Story by Christina McCann on 09/24/2019Soldiers of the 109th Transportation Company, 17th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, U.S. Army Alaska, assisted the Navy and Marine Corps during the Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise in Seward Sept. 19.
The joint exercise saw Sailors and Marines working side-by-side as they tested joint expeditionary force logistical transfer capabilities in the subarctic environment.
The Soldiers moved the equipment from the port north to JBER once the maritime services did their part getting it onto land.
Specialist Zachary Verbruggen, a 109th TC Soldier and native of Little Chute, Wisconsin, said it was his first time working with the Navy.
"Joint operations like this one are important so we can know that all the branches can work in cohesion with each other to accomplish a common goal," Verbruggen said. "I think this exercise will broaden my skill set by working with other branches on transporting equipment, and learning how they do operations."
Verbruggen and his teammates were transporting fuel bladders and pumps as well as intermodal steel containers of equipment.
"We do the same thing the Marines we worked with do; they transport equipment by water, we do it by land. There are slight differences in how we operate, but we were working together to get the mission done."
Wesley Wilcox, the 109th TC first sergeant, said the exercise provided valuable joint operations experience.
"As a strictly line-haul organization we are extremely effective, and proficient at convoy operations. If we were to deploy, there is a high probability that we would have to do port operations, so my hopes are that my Soldiers will gain a better understanding about how to not only interact with sister branches but also how to facilitate the interoperability and joint maneuvering to get whatever is needed from point A to point B," Wilcox said. "We have limited experience with operating at ports with maritime services.Joining in the off-loading and up-loading techniques the Navy uses better prepares us for real-world scenarios and makes for more efficient operations."
It wasn't without challenges, though, said Wilcox, a native of Bossier City, La. "From a safety aspect, this is unique for us because we're not used to working at a port so close to the water, so close to all this huge equipment that's utilized to move gear from ship to shore."
Corporal Gabriel Hernandez, a bulk fuels specialist with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group out of San Diego, was one of the Marines getting the supplies from Navy ships onto dry land.
"We transfer bulk products from naval ships, tankers, and any type of storage facility that needs fuel transferred from one area to another," Hernandez said.
"We set up our operation to get equipment off a barge. We're getting fuel from any transportation on the water onto a small fuel site, and onto any vehicles that come through in a tactical manner."
Rear Admiral Cedric Pringle, Expeditionary Strike Group Three commander, said part of the motivation for the exercise was the 7.1 earthquake Nov. 30, 2018.
"It really made us think about our response," Pringle said, noting that the Navy frequently provides Defense Support for Civilian Authority, or DSCA, assistance. Although the earthquake did not cause large-scale disruption of food or fuel supplies, the Navy was prepared to respond, he said, although officials realized a large-scale exercise would help ensure the capabilities to do so and be a stellar training opportunity as well.
"We seldom get a chance to test [these systems] in a challenging environment," Pringle said.
Pringle cited the 40- to 50-knot winds and seven-foot seas on Adak as an example of valuable learning experiences for the Sailors and Marines.
"We needed a place to hone our skills," Pringle said. Having worked with Marine Corps Reserve Col. and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in Washington, D.C., Navy officials realized Alaska was the perfect area to practice.
"We were able to cover a lot of objectives simultaneously," Pringle said. "The value of training here is unquestionable."
For the Marines working in Seward, passing supplies to the Army might have been unusual, but not problematic.
"Working with other branches is not any different than when we work with each other. We're all working together to complete the same mission," Hernandez said.
"We want to build skill sets in peacetime exercises so if and when we are needed, we can do it in real-world operations.
"Our Marines are very expedient in what they do. They know the capabilities of our systems, and even if pieces of the puzzle are missing, they know how to put them together like a Lego set to get the job done."
While the San Diego, California-based Navy and Marine Corps units specifically wanted to train in Alaska, Wilcox said the skills are eminently transferable.
"I wouldn't necessarily compartmentalize this to the Arctic region, because you can do this anywhere.These Soldiers will be able to take the experience they've learned here, and incorporate it at any port they have to operate at worldwide. You may have a few nuances based on the location you're at, but overall what's learned here is absolutely transferable. Without a doubt, this is good for every one of these Soldiers."