Marine Corps vehicles are discharged from Military Sealift Command’s Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009). (U.S. Navy/Grady T. Fontana)

GWANGYANG, Republic of Korea - Four Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships offloaded hundreds of pieces of U.S. Marine Corps equipment, containerized supplies and personnel in support of exercises Freedom Banner 2016 (FB16) and Ssang Yong 2016 (SY16), Feb. 24 - March 4.

Freedom Banner 2016, a Navy and Marine Corps deployment and offload/backload exercise that is nestled within SY16, brought multiple commands together to offload Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships USNS GYSGT Fred W. Stockham (T-AK 3017), USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009), and dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2); while high-speed vessel MV Westpac Express (HSV 4676) delivered hundreds of service members from various locations in the Pacific region to Korea to participate in the exercises.

SY16 is the largest multilateral amphibious exercise to date. It is a biennial exercise conducted by integrated Marine Expeditionary Brigade/Navy Expeditionary Strike Group, forward-deployed forces with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy and Marine Corps designed to strengthen interoperability and working relationships across a wide range of military operations ranging from disaster relief to complex expeditionary operations.

U.S. Marines will deploy cargo offloaded from the MSC ships to the field for their participation in the SY16 exercise, which includes more than 19,000 joint and combined forces. The exercise takes place at various training areas primarily throughout southern and southeastern ROK.

At the port here, approximately 320 Marines were on hand to receive and offload the cargo from the Williams in an expedient manner.

“When you work through these processes, and you’re working with a group that you haven’t worked with before, these exercises are great because you learn to speak each other’s languages,” said 1st Lt. Melissa K. Cooling, assistant operations officer, 3rd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “It’s all about process improvement. I don’t speak Navy and [Navy personnel] doesn’t speak Marine Corps but when we get to meet like this, and we get to work that out and interface, we set ourselves up so we have successful relationships in the future.”

In addition to offload activities three additional MSC ships will be conducting seabasing operations as part of SY16.

The expeditionary transfer dock USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1) is scheduled to conduct a skin-to-skin maneuver in which she connects side-by-side with USNS Stockham and acts as a floating pier for a simulated offload where the Stockham will discharge equipment onto the Montford Point through a connecting ramp, and the equipment will then be loaded into landing craft air cushions (LCAC) for transfer to shore, further enhancing Marine Corps and Navy integration.

The Montford Point is categorized as an expeditionary floating pier-at-sea; the ship is tasked to the Marine Corps to provide a pier-at-sea to move and transfer from large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships to LCACs to provide seabasing capabilities for the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Offshore petroleum distribution system USNS Vadm K.R. Wheeler (T-AG 5001) and USNS Fast Tempo will also exercise their capabilities by delivering her eight-mile pipe from ship to shore in a simulated event in which she delivers water to Marines on the ground. The Wheeler can also transfer fuel from a tanker to depots ashore from up to eight miles off the coast.

FB16 and SY16 provide the Montford Point, Wheeler, Stockham, Williams and Sacagawea, all assigned to Pacific-based Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron (MPSRON) 3, with valuable training. The squadron’s mission is to quickly deliver military cargo and supplies in response to a military contingency or to provide humanitarian assistance.

The Montford Point, Wheeler, Stockham and Williams are crewed by about 30-plus mariners apiece working for private companies under contract to MSC. The Sacagawea is carrying about 120 civilian mariners and currently the headquarters element of MPSRON-3 for the exercise.

“Having these MPSRON ships prepositioned in this region enables U.S. Navy and Marine Corps forces to maintain a presence in the Pacific, which allows the Navy and Marine Corps team to sustain operations far from our own shores,” said Navy Capt. Robert A. Rochford, commodore, MPSRON-3. “Our presence here supports regional security and stability and provides us with opportunities to work with other countries while maintaining a high level of readiness to respond to crises.”

MSC reservists also played an important role. Members from Expeditionary Port Unit 113 from Fort Worth, Texas, deployed in support of the exercises.

“The EPU is here to prepare the way for the ship before its arrival,” said Lt. Cmdr. Paul D. Slotsema, strategic sealift officer, EPU 113.

The EPU’s role is to ensure the proper contacts are made at the port, to direct the ship in where to go, and query as to what the ship is going to need when she arrives, according to Slotsema, a reserve-component officer from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The reserve-component Sailors manned a mobile sealift operations command center (MSOC), a portable communications facility designed to operate and manage port operations, even if port infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. EPU's can quickly deploy to a contingency operation and manage the arrival and departures of cargo ships in port.

All units will return to their home base at the conclusion of the exercises.

MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.

MPSRON 3, operating in the western Pacific, maintains tactical control of the 12 ships carrying afloat prepositioned U.S. military cargo for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force. The squadron’s mission is to enable force from the sea by providing swift and effective transportation of vital equipment and supplies for designated operations.