By Lt. j.g. Tim Hawkins

SAN DIEGO – Sailors and Marines loaded and stored more than 2 million pounds of supplies, vehicles and weapons aboard three amphibious ships here in port at Naval Base San Diego, June 24, kicking off the intermediate phase of pre-deployment training for the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).

            In the upcoming weeks, the Bonhomme Richard ARG and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will work side-by-side to complete PHIBRON/MEU Integration Training (PMINT), the first of three at-sea training evolutions before the start of a scheduled deployment.


“We learned a lot of lessons during the on-load planning process but more importantly we built ARG/MEU team relationships which will continue to strengthen throughout the work-up process,” said Capt. Rodney Clark, the ARG commander.


More than 100 crewmembers and MEU landing support personnel worked 30 hours over the course of three days to move ammunition and equipment, including 68-ton M-1A1 main battle tanks. 11th MEU Marines traveled 50 miles from their headquarters located north of San Diego at Camp Pendleton.


“This was a joint effort between the Navy and Marine Corps to make this happen,” said Marine Corps Capt. Anthony Green, the ARG’s senior combat cargo officer, who oversaw the loading process for all three ships, which includes the group’s flagship, amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6); amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7); and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47).

Most of the gear stored on Cleveland and Rushmore was driven across metal ramps wedged between the pier and the ships’ stern gates and capable of withstanding 70-ton loads, according to Green. However, Bonhomme Richard relied on landing craft units (LCUs) – a type of boat used by amphibious forces to transport equipment and troops ashore – to form a stern-gate marriage in order to on-load cargo items too large to fit in its narrower port-side loading entrance.


“A stern-gate marriage is when the LCU comes to the stern ramp and is chained into place. The cargo is then moved across a [tire rubber articulated mover] and onto the ship,” Green explained.


 Medium-sized M-198 155m field artillery howitzers and high performance, all-terrain vehicles called Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVRs) were some of the items ferried from Naval Base Coronado across San Diego Bay on LCUs and loaded onto Bonhomme Richard.


“It takes months of planning and coordination by dedicated Sailors and Marines to safely execute this type of event,” said Clark. “It takes many doing their individual duties professionally which make up the sum of a flawless on-load.”


The loaded equipment allows the Bonhomme Richard ARG/MEU team to practice tactical scenarios, conduct live-fire training, test communications systems, and complete other drills during integrated training evolutions.


“The ARG/MEU team is built through individuals and these relationships will be key in the success of all of our operations,” said Clark.


The upcoming training evolutions enable the ARG/MEU team to execute a range of operations during deployment to include security cooperation and theatre engagement – missions that help maintain freedom of the seas and prevent war; the hallmarks of the new maritime strategy endorsed by all three sea services in 2007.

Bonhomme Richard ARG is augmented by various support elements. These include Tactical Squadron (TACRON) 12, Detachment (DET) 1; The “Wild Cards” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, DET 3; Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 1, DET B; ACU-5, DET F; Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1, DET B; and Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 9.