Sailors assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 lift the U.S. Army’s small tug Scholarie (ST 905) from USNS Medonca (T-AKR 303) during Alaska Shield 2014 as part of Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore operations (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Mumbali G. Ngwa/Released)

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Hobbs)

 (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Hobbs)

 

 

 

 

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