BY LT. DOUG CHICO, SC, USN
USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7)
The hurricane season for 2017 was one of the most active in history, and the U.S. Navy was ready to respond. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the men and women of the U.S. Navy and Marines Corps responded to provide humanitarian relief to American citizens in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
As the sales officer assigned to USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), I had the opportunity to see how the Supply Corps truly makes a difference. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Iwo Jima’s supply department played a critical role in the Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission in Key West by delivering the necessary water and supplies to civilians and first responders on the ground and providing logistical support to various units throughout the operation.
As Hurricane Irma headed toward the Florida coastline, Carrier Strike Group 10 Commander Rear Adm. Sam Paparo embarked Iwo Jima, along with a crisis action team comprised of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command personnel and a detachment of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force. As the storm veered away from Miami and toward the Keys, Iwo Jima and its crew laid out contingency plans if we were called upon to render aid.
The local government officials in Key West requested military assistance and all available bottled water as the storm passed and relief efforts could commence. The pipeline that supplied the area with fresh water had been damaged during the storm and there was no running water anywhere in Key West. Iwo Jima’s ship’s store had 575 cases of water that I had procured a year ago for humanitarian operations in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew, but those supplies were not needed due to a rapid response from non-governmental relief organizations. Once the message went out on the ship that all available bottled water was needed in Key West, Master Chief Ship’s Serviceman Paul Kapusta and other senior enlisted members organized an all-hands working party to transfer the bottled water from the storeroom to the hangar bay so the Marines could fly it out the next day. The CH-53s from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 flew the bottled water ashore. Simultaneously, personnel from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit 2 and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit flew in to provide relief and establish communications with local officials. A couple hours later, I had the unique opportunity to fly into Naval Air Station Key West and assist the crisis action team in the distribution of water and supplies. It was truly an amazing opportunity to help the people of my home state in a time of need.
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Sailors, including SH2 Skyler Bennet (far left), give out food, water, and ice to a resident of Key West, Florida, during humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Irma’s landfall. –photo by MC3 Kevin Leitner
While the sales and services division played a key role in the initial response, all supply divisions worked together to make the mission a success. The stock control division (S-1) tracked all financial requirements associated with Iwo Jima and its embarked staff to ensure proper funding from U.S. Fleet Forces Command was used. This included providing a line of accounting for the bottled water from the ship’s store, transfers from other units, emergent port visits, unplanned replenishments at sea, the distribution of Meal, Ready-to-Eat™rations and fuel transfers to interagency aircraft. The material and transportation division (S-8) stored 960 specialized water containers that were used to transport the fresh drinking water produced by ship’s engineers. Additionally, the aviation supply division (S-6) provided Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 and other squadrons with the necessary parts to keep the helicopters flying during a period of high operational tempo. Overall, all readiness divisions expeditiously processed requisitions to support the mission and ensured proper financial accountability was maintained throughout the operation in Key West.
With regard to feeding the crew, the food service division (S-2/S-5) met every requirement as it provided 1,200 boxed lunches to sustain Iwo Jima Sailors in Key West who had volunteered to work at distribution centers ashore. Additionally, the division provided premier customer service and meals to over 2,200 Sailors, Marines, and civilians in support of the operation. With the influx of military personnel and civilians from Federal Emergency Management Agency, hotel services implemented a plan that provided each guest aboard the ship to have a place to sleep. “The Iwo Jima supply department once again displayed outstanding flexibility and an extraordinary all–hands–on–deck approach when called upon to help our fellow Americans,” said Iwo Jima Supply Officer Cmdr. Richie Jenkins. “I’m extremely proud of how they performed following one of the most devastating storms in our nation’s history.”
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Gov. Rick Scott of Florida thanks supply department Sailors, CS3 Andrew Hart (left) and CS3 Raheem Leonard (far right) from the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) for their hard work during humanitarian assistance efforts following Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Key West, Florida. –photo by MC Michael Lehman
The mission in Key West was a success as the Iwo Jima provided the necessary water and supplies to the residents of Key West. I later returned to Key West with a group of volunteers from the ship and saw that the Florida National Guard had shown up in full force to distribute water. The local grocery store had reopened its doors, albeit with limited hours, and the local utility company was in the process of restoring power to the city. A few days later, our mission was declared complete and Iwo Jima departed the area. In total, 51 supply Sailors went ashore to help with water and food distribution. The Iwo Jima supply department had played a critical role in the overall operation; and the combined efforts of Navy and Marine Corps personnel truly made a difference for the people of the United States during a major natural disaster.
After Iwo Jima returned to homeport in Mayport, another hurricane formed over the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Nate, much like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was projected to make a direct hit on New Orleans, Louisiana, and Iwo Jima was preemptively selected to serve as the command and control ship for the response with Carrier Strike Group 10 embarked. Thankfully, Hurricane Nate weakened and there was limited damage to the Gulf Coast, but as with Hurricane Irma, Iwo Jima and its crew were ready to respond if needed.