Army Reservists Take Part in Operation Big Red 99

By Johnson, Tony | Army Reserve Magazine, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Army Reservists Take Part in Operation Big Red 99


Johnson, Tony, Army Reserve Magazine


HYTHE, England - A huge cargo ship slowly sinking in the middle of a busy harbor is usually cause for alarm -- but not if it's the 400-foot long Motor Vessel (MV) American Cormorant: Partially submerging is how the American Cormorant off loads its cargo of ocean-going tugboats, landing craft and equipment and supplies it carries for the Army. Once it is partially submerged, the cargo is simply floated off.

Downloading the five landing craft, three 100-foot tug boats, gasoline barge, and 100-tan floating crane from the American Cormorant was just one part of Operation Big Red 99. The exercise joined American and British forces in one of the largest combined maritime and Logistics Over-the-Shore (LOTS) exercises in nearly a decade. Most of the exercise took place in southern England at the Combit Equipment Base - North Atlantic (CEB-NA), at the port town of

Hythe; but it began weeks earlier and half a-world away.

Army Reservists from all over the United States joined active duty US forces and British Army active duty and reserve personnel in this small English port town for the training exercises and operational missions employing the watercraft and cargo-handling equipment brought from pre-positioned maritime storage.

"Soldiers are actually using the landing craft, tug boats, forklifts, and all the equipment, for real missions. They're receiving real-world training. We're also learning a lot about how to do it even better in the future," said Lt. Col. Cory Youmans, of the 143d Transportation Company and task force commander for the exercise. The 143rd, based in Orlando, Fla. led the two-week training exercise.

The American Cormorant is one of several forward-deployed pre-positioned heavy-lift ships in the Army's inventory, and is the only semi-submersible cargo transport vessel in the Army War Reserve system. When called upon, one or more of the ships can quickly get under-way and rendezvous at an appointed site with everything necessary to turn a beach into an operating expedient port. Each of the ships return to Hythe periodically so the watercraft and equipment aboard can be inspected, refitted or replaced, as necessary.

The American Cormorant is based at British-owned Diego Garcia Island, in the Indian Ocean, and is part of the US Maritime Pre-Positioned Storage -- Army War Reserve stock system. "PrePo" operations crews, who can move the fully loaded vessels from their strategic anchorage to a port where an operating crew takes over and sails the ship to a tactical operations area, maintain the vessels.

For Operation Big Red 99, a Pre-Po crew departed Diego Garcia several weeks earlier and sailed the 72,000-- ton heavy-lift ship through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean to a Rota, Spain area. An exercise operational crew boarded and continued the cruise to England. During the four-- day cruise from Spain, all the boats and equipment on the American Cormorant were prepared for off loading and operations. Under way preparations included unsealing, oiling and fueling, and testing the equipnent, which had been sealed for some two years.

Once at Hythe, preparations for the off load began, and on the evening of June 7 the American Cormorant began its slow partial submersion; a procedure that takes about 10 hours. By the next morning the entire center cargo area of the bright red ship was under water. Army Reservists were already aboard the boats on the American Cormorant, ready to take control of the vessels once they were afloat and clear of their moorings. …

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