U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS — A single bead of sweat dripped from the furrowed brow of a Marine’s forehead, travelling down the rest of his face in a single, straight line, mirroring the line he was standing in. The line that Marines and Sailors of the USS San Diego (LPD 22) and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit had formed to begin resupplying the ship during a replenishment at sea, Dec. 22, 2017.
A replenishment at sea, also known as an underway replenishment, is a method of transferring fuel, munitions and stores from one ship to another while underway. While this is a common occurrence for San Diego, this particular RAS was unique.
Usually an underway replenishment is done as a vertical replenishment, where helicopters deliver pallets of food from one ship to another, or a connected replenishment where liquids such as fuel and fresh water, along with ammunition and break bulk goods are exchanged. San Diego pushed the boundaries by doing both.
“This RAS was varsity level,” said Navy Lt. Sam MacAvoy, supply officer aboard San Diego. “It was a CONREP and a VERTREP. Not only did we do both methods of at-sea replenishments, but the Washington Chambers replenished three ships at the same time. This was the big leagues.”
The USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) delivered over 160 pallets of food, mail and ship store supplies along with 80,000 gallons of fuel to the San Diego. While the delivery is an arduous task, the unloading and transfer of pallets within the ship can be just as complex.
“When everyone works together like the Marines and Sailors on this ship do, that’s when a job is done best,” said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Richard O’Connell, lead chief petty officer of the supply department aboard San Diego, and a Bristol, Rhode Island native. “The teamwork is what makes it a successful evolution.”
Working an assembly line of sorts, the Marines and Sailors passed boxes of beets, blueberries and buns with mechanic efficiency hour after hour until all the pallets were broken down and properly stored on ship.
“We were like a well-oiled machine passing boxes so fast,” said Cpl. Aaron Anthony, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and a mortarman with the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “Everyone was working together. There were no frowns on the entire line of people working.”
The enormous supply of frozen food, fruits, vegetables and equipment was unloaded to the ship all before lunch.
“What I love to see about RASes is the integration,” said O’Connell. “Seeing hundreds of Marines and Sailors out there in line, listening to music, having a good time, all while unloading boxes shows how much everyone cares about our ship.”
With all of the supplies accumulated during the RAS, the Marines and Sailors will have plenty of food and treats to celebrate the holidays.
“Underway replenishments really are motivating,” said MaCavoy. “Hurdling that last logistical mile, and getting all the supplies to the crew, is a great feeling. When we pull alongside the RAS ship and receive all the food and supplies, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.”
San Diego, with the embarked 15th MEU, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.