Diversity in Operational Tours

LT. RICHARD J. WILSON, SC, USN, EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL, EXPEDITIONARY SUPPORT UNIT 1, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND

Navy EOD conducting solo exit out of a C-130.

 

One of the main aspects of the Supply Corps that I have always found compelling was the capability for Supply Corps officers to serve across the spectrum of operational units in the Navy. In my first seven years of service, I have had broad operational experience by being both on a surface ship and attached to an expeditionary command. I believe the differences between the two have given me more breadth as a Supply Corps officer, while the similarities between the two have allowed me to build on my experience and knowledge from my first tour to help me navigate through a deployment as an expeditionary department head.

My first operational tour was aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). Being on a landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ship enabled me to learn more about the operations of both a surface ship and the attached aviation squadrons, which allowed me to get my Naval Aviation Supply Officer qualification along with my Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer qualification. Particularly with readiness, one thing that stood out was the maturity of the logistics support of both surface and aviation equipment. The vast majority of equipment is supported through wholesale supply inventories and has robust logistics and parts support from Naval Supply Systems Command and Defense Logistics Agency. Once I learned the general concepts behind how the surface and aviation logistics enterprises work, it helped me become a very effective Supply Corps officer in being able to provide necessary readiness support both to the ship and attached squadrons.

Navy EOD giving an OK after VSW (Very Shallow Water) dive.

Having recently started my second operational tour at Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Expeditionary Support Unit 1, and currently deployed forward on a U.S. Central Command deployment with an EOD mobile unit, I have been able to leverage what I learned on my first tour to assist me with maintaining operational readiness of the equipment used to support the warfighter. To clarify, the equipment that I used to provide logistics support to other departments on my first tour, I now directly own as not just as a Supply Officer (SUPPO), but as an N4. Under this structure, I do more than just provide parts and services (N41). I’m responsible for transportation and movement of forces and equipment (N42), as well as the maintenance and upkeep of that equipment (N43). These additional functions can definitely take a SUPPO out of his comfort zone, beyond the scope of N41 duties. When I was on a ship and equipment suffered a casualty, my role in the solution often was procuring the part for the warfighter as quickly as possible to resume regular operations. However, in the case of my current deployment, if there is an equipment casualty, I might not only be responsible for procuring the part, but, depending on where the part is available, I might also have to work to get it where I need it, while having my maintenance personnel install it to correct the casualty.

Navy EOD conducting night operations with Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman.

 

As someone once put it quite succinctly to me, one of the major distinctions between the rest of the fleet and expeditionary communities is that while your equipment and weapons systems on submarines, ships, aircraft, etc. are your major assets, when you are assigned to an expeditionary unit, your main assets are often your people. What I mean by this is that in performing missions on traditional fleet assets, you use your equipment and weapons systems. In an expeditionary community, it is often your personnel who directly perform missions and operations. Given this, I have found that being deployed in the expeditionary community has been much more dynamic than what I was accustomed to on my ship. Oftentimes on this deployment, the EOD techs might find solutions to dynamic, real-world problems that need logistical support. This requires constant communication with the EOD techs as they are constantly attempting to solve real-time problems with innovative solutions. I find this to be much different from my ship where my main readiness issues all stemmed from downed equipment or aircraft, where the solution was being able to get the right part, which usually can be sourced through the stock system. My issues here are when the part is not readily available and figuring out where I’m going to get it from and how quickly. Supporting EOD operations, I might have to procure material that is needed to support combating the enemy tactics of today, with the understanding that this material will most likely never go through the integrated logistics support process to go into the stock system because, by then, the problems facing EOD techs will have changed, and, consequently, the solutions and follow-on logistics support will have changed as well.

Navy EOD conducting military freefall operations out of a C-130.

I have greatly enjoyed both of my operational tours. Given that the Supply Corps’ function is to support the warfighter, I always wanted to have a wide range of experience in my operational ours so that in my future shore tours, I will have an understanding of how better to support the warfighter across a wider segment of designators.

September/October 2017