OFF THE COAST OF JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Stress the Ship." That was the intent behind maximizing passengers and crew aboard USS San Antonio (LPD-17) during one phase of its operational evaluation. Measuring the ship's ability to support and sustain embarked Marines with food, water, services and living conditions is critical to her future role in the amphibious Navy.
More than 650 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Battalion Landing Team 3/8 are aboard for this and to conduct expeditionary exercises for the OpEval. In all, nearly 1,000 souls were aboard, a record for the ship, according to her captain, Navy Commander Kurt A. Kastner.
The San Antonio will be the newest member of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group once she receives official blessing. The 26th MEU and Iwo Jima ESG will conduct work-ups throughout the summer and deploy together early this fall.
With so many Marines and Sailors on ship, many interacting for the first time, some unique cross-cultural exchanges have taken place. Some Sailors have taken the opportunity to fill requirements for passengers on helicopter and amphibious vehicle exercises, something many Marines might consider old-hat. Many Marines are getting their initial taste of ship life, experiencing first hand the symbiotic nature of these armed forces and the source of so much Marine Corps tradition.
LtCol. John R. Giltz commands the 26th MEU's Logistics Combat Element, CLB-26. He said teamwork between the servicemembers makes exercises like this run with precision.
"If you want to say the Marine Corps is a Naval service, that's perfectly true," began Giltz. "But where that's proven every day is in the relationships that are built ... between the Marines and amphibious Navy," he said.
Deployed Marines add considerable stress to the ship, with nearly 1,800 additional daily meals to serve and major demands on fresh water, sanitation, berthing and services. The galley opens early and closes late to accommodate the embarked personnel. The gyms, library, chapel, ship store, disbursing office and other services have seen major increases in traffic, according to the ship’s crew. It's all part of the OpEval, and is designed to test whether the ship can do what her designers and crew claim.
"This is a new phase in the Navy/Marine Corps relationship, particularly with the amphibious Navy," said Giltz. Compared to older LPDs, improvements to the flight deck, well deck, stowage, passageways and berthing were designed to make the embarked 26th MEU a more versatile, swift and efficient expeditionary force.
"It was designed from the keel up for Marines," Giltz said. "It was well thought out operationally and its ability to transport Marines to places where we're going to find ourselves doing missions ... As we get on here and test what this ship can do and ask the hard questions, I think you'll find it can do a lot more even than they realize right now."