Faces of MSC: Perspectives from the “Desert Cat”

Fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 68) has been forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet for the past 14 years, providing missions as diverse as support for training Iraqi security forces. Other missions range from conducting towing, salvage and rescue operations to serving as a platform for Navy divers, or transporting cargo.

Catawba’s story is as diverse as the civil service mariners and Navy personnel who crew the ship. This is the first blog post in a two-part series where CIVMARs give their perspectives from the “Desert Cat.” Stay tuned for more from Catawba’s crew!

INDIAN OCEAN (Nov. 11, 2008) The Military Sealift Command fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) conducts a personnel transfer with the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) using a rigid hull inflatable boat. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/Released)

Solomon Tadesie

Able Bodied Seaman Watch Solomon Tadesie: I love the tug and the experience of being on the tug. I maintain the tow gear locker – towing chains, shackles, it’s all in there. I have to do this every day because sometimes we have four hours to be ready for any towing mission. In four hours, we have to decide what type of towing line to use – such as a 10-inch or 14-inch – and then get it out and thread it on towing line. It depends on how heavy the ship is. The last time we had a four-hour notice tow, it was 4:00 p.m. One job I remember was pre-planned, but we had two days time to get there. Most of the time, we don’t know when we’ll be needed, but whenever they need us, the master calls and says, “We have mission; everyone do this and do that.” The chief mate gets the orders to us, tells us what line to put up, and we get the line set up, hooked up, and ready, along with the messenger line. When we get to the ship we’re towing, we just hook up and go.

Chief Steward Robert Prades: I reported here Aug. 10, 2009, and have been here since. I love my job and have won the David Cook award twice. I’m going up for the award again. It’s a hard job being chief steward, but I love pleasing people and I treat everyone the same – like an admiral. Underway with no riders, I serve 29. Depending on our tasking, we can have up to 40. For me, it’s all about time management. Everything I do, I have to time myself; otherwise I fall behind on my duties. I start at four in the morning – prep breakfast, bake, clean the passageway, wash the linens – and end at 6:30 p.m. in port or 9:30 p.m. underway because there are more people on board. Number one rule is NEVER run out of food; that’s number one. Number two, when getting underway, never think of when we’re coming back. When I hear we’re deploying for one week, I load for 45 days or more. I feel rewarded that I’m doing my job when I get compliments – if I hear “good food, place looks clean,” then I’m happy.

IT1 Wang Xiong

Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Wang Xiong: I’m in charge of the radio frequency communications as well as the computer and local area network system. It’s not my first MSC ship; I was on USNS Mercy for Pacific Partnership 2010. I’ve been here since September 2012. The difference between this and a U.S. Navy ship? The job is pretty much the same, but there’s a lot less equipment. I work with a lot of the CIVMARS – they’re professionals at what they do and they carry their job really well. I look at it as we all have a common goal, and we all help each other out. There’s no weak link – one of us fails, and we all fail.

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