The vehicles and their drivers were participating in Joint Logistics Over the Shore, a joint training exercise involving landing and transporting vehicles without a fixed port and about 2,500 servicemembers are participating, including a 50-50 ratio of Soldiers and Sailors, many reserve-component, as well as about 50 Marines.
Their mission is to move about 1,800 pieces of equipment from the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in preparation for the unit’s upcoming deployment to Iraq.
“In the war plans that we’ve got for the United States military, JLOTS plays an important roll,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, commander of the personnel performing the exercise, known as Joint Task Force 8, as well as the 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “It’s a strategic roll. The ability to move large amounts of forces behind an enemy to a strategic geographical location, perhaps behind the enemy lines where the enemy doesn’t suspect it, because there’s no port there and all of a sudden we’re able to get in behind the enemy and change the tide of a battle.”
He added that the operation can also be used in humanitarian situations, such as when a tsunami or hurricane destroys a port and the military needs to quickly get a lot of relief supplies into a location.
According to the commander, it’s the largest JLOTS ever in terms of personnel and equipment – the exercise has been taking place for about 15 years in different locations, sponsored by different combatant commands.
In the planning stages since November 2007, this year’s JLOTS, “Pacific Strike,” kicked off June 12 when Navy Seabees began construction of a large base camp, complete with hundreds of tents, post exchange, barber shop and even a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility.
The Seabees went on to construct a 1,200-foot pier in just two weeks. A 24-foot wide elevated causeway stretches out into the ocean like any pier, but is wide enough to act as a two-lane road for trucks and other vehicles, although according to Navy Lt. Atiim Senthill, drivers must stay to the left so they can see the ocean below.
A huge turn-table and crane assists in unloading large containers from small ships called lighterage and loading trucks, which move the containers to the shore.
“It’s like building a bridge that you see across a river with the ability to turn that bridge around and download vehicles,” explained Lt. Col. Rod Honeycutt, chief of operations for JTF 8.
“It’s the only system like this in the world. There’s not another ELCAS,” said Senthill, the ELCAS officer in charge.
In a real-life situation, he said, the pier would be able to stay up indefinitely if properly maintained, as long as the weather and sea didn’t cause any damage.
Nature, officials said, is actually a huge factor. They learned this from experience as the sea damaged a second, roll-on, roll-off pier, called the Trident Pier, and rendered it unusable for the exercise.
Small craft also ferried vehicles from the roll-on, roll-off U.S. Navy Ship Pililaau to the beach. An amphibious vehicle carrying Soldier drivers met the craft and Soldiers drove the Humvees and trucks onto the beach.
“Just hope you don’t get stuck,” said Spc. Joseph Synor, one of the drivers. “Where the ramp’s out now, it’s deep. You’ve got to go fast. If you don’t go fast, you get stuck.”
A number of the vehicles did get stuck, but other heavy equipment was on hand to tow them out of the water to a chorus of catcalls from the shore.
Synor’s next stop was the Receipt, Staging and Onward facility, where about 300 Soldiers prepared the vehicles and other equipment for convoys to Fort Irwin by both commercial and military trucks. Many of the drivers, according to 1st Lt. David Goforth, will have made three or four convoys by the time all the equipment is due at Fort Irwin Aug. 3.
It involves “lots of coordination, organization, making sure the Soldiers are in the right place and that they know their job,” said Goforth. “Lots of training and practice to make sure everything’s done right and nobody gets hurt.”
The exercise has given him an opportunity to learn new jobs and he said he’s been especially impressed by his first exposure to the Navy.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing and I think it’s really good for the military in general to do operations such as this, to work with other branches of service,” said Goforth. “We’re all in the military, but we don’t usually work together too often. The Navy has been great…Anytime I needed assistance with anything, they’ve been a big help.”
That joint effort is key, said Mason.
“I think the Soldiers and Sailors who are involved in this, number one, want to recognize the capabilities that are out there. That’s important, just being knowledgeable about that, particularly at the leadership level. Down at the Soldier and Sailor level, it’s that the Army and Navy can get together and work as a team and put in a great capability like JLOTS and bring combat power to bear, or if it’s humanitarian operations,” he said.
“The United States military has great young men and women in it that can make something like this, with as many moving pieces that are out there, and all that complicated piece, and make it happen. It’s just a great team effort,” the commander continued, adding that “It really gives a workout to the Army and Navy folks out here to get all the equipment off the ships and across the shore…what we’re doing right now is as real as it gets.”