By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 16, 2016) -- Most civilians might not know it; in fact, most Soldiers might not know it either. But the Army has its own fleet of ships and its own cadre of mariners to run them.
This month, 31 of those ocean-going Soldiers will set sail for Japan as part of a Pacific Pathways deployment.
"We don't call ourselves 'sailors,' because that title is already taken," said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Carmen, with the 605th Transportation Detachment, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. "But we are Army mariners, and it is a full-time job, absolutely."
On Friday, Aug. 12, Carmen and 30 other Soldiers -- about eight warrant officers and 23 enlisted in all -- boarded Army Vessel CW3 Harold C. Clinger, in Hawaii, and set off on an 18-day cruise that will take them to Nagoya, Japan, to drop off gear to be used in the Orient Shield exercise.
Carmen has been in the Army for 17 years now and, except for a three-year stint as an Army recruiter, he has worked with Army watercraft the entire time. He's accumulated about eight years of "sea duty" during his time in uniform.
LOGISTICS SUPPORT VESSEL
The 272-foot USAV Clinger is a "logistics support vessel," or LSV. The Army has eight of these cargo ships in its inventory, and each can carry a load up to 2,000 short tons, whether it's 37 Stryker vehicles, or 24 M1A2 Abrams tanks, or 50 20-foot cargo containers.
For security, the USAV Clinger is armed with four M2 .50-caliber machine guns, two M249 Squad Automatic Weapons, or "SAWs", and two Mk 19 grenade launchers. The enlisted crew also carries M16 rifles, while the warrant officers carry 9mm pistols.
A 12-guage shotgun is also available to protect the ship, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Lloyd, who serves as master maritime of operations with 8th TSC.
"Just like any mariner out there in the world, like the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine, we follow a set of drills from abandon ship, to man overboard, to fire drills, and in the case of our vessel, we also do battle drills," Lloyd said.
According to Carmen, the crew on this mission will be responsible for delivering to Japan about 9,000 square feet of cargo, which will consist mostly of rolling stock and cargo containers.
PORTS PROVIDE PRACTICE
The gear they'll carry to Japan belongs to the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, whose Soldiers will use it while participating in the Orient Shield 16 exercise, part of Pacific Pathways.
The USAV Clinger will deliver the gear to the port at Nagoya, and then move north to Yokahama for the duration of Orient Shield -- about 20 days of waiting. Around mid-October, they will return to Nagoya to retrieve the gear and return it to their home port in Hawaii.
During the Orient Shield 16 exercise, Soldiers with the 3rd IBCT will partner with their Japanese counterparts on training missions, while soldiers of the 605th Transportation Detachment aboard the USAV Clinger will flex their logistics muscles.
"This is a great training opportunity for the crews to go to multiple ports and experience the difficulties or challenges that come along with moving a ship into a foreign country," said Lloyd.
While combat arms Soldiers practice their skills on the ground, these soldiers will tackle logistics operations that they wouldn't be able to practice back in Hawaii, like obtaining clearances to dock and move cargo, and undergoing customs inspections.
"Every country has its own policy on importing equipment, whether it be military or civilian," Lloyd pointed out. "Every country is different."
Lloyd said there are fewer than 1,000 Soldiers across four military occupational specialties that make up the community of Army mariners. Back when he joined the community 17 years ago, he anticipated a different kind of life as a mariner.
"I kind of envisioned the patrol boats going up and down rivers," Carmen said. "But being on the larger vessels going out to sea? That's not what I imagined."
Unlike many Sailors in the Navy, Army mariners don't live on their ships, Carmen said. They stay in barracks like any other soldier, but the maintenance requirements of the vessels are such that the Mariners must attend to them on a daily basis.
The Army's water operations also differ from that of the Navy in that Army mariners don't occupy bodies of water as part of their mission. Instead, their role is to deliver goods for the warfighter.
"The Navy is a combat force and their responsibility is very similar to the Army's, as far as their role for being theater commanders for their battlespace -- which is the ocean," Lloyd said.
"For the Army, it's the land; for the Air Force, it's the air. So as part of that need to have organic intra-theater movement -- [the Army has] trucks. But how do we move stuff on water in our theaters of operation? That's where Army watercraft comes in."
LIFE ON THE SEA
Life aboard an Army vessel like the USAV Clinger is likely similar to that experienced by Sailors in the Navy, Lloyd said. He may be biased, but he suspects it's probably better.
"Everybody has their own bunk, and we live more comfortably than the Navy," he said. "Each Soldier definitely has more square footage than the Navy. But it's still tight living. All the enlisted crew are two-man rooms and the officers are single occupancy, but a little smaller."
Ships are underway for periods that usually last no longer than 30 days at a time. Communications on board are limited, Carmen said. You can send emails and phones are available for an emergency, but if you want to call home just to say hi, you will have to wait to get to port."
When not working, crew members busy themselves with playing cards or board games or watching TV in the crew's mess. A small weight room is available as well, though it's used mostly when the ship is at port.
"If we're in anything over just a couple feet of waves, it becomes somewhat of a safety concern to be down there lifting weights," Carmen said.
And while experienced mariners are seldom bothered by rough seas, such conditions can be frightening for others. Soldiers will strap themselves into bed with bungee cords to keep from rolling out of bed. And nearly everything else on board the ship must be locked down and secured.
But not everything can be tied down.
"We were in some pretty nasty seas on the LSVs, and the cooks were trying to cook eggs," Carmen remembered. "Every time they'd crack an egg on the grill top, it would slide from one end of the grill to another. They couldn't make a sunny-side up egg to save their lives."
Mariners face many of challenges at sea.
"We are trained to deal with it," Lloyd said. "The new crew, when they get their first experience, they tend to talk about it for a while. But for SFC Carmen and me, it's just another day on the water. We fill up our coffee cup and do our duty."