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Combat Cargo Marines with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard USS Kearsarge move a quadruple container (QUADCON) into place. The Marines prepared to move more than 1,111 tons worth of vehicles and other cargo Aug. 6, 2010. Combat Cargo Marines are responsible for all gear and vehicles being loaded and stowed aboard the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. 26th MEU deployed aboard the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in late August responding to an order by the Secretary of Defense to support Pakistan flood relief efforts.

Photo by Staff Sergeant Danielle Bacon

It all has to fit - Mobility and Combat Cargo Marines move 26th MEU

28 Aug 2010 | Staff Sgt. Danielle M. Bacon

In the world of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit Combat Cargo, trucks, containers and other military equipment become pieces to a very large puzzle. Their board: the three ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. Like a game of Tetris, Marines with Combat Cargo have to ensure that 2,736 tons of equipment fit into designated areas of USS Kearsarge, USS Carter Hall and USS Ponce, according to Sgt. Jeremy Ericson, 26th MEU mobility noncommissioned officer. Aboard ship a week before the rest of the MEU, the Marines have a lot to accomplish in a short period of time. Complicating their task, 26th MEU deploys ahead of schedule to support Pakistan flood relief efforts. Each ship's Combat Cargo crew has to ensure not only that everything the MEU needs is able to go, but that it's accessible when needed. The final test for Combat Cargo Marines is loading the ships for the MEU's deployment, 29 days earlier than the anticipated deployment date. “Transitioning from a deliberate planning environment focused on closing MEU forces aboard ARG shipping in support of pre-deployment training to crisis response planning and execution utilizing strategic airlift and Naval amphibious shipping is not without challenge,” said Capt. Joel Carpenter, 26th MEU Mobility Officer. “Upon notification, the offload of cargo and equipment was required to refit the force and organize into the capabilities required to support the humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan as well as maintaining the force balance needed to prosecute Theater Security Cooperation events.” Charged with checking the manifest for USS Kearsarge, Lance Cpl. Brandon Walker, a mortarman with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, explained that while the numbers may add up on paper, actually loading the ship is extremely difficult. "We have to ensure that we get everything loaded as it is on the load plan," he explained. The load plan dictates where each piece of equipment is stowed within the ship. "Even if a vehicle is parked canted, then it throws everything else off." Complicating the operation are the tight spaces, steep ramps and high temperatures inside the ships' gear and vehicle stowage areas, known as upper and lower "V"s. Everything must also be chained in place to prevent shifting as the ships sail the oceans. USS Kearsarge is in the largest class of amphibious assault ships. The 844-foot-long Wasp class ship can hold more than 40,000 tons and transports more than 1,600 Marines, according to the Navy's Web site, www.navy.mil*. The Marines are allotted 17,133 square feet in which they stow more than 1,111 tons of equipment, according to Ericson. Kearsarge Combat Cargo Marines have to maneuver 89 quadruple containers known as quadcons, large steel containers measuring 96 inches in length, 80 inches tall and 57 inches wide. They also have to configure and stow 66 vehicles ranging from boats to 7-ton trucks. “It’s a lot harder than you would think to fit everything into the hulls of the three ships,” said Cpl. Jacob Beebe, a mobility noncommissioned officer. “We have had to do a lot of planning in a short amount of time to get it to work.” USS Carter Hall supports amphibious operations via the Navy's hovercraft, the Landing Craft Air Cushioned. The 609-foot-long Harpers Ferry class ship can hold more than 16,000 tons and transports more than 400 Marines. The Marines use 17,755 square feet on USS Carter Hall with more than 1,181 tons of equipment, according to Ericson. Carter Hall Combat Cargo Marines also have a large number of quadcons and more than 60 vehicles ranging from 7-ton trucks to Amphibious Assault Vehicles. USS Ponce (LPD 15) is an amphibious transport dock used to transport and land Marines. The 570-foot-long ship can hold 17,000 tons and transports about 900 Marines. The Marines fill up 8,786 square feet with more than 444 tons of equipment on USS Ponce, which actually presented challenges, according to Ericson. The Combat Cargo Marines on the Ponce were faced with smaller storage than they had on other ships. USS Ponce, an Austin class ship, provides 8,000 square feet less than what the MEU Marines used to aboard the newer and larger San Antonio class USS San Antonio and USS New York. "That is equivalent to 31 7-ton trucks or 186 quadcons," Ericson said. The Combat Logistics Battalion 26 mobility officer in charge explained that the smaller ship leaves less room to maneuver within the Austin class ship. "Basically we could put everything we needed in the lower V of a San Antonio class," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jamie Grifaldo. "But now we fill both the lower and upper V." The decrease in space makes it next to impossible for the Marines to do a selective offload, which is where the Marines take only what is needed to conduct certain operations. "When we load, we have to ensure it is correct, because there isn't room to move things around," Grifaldo said. "So, we can only set up for certain missions." Accessibility also becomes difficult explained one Kearsarge Combat Cargo Marine. "Everything is so tightly fit," said Lance Cpl. Rodney Johnson, an infantryman with Company I, BLT 3/8. "You might have to unchain and move several vehicles just so someone can get into a quad or humvee." Enhanced equipment has also led to difficulties for loading. Up-armor for humvees and other equipment changes make Marine Corps vehicles much larger than they were when the ships were first built. "Our gear keeps getting bigger and the ship stays the same size," said Walker. Before cargo is loaded onto each of the ships, it is stored at a warehouse near the pier. "We would not be able to get what we need done if it weren't for the pier 8 warehouse crew," said Ericson. The warehouse crew are employed by the Defense Logistics Agency and are responsible for transporting the cargo from the warehouse to each of the ships. They provide the cranes and operators to get the equipment onto the ships so combat cargo can get it into place. “Force closure, be it from sea or air, is directly impacted by our ability to focus on identifying valid requirements,” said Carpenter. “The Marine Corps does a tremendous job in maintaining a posture that meets this end-state. The collective efforts of the Marines and sailors of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have paved the way for our future success.” *all ship statistics gathered from the US Navy Fact File on www.navy.mil