Gulf war ship stopsBy Gregg K. Kakesako
on way to Marianas
EIGHT years ago Aug. 2, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait -- and within three weeks the MV Williams and several of her sister ships from the nation's Merchant Marine fleet were in the Persian Gulf, with enough supplies and war machinery to support 35,000 Marines for 30 days.
The 672-foot cargo vessel, named after Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Private First Class Dewayne T. Williams, stopped in Hawaii recently on its way to the Northern Mariana Islands, where it is stationed following a total overhaul and refitting job on the East Coast.
The 45,000-ton ship is on a long-term charter from American Overseas Marine Corp. to the Military Sea Lift Command. It is literally a floating warehouse whose seven decks are filled with 700 vehicles, including M-1 tanks, 155 mm howitzers, amphibious assault vehicles, humvees, ambulances, cranes, portable bridges, and road graders. "In fact, we carry everything the Marine Corps needs except aircraft," said its skipper, Capt. Don A. Tierney, a Hawaii Kai resident.
The cargo area of the box-shaped Williams in addition holds 450 containers loaded with weapons, ammunition, food, cots, medical and dental supplies, uniforms, spare parts, rockets and bombs. One reason the Williams had to anchor offshore was for security.
Besides the vehicles and equipment, the Williams stores 98,000 gallons of water, 1.4 million gallons of JP-5 aviation and nearly 192,000 gallons of diesel fuel. A helicopter pad sits on its uppermost deck.
Tierney said the $1 billion worth of Marine Corps equipment is "a very attractive asset" which makes him and his crew pay strict attention to security.
Twenty-nine civilians make up the crew. Another five civilians are assigned specifically to maintain the Marine Corps equipment secured in the Williams' cavernous cargo holds.
"All of the gear stays on the ship until you have an operation," said Master Sgt. Ray Diaz, maintenance officer at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.
It is Diaz's job as member of the off-load preparation party to board the Williams -- or any of the three other ships that belong to Maritime Prepositioning Squadron III that operates out of Guam and Saipan -- to help prepare the vehicles and unload equipment.
"Our job is to get the gear in order: Hook the batteries up in the vehicles and run them for awhile to make sure they are working, and be ready to hit the beach," Diaz said.
The four vessels that make up Maritime Preposition Squadron III can equip, supply and support an 18,500-member Marine brigade for up to 30 days. Thirteen ships make up the three Maritime Preposition Squadrons -- one squadron in the Pacific with four ships, another in the Atlantic with four ships, and the third in the Indian Ocean with five vessels.
Each squadron is based strategically from a trouble spot or "flash point" that can be reached within a few days. Each vessel is capable of converting 100,000 gallons of seawater into potable drinking water daily, making it ideal for humanitarian relief efforts, according to Tierney, skipper since 1985.
With 150,000 square feet of air-conditioned cargo space, said Tierney who has skippered the Williams since 1985, the Williams could be used in humanitarian relief efforts to house refugees, he said.
Every 30 months each ship is rotated through the a maintenance facility at Blount Island near Jacksonville, Fla., where all of its equipment is taken off, inspected, cleaned, and replaced and modified if needed.
While it was in Hawaii for five days, more than 450 Marines from Kaneohe and Camp Smith toured it to get a feel of what they would have to deal with during a crisis.
Length: 672 feet
Speed: 17.7 knots
Displacement: 45,000 tons
Builder: General Dynamics
Crew: 30 civilians
Squadron ships accompanyBy Gregg K. Kakesako
Marines to trouble spots
for logistic support
When a crisis occurs and the decision has been made to send in an 18,500-member Marine brigade, Maritime Preposition Squadron ships are simultaneously dispatched to provide logistical support.
Capt. Don. A. Tierney, skipper of the Merchant Marine cargo vessel MV Williams, said a 40-member off-load preparation party will board the ship before "marrying up" with the Marine brigade to prepare the more the 700 combat vehicles and other equipment for off-loading.
The preferred option, said Tierney, a Hawaii Kai resident, is a pier in the port of a friendly nation where Marine crews can drive the vehicles off the stern of the ship and the cargo containers can be lifted out by deck cranes onto trailers on the docks. "That would take about 12 hours to off-load the vehicles and three days to load the 400 containers onto trailers," Tierney said.
"But if the port is blown up or if no docks are available, we can unload the cargo by a process called 'in stream.' "
That means the Williams and other vessels in the squadron have on their decks landing crafts, floating causeways and barges that can be linked together if necessary to carry the combat vehicles and cargo containers to the beach.
"It's about a five-day operation doing it 'in stream,' " Tierney added.
Since its inception in 1981, the 13 cargo vessels that make up the three Maritime Preposition Squadrons have made numerous deployments including Desert Storm in 1991, peacekeeping and relief operations in the Balkans and Somalia, and humanitarian relief efforts in the Philippines when Mount Pinatubo erupted and in Guam after Typhoon Omar.
Both the Air Force and the Army have adopted the concept, with the Army sharing facilities in Guam and Diego Garcia with the Marine Corps.