Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ships Tote War Cargo as Part of Rapid Sealift

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ships Tote War Cargo as Part of Rapid Sealift

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Davis, Times-Union staff writer

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Army Humvees and tanks, 20-foot containers and plastic-wrapped helicopters were lined up at the Savannah port yesterday, waiting to be loaded on a Navy cargo vessel bound for Southwest Asia and a potential conflict with Iraq.

The USNS Mendonca was moored alongside the Georgia Ports Authority's Ocean Terminal as a large crane lifted cargo containers to the top deck of the ship. The ship received activation orders last week and arrived from Virginia before dawn yesterday morning.

"This is a pretty quick response for the guys that have to pack up and leave their families," said Col. Pete Lennon, the overseer of the two-day loading process.

The Mendonca, with a crew of about 30 civilians, is the first of two non-combatant ships that will be loading Army equipment and shipping it overseas in the next couple of weeks as the nation prepares for possible war. The USNS Gilliland is scheduled to arrive this week from Norfolk, Va.

Both ships are part of a 19-ship program that began in the mid-1990s to improve the military's rapid response capabilities in a wartime situation. They belong to the Navy's Military Sealift Command.

The ships are expected to leave Savannah before the end of the week. Their exact destination is not being released. Together they will carry more than 450,000 square feet of military cargo.

The majority of the equipment being loaded is from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Air Field and Fort Benning. The division received deployment orders to Kuwait weeks ago.

The ships, built after the Persian Gulf War, are large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships that are usually kept at the pier in Newport News, Va., in a reduced operating status with a small crew on board.

Each ship deploys only when activated and should arrive in Southwest Asia within two to three weeks, according to a spokesman for the Navy's Military Sealift Command. The loading and offloading of equipment takes about 96 hours per shipload.

As the equipment is loaded onto the ship, each piece is bar-coded and scanned to ensure a complete inventory of the cargo on board. …

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