24 February 2011


Last week, Fleet Master Chief Stevens and I visited USNS SACAGAWEA (T-AKE 2), a Lewis and Clark class dry cargo ship operated and maintained by Military Sealift Command (MSC).
HSC-26 helo vert repping from HST to
 Her Master and crew hosted us for an overnight visit which included a full tour of the ship from stem to stern and an observation of ammo off-load from USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75).
SACAGAWEA’s primary mission is to resupply the fleet through connected replenishment (CONREP) and vertical replenishment (VERTREP) while at sea. These 42,000 pound displacement vessels enable our combatant fleet to remain underway and operational longer than any other in the world.

The ammo off-loaded from HST and
secured below deck on SACAGAWEA.
  SACAGAWEA provides our Navy with a truly remarkable underway replenishment (UNREP) capability. She is capable of delivering the same number and types of cargo that previously required three different types of ships. Her massive cargo storage areas are capable of storing 6,000 tons of stores and/or ammunition and she can deliver up to 1,000,000 gallons of fuel. She has five underway replenishment stations that service ships alongside while she conducts vertical replenishment as well. In the past, the time required for UNREP was determined by the cargo vessel. T-AKE class ships have reversed that concept and it is now the combatant’s on-load/off-load capabilities that determine the time to conduct replenishment.
The eleven Sailors that make up the military
detachment assigned to SACAGAWEA 
a great group of Sailors!

 I also found the composition of the crew to be particularly interesting. The Master and Chief Engineer are professional equivalents at the O-6 level and lead the crew of 11 military and 129 civil service mariners. All civil service mariners hold U.S. Coast Guard credentials specific to their skill rating to meet all USCG inspection requirements specific to the ship’s mission. The mariners are divided into three Departments. The Deck Department provides all of the navigational watch teams and the primary members of the cargo handling teams. Engine Department operates the propulsion plant and performs most routine ship’s maintenance. Supply Department provides cooking, logistics support, and housekeeping services. There is a great deal of automation on the ship which frees up each member of the small crew to perform several other functions for efficiency and a unique synergy. For example, cargo handlers may have additional duties in the mess and galleys while Engineering and Supply personnel can be found assisting with underway replenishment cargo handling. 
Spending time with the Chief Engineer in the engine
room once an engineer,always an engineer!
MSC crews do not have a sea-shore rotation like naval personnel. They are hired to serve at sea, performing minimum four month tours with only brief periods ashore for leave and training. It is not uncommon to find mariners who voluntarily remain at sea well beyond the minimum four month tour on a single ship. These civil service mariners have a legacy that reaches back to their proud service during World War II.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the level of knowledge, professionalism and strong sense of pride throughout the crew, and I was very pleased to have been able to break my flag on SACAGAWEA.
All the best, JCHjr


YN2(SW) G said...


"There is a great deal of automation on the ship which frees up each member of the small crew to perform several other functions for efficiency and a unique synergy."

I have to ask, but if there is no reply, I understand, no worries. A while back there was a lot of talk about replacing Amphib Snipes with their Mariner equivalents. Is that quote the ability that made such a choice look attractive? In the interest of full disclosure, I don't like that idea and hope that Sailors can continue to have Men-of-War as their ships alone.

I ask however, because the angle I take on not liking the notion of Marines aboard, what I consider my ships, is that the average Sailor is at a disadvantage compared to the Mariner, due to all the collateral duties a Sailor has. If it is the case that the Mariner does, in fact, have a similar amount of collateral duties as a Sailor, then perhaps I was wrong. As much as I hold tradition dear, tradition is not reason enough to hold back from change.


ps. You got to get underway, and it looked a fine day to be at sea as well, (in late winter?!) I'm envious!

ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN said...

YN2, I did indeed get underway and it was a great feeling! It was a fine day to be at sea on a great ship.
My intense interest in how the MSC mans and operates their ships stems from the success they've had in establishing a very high level of operational reliability, particularly with respect to their diesel engineering plants. Even with the obvious differences in the manning models between MSC and Navy and the starkly different mission requirements, there's much to be learned from how they train, how they stand watches and how they operate their ships. That's been my goal - TO LEARN! And then to see how we can apply what we learn to the Navy.
As capable and professional as they are, I don't foresee the day when we turn over our amphibious ships to be operated by the civilian mariners of our MSC. But I certainly do foresee the day when we can apply many of their best practices to how we do business and improve the operational reliability of our amphibious fleet.
Which is a worthy goal in my book. All the best, JCHjr