Lessons taught in throughput exercise
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr.
| Marine Corps Base Hawaii | February 08, 2001
BLOUNT ISLAND, Fla. --
Three Marine expeditionary forces can gather for an exercise -- but they may not be prepared to execute -- unless they've been trained.
For the 2001 Tri-MEF Throughput Exercise III Marine Expeditionary Force took the lead and coordinated three days of classes and instruction prior to the actual supply and logistics training of I, II and III MEF Marines.
In fact, for the exercise, a partial simulation of a maritime prepositioning force operation, about 140 Marines gathered at Blount Island, Fla., from Feb. 1-8, along with a handful of Navy Sea Bees from Port Hueneme, Calif., and spent three days undergoing classes and instruction prior to the actual throughput exercise.
The classes were intended to help the Sailors and Marines understand the various aspects of a Maritime Prepositioning Force Marine Expeditionary Brigade, as well as the Blount Island Command.
Those participating in the exercise traveled to Florida from throughout the world, including Marine Corps Bases Hawaii; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Okinawa, Japan and Marine Corps Air Stations Iwakuni, Japan and Cherry Point, N.C.; and were introduced to Blount Island by Col. Christopher Kauffmann, commanding officer of Blount Island Command (a command aboard a leased portion of the island just north of Jacksonville, Fla.).
Kauffmann offered a background of the MPF concept, which he said, "started in 1979, during the Cold War," and he explained Blount Island's role. He described MPF as "What we're (the Marine Corps) all about is being able to deploy to war."
Kauffmann said that 13 ships were leased "during the (former President Ronald) Reagan years." And the maritime prepositioning ships provide great deployment enablers."
The MPF concept was certainly tested in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, when all 13 ships were deployed, then again in Somalia, for Operation Restore Hope, Kauffmann said.
Blount Island comes into play for the MPF process, the colonel explained, as a single place for the Navy and Marine Corps to regenerate equipment and supplies in need of repair or replacement from an MPF ship. The first MPF ship to offload at Blount Island did so in October 1986. They have rotated to the island for similar offloads and equipment and supply repairs, then reloads, one at a time, for roughly two months at a time, Kauffmann said. In fact, the island is in the midst of its sixth such MPF maintenance cycle.
For the throughput exercise (so-called because it is a simulation of the process of getting equipment from a ship, through a port and to the combat units), III MEF[RAS1] took advantage of the Motor Vessel Williams' scheduled maintenance cycle visit to Blount Island. The Sailors and Marines were able to tie classroom instruction to the actual offload of the MV Williams.
However, one difference between the exercise aboard Blount Island and an actual operation, said Kauffmann, was that "all the work (maintenance, offloading, etc.) done here by civilian contractors could be done by (Sailors and Marines)."
Kauffmann went on to explain that an MPF enhancement program is currently underway, which means one the three squadrons of MPF ships has recently added a ship to give the Navy and Marine Corps added abilities, and the other two squadrons can expect to see a new ship added within the next couple of years.
Maj. Lyle Layher, exercise coordinator and III MEF Maritime Prepositioning Force officer, followed the colonel's island introduction by describing the goal of the exercise as, "the number one objective is for us as three MEFs to come together."
The major described the exercise as having "an operational flavor to it,"
because of all who were involved, and the various elements that were simulated for the exercise. And he expressed a hope that those in attendance could leave with an ability to explain the process and significance of the MPF as a part of the Marine Corps.[RAS2]
Layher echoed Kauffmann's explanation of the maintenance restrictions and such, because much work done here is by civilian contractors, vice Marines and Sailors. Plus he acknowledged the close proximity of all the elements involved with the exercise offload, and the lack of the combat elements that an operation would revolve around.
Still, exercise participants and observers received classroom instruction about different aspects of an MPF, specifically, about the offload preparation party, as well as arrival and assembly organizations.
The offload preparation party mission is to prepare all equipment for offloading, explained LtCol. Drew Miller, of the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Atlantic. Ideally, Miller said, an offload preparation party should board an MPF ship "at least 96 hours prior to the arrival and assembly area closure."
Miller went on to explain the significance of the working relationships between the offload preparation party, the Naval support element and the Marine air-ground task force. The three elements must coordinate with each other in order for supplies and equipment to get where they need to go -- to the combat units.
The offload preparation party is made up of personnel from throughout the Marine Expeditionary Force. The MEB function is basically to enable the air-ground task force the flexibility to deploy in whatever size is appropriate for the mission at hand, whether that be Marine Expeditionary Unit size, larger, or smaller, explained Col. Russell Woody, the I MEF current operations officer.
The Naval support element prepares ships' offload systems, while the offload preparation party, representing the Marine air-ground task force side of the house, prepares the embarked equipment aboard the ship for offloading. And ultimately, of course, the air and ground combat elements of the Marine air-ground task force will be assigned the gear for use in an operation, Miller explained.
Beyond the formal classroom instruction, Marines and Sailors were treated to an MPF overview by Mike Harvey, a retired gunnery sergeant who currently works aboard Blount Island for the contracted Stanley Associates. Harvey shared his experiences as a former Marine Corps supply chief with MPF operations.
"Marines are great warfighters -- but when it comes to accounting for gear ..." Harvey explained that he believed Marines had room for improvement.
He said the MPF concept is one that is still a learning process for many Marines, but that there are resources available to help leathernecks gain the knowledge and understanding necessary.
Harvey reminded the Marines and Sea Bees that there is a technical manual (TM-4790.14), a Marine Corps Order (P-3000.17) and more than 300 responses about MPF in the Marine Corps Lessons Learned System. Additionally, those with knowledge of the MPF process need to share it with others, Harvey said. "Too few people understand what makes it (MPF) work."
As far as equipment and systems training, supply, embarkation, and transportation management support personnel were instructed on the use of the Symbol Technology Scanning devices, as well as software for keeping track of supplies and equipment, from the ship, to the units and back to the ships.
The Symbol Technology Scanning devices are a part of the Automatic Identification Technology, a wireless technology that works on radio frequency which the Marine Corps has adopted to resolve the accountability problem that Marines have encountered in the past, explained GySgt Richard Story, Surface Chief with Marine Forces Pacific, Camp Smith, Hawaii. The system should allow Marines to track gear anywhere in the world, much like a commercial delivery service tracks packages around the world. The devices and system have been implemented at bases around the Corps, but not all Marines and units had yet received appropriate training.
Representatives from the three MEFs, however, partook in classes and practical application of interfacing supply systems with the scanning equipment and software. Marines used the scanning devices to scan the bar codes on vehicles offloaded from the MV Williams, then transferred the data from the scanners to the MAGTF Deployment Support System II.
"This is the 'money' portion (of the exercise)," said SSgt. Tyrone Welch, assigned to 3d Transportation Battalion, III MEF, Okinawa, Japan. Welch said the classes involved "too much technical talk for the regular Joe, but some good technical training."
"Mind-boggling," was how PFC Ricardo Saldana of 2nd Force Service Support Group, Camp Lejeune, N.C., described the training.
All the exercise participants, from junior enlisted to senior officers, were exposed to MPF overview classes as well as hands-on training by the time the exercise was completed.
As the week's classes ended, Marines and Sailors were reminded that it was likely that problems would be encountered through the exercise. But they were encouraged to share both positive and negative results experienced.
"This is not (just) a class ... we live by this stuff," said Woody. "We're not just students -- we're the executors."
The MPF throughput portion of the exercise was executed from Feb. 5-7, all aboard Blount Island.
Layher described the training and the exercise as successes in that the three MEFs were able to compare procedures for throughput and to validate standard Marine Corps procedures for throughput.