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JBSA News
NEWS | March 1, 2013

ARSOUTH deploys watercraft to support exercises, missions

By Sgt. Barbara Liau 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Looking just like any other military ship out on the water, the 175-foot, military-grey vessel glided slowly toward shore at Guantanamo Bay.

However, unlike any other military ship out on the water, it bypassed the dock completely, pulled right up to the beach and lowered its ramp with a resounding thud.

This is the U.S. Army Vessel Runnymede, Landing Craft Utility 2001 - the first of the Army's LCU 2000 series of watercraft.

Possibly one of the most integral, yet invisible, components in the Army, the LCU 2000s are flat-bottomed boats used to transport equipment from country to country quickly and efficiently.

"The construction of the LCU allows it to pull right up to the shoreline, as it does not require the depth of water that a normal watercraft would need to dock," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Hayes, the chief engineer for the Runnymede.

One of two LCUs under U.S. Army South's operational control, the Runnymede was deployed to Guantanamo Bay to support Integrated Advance 2013, a humanitarian-crisis exercise U.S. Southern Command conducts biennially. The vessel transports equipment such as tents and vehicles, belonging to SOUTHCOM and Army South units.

"We are typically at the forefront for every humanitarian-based operation," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gary Bolser, vessel master for this Army South exercise deployment. "We deliver equipment when necessary - a 'you call, we haul,' type of deal."

The vessel's capabilities can give a humanitarian mission the crucial lead-time to get other equipment out. Bolser said that it's superior to other vehicles as far as transportation of equipment goes, and can cut money, effort and time.

"We were able to provide immediate relief in the case of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 because of our capabilities and strategically-placed station at Cape Canaveral, Fla.," Bolser said.

"A lot of the Haitian docks were destroyed during the earthquake," Bolser added. "With the LCU, we could bypass the docking necessity that other boats have, find a beach with the right gradient and then pull right up to unload our cargo."

The LCUs within the Army South area of operations have been involved in a variety of missions, including the aforementioned Operation Unified Response in Haiti, New Horizons Haiti, Beyond the Horizon, and the IA exercises.

According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Charles Torell, ARSOUTH's master of marine operations, the command has 24/7 operational control of two Army LCU vessels, which accomplish four basic missions for the command.

"The first is a permanent sealift capability in support of unified land operations within the Army South area of operations. Second, they support Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises," Torell said.

"Third, they provide immediate response to foreign humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. And lastly, they support joint interdiction task force counter drug operations, and, as needed, support other components in SOUTHCOM.

The LCUs also provide immediate response capability and can respond to any activity within ARSOUTH's AOR within 72 hours.

The vessels carry enough provisions for 30 days and are manned by a 15-man crew, including two food service specialists and a medic. The crew is further divided into deck and engineering sections and is armed with both crew-serve and individual weapon capabilities.

"Being on the LCU, we have to be self-dependent," Hayes said. "Each crewmember has to know not only his own job, but also the jobs of those below and above him. You don't specialize in just one field; you have to learn it all."

"There's a wealth of experience and knowledge on this boat," Bolser said. "When you add up all the years of people on this boat, you end up with a wide range of experiences. If a situation comes up that I haven't experienced, chances are someone onboard has."

Crewmembers have to be prepared at all times for any event that may happen out on the water. They do this by practicing scenarios that could occur, such as a fire onboard, man-over-board and abandon ship. These drills can come at any time, day or night, and are characterized by different alarms.

Many of the crewmembers often speak about their love of working out on the water and being able to serve on this vessel in particular. Most vessels are named after battles, but the Runnymede was named after the meadow where the Magna Carta was signed.

The Magna Carta is a charter signed by England's King John in 1215, which allowed certain individuals more civil liberties.

The Runnymede was christened in 1987 and has served faithfully since. In 2012 it was given a service-life extension where the vessel was kept whole, but restructured so the Army can use it well into the future.

"The work that's been put into this boat - from the performance, maintenance and service aspects - has been incredible. The state of the Runnymede from the shipyard to today is night and day," Hayes said.

Unfortunately, very few people, including those in the Army, are familiar with the Army watercraft and what they can contribute to the mission.

According to Torell, the Army needs these mission-essential maritime capabilities and they are as critical today as they were when the Army first started using the LCU 2001.