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September 01, 2005

Getting to the fight, part II.

Here is another missive from Blake. Some of the pictures with this will cause a double-take. Continuing frequent commenter Blake's story that started here.

Back in the days when I worked out near the sharp end of the stick, I never gave much thought to logistics, unless the logistics system failed to work properly. The unit gets ordered out, airplanes show up, the unit would get on the airplanes, and off we'd go. At the infantry squad leader level, you don't NEED to worry about how the airplanes knew when and where to show up, and how whoever it was that sent them knew how many to send. You're far more concerned with making sure your people remembered to bring ammo, and rations, and water in their canteens...

It's when you need more bullets, or more beans, or more fuel for your vehicles, or some spare parts, or trucks to move your platoon in lieu of a 20-mile approach march, and they don't show up, that logistics start becoming an issue to the guys out front.

Problem is, without a whole lot of people working in the background, the stuff the guys out front need WON'T get there. And these days, that's where I, and a bunch of people like me, come in.

We're travelling first class, this trip, at least as far as military sealift goes. The USNS FISHER, (T-AKR 301) is a Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-On-Roll-Off (LMSR) cargo vessel of the BOB HOPE class, belonging to the Military Sealift Command. She was purpose-built a few years after Desert Shield/Desert Storm, along with thirteen other purpose-built ships and five more converted from container ships, when it became obvious we needed a better means of getting our people's gear to where the fight was than what we had had up to that point. [editor's note; USNS stands for United States Navy Ship, meaning, I believe, that they are not warships, and many have civilian crews]

Think of the FISHER as a two-city-block-long, seven-story parking garage that moves under its own power. Her maximum speed is 24 knots, which means transit times from the US East Coast to Kuwait of 30-35 days, depending on weather and traffic tie-ups at the Suez Canal. She is specifically designed to accommodate the largest equipment the Army moves without problems. Her internal ramps can handle M1A1 tanks and M88 tank recovery vehicles, and her hatches are large enough to permit CH/MH-53 helos to be lifted on and off the ship with cranes. I can load everything that an entire Brigade Combat team of the 101st Airborne Division would take with it to combat onto a single LMSR, and I'll probably have a little space left over if the crews stowing the vehicles get a good tight pack on the rolling stock.

I just flat out LOVE working with tools that are well-designed for their purpose, and the FISHER is just wonderfully designed for what she does. A few pictures to illustrate:

Fisher 001: USNS FISHER alongside the pier at Jacksonville, loading equipment for shipment to Kuwait and Iraq. Note the UH-60 helicopter being towed up the ship's slewable stern ramp. The ramp is constructed to support two M1A2 tanks using the ramp at the same time. The ship is capable of conducting roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off operations simultaneously.

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Fisher 002: A CH-47D is lowered through a weather-deck hatch onto the FISHER's B Deck. Forward of the hatch area, the hoistable A deck has been raised, to provide a 21-foot overhead height for stowage of helicopters. Aft of the hatch area, the A deck remains in the lowered configuration, limiting cargo heights in the aft third of B Deck to 15' 6", and permitting stowage of low-profile vehicles (like HWMMV's,) or breakbulk cargo on A Deck.

Fisher 003: Several CH-47D's lashed down aboard the FISHER. Remember that this humongous storage space *MOVES*, and that there are at this point four additional decks of stowage underneath the one you are looking at, plus the weather deck on top of the hull, which can be used to carry either vehicles or containers.

The Armorer admits to having been a combat logistician (i.e., Brigade and below) and having spent a lot of time at railheads and ports doing this kind of stuff. The importance of this being done right, up front, cannot be overemphasized.

But shooting the Big Guns is *still* more fun...