Commander’s perspective

When the customer is everyone

When I go out to speak in front of groups ranging from the Propeller Club to the maritime unions, the word “customer” is part of almost every brief. MSC’s four strategic priorities are customer-focused. The ONE MSC realignment was aimed directly at providing more effective, more efficient service to our customers.

It’s pretty apparent that we strive to be on top of what our customers want, where they want it and when they want it.

 Multiple missions

When Fleet Forces Command wants CLF ships to keep a carrier strike group forward-deployed and ready in the Arabian Gulf, it’s easy to focus on, plan for and execute that mission. But we hardly ever get to focus on a single mission.

Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, observes an underway replenishment with USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) while aboard USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) in the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Kim E. Dixon/released)

Almost simultaneously, U.S. Transportation Command needs to move Army unit equipment from California to Europe. And the Marine Corps needs to restructure its afloat prepositioning program, which means reconfiguring the loads on the 15 Maritime Prepositioning Force ships. That means they need to come back to Jacksonville, Fla., and off-load.

The Oceanographer of the Navy needs an updated sea-bottom hydrographic survey of a harbor entrance the Navy uses all the time that was hit by a typhoon.

Meanwhile, new sea-bottom cables need laying, and there are some repairs to be made. And four decommissioned Navy ships have to be towed to sink exercises, while the Coast Guard has requested assistance locating and salvaging a wrecked aircraft off the coast of Maine.

The list goes on. The requests are constant. The services needed are wide-ranging. And the customers are, well, pretty much everyone in DOD and the federal government, and beyond.

 MSC focal point

The good news is that the focal point of all these requests is MSC, and we’ve been delivering for ALL our customers since 1949.

Everything we do has a joint or combined flavor to it. Our customers come in all sizes, from all the armed services in the DOD plus the Coast Guard, from elsewhere in the federal government and, with DOD and Department of State coordination, from other governments around the world. Fortunately, MSC operates more than 110 ships around the world every day and can access another 60 government-owned ships, plus as many commercial ships as needed to execute the mission. That makes our customers happy and keeps our planners as busy as our operators and maintainers. 

Worldwide execution

Last October, MSC-chartered cargo ship ITB Strong Mariner delivered more than 18,000 square feet of U.S. Marine Corps equipment and supplies to Subic Bay, Philippines for the Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise. Cargo included Humvees, trucks, fire trucks, ambulances, trailers and 90 shipping containers of supplies.

In October and November, oceanographic survey ship USNS Henson hosted members of the Indonesian navy in the Java Sea and Sunda Straits, surveying oceanographic and hydrographic information. This was one of the largest joint surveys done between our two countries’ naval forces. Indonesian surveyors were included in all parts of the mission, including data collection and processing.

In late December, U.S. Fleet Forces Command asked us if we could reconfigure an amphibious landing dock ship that was about to be decommissioned and make it ready to deploy as an afloat forward staging base (interim) in six months. Because of your expertise, we could. Today, CIVMARs and uniformed Navy personnel are crewing USS Ponce, which is deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. They’re supporting mine countermeasures and coastal patrol ships, and aircraft operations.

Building on a relationship first forged in 2005, U.S. Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One, Indian navy divers and the civil service mariner crew of MSC fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171) teamed up Feb. 8-17, 2012, for a bilateral, cross-cultural training exercise off the coast of Hawaii.

HSV 2 Swift, an MSC-chartered high-speed vessel, provided critical support to the U.S. Navy’s partnership mission in Africa this year in an ongoing international effort to improve regional maritime safety and security. The mission was Africa Partnership 2012.

In June, four U.S. Navy mine countermeasures ships arrived in Manama, Bahrain, aboard MSC-chartered float-on/float-off vessel MV Tern. The MCMs were transported from Los Angeles to support a U.S. Central Command request.

Each summer, MSC resupplies Thule Air Base, Greenland, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. When the ice thins to less than four feet on Baffin Bay, icebreakers can clear a path for an MSC-chartered dry cargo ship and a tanker to deliver the supplies needed by the base for a year. Thule is the northernmost of eight worldwide satellite tracking stations in the Air Force Satellite Control Network. This resupply mission began in 1952.

On July 17-18, the world’s eyes were on fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) as it delivered 900,000 gallons of a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels and traditional petroleum-based fuel to the USS Nimitz carrier strike group. MSC plays a role in the Navy’s environmental and energy programs.

Also in July, a recovery team comprised of civilian mariners aboard rescue and salvage ship USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53), along with divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two and specialists from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, conducted a joint recovery operation at an underwater site in Canada. During the month-long operation, team members searched the coast for five Americans lost when a PBY-5A aircraft crashed in November 1942 off the coast of Quebec.

Seventy CIVMARs and approximately 1,100 Navy, Army and non-governmental organization personnel aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 20) just finished Pacific Partnership 2012 in mid-September. Returning to San Diego after steaming more than 20,000 miles to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, the nearly five-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission resulted in medical treatment for nearly 50,000 people.

 MSC pride

It’s pretty apparent that we are involved with the maritime fabric of America and the world. Because we focus on our customers and constantly strive to improve our service, the Navy and DOD place more and more trust in our expertise and capabilities.

You and MSC are vital to America. Be proud. MSC delivers!

Safe sail and yours aye,

Mark H. Buzby                                                                                           Rear Admiral, USN                                                                            Commander, Military Sealift Command

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