KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait -- This week, deployed Marines of the 1st Force Service Support Group have begun emptying ships around-the-clock here, amassing the tools they'll need for upcoming missions in Iraq.
Not feeling as rushed to offload gear as they were last year in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, military officials are determined to keep close tabs that units are given exactly what they asked for.
During the planning for the Marines' return to Iraq, all units determined the amount of equipment they would need based on the missions they were expected to perform. Therefore, all the gear coming into Kuwait has a predetermined owner.
"There has been strict accountability of which goes to which unit," said Capt. Eric C. Malinowski, assistant operations officer for Brigade Service Support Group 1, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., which is specifically overseeing the offload.
Last year, the distribution method was less organized and more "from the hip," he said.
"In time of war, it's going to be a little bit more hectic," Malinowski said.
The arduous process of tracking the hundreds of vehicles and boxes is made easier using bar-code scanners. Bar codes appear on each piece of gear, and every time gear is moved - from the ship to the pier, from the pier to an assembly area, and so on - it is scanned, said Gunnery Sgt. Gregory M. Clemenson, 37, BSSG-1 watch chief and Johnstown, Pa., native.
This offload began on Feb. 8 after the arrival of the first of several Maritime Prepositioning Force ships, Marines and sailors will continue unloading until all the required gear is in country.
In addition to coming from MPF ships, gear is also set to arrive from military and commercially contracted ships and aircraft. The MPF however, sails with a stockpile of equipment for forward-deployed Marines, lessening the time it takes to get suited up for operations.
The equipment might look familiar, much of it is the same that was used during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Surprisingly, we've had less maintenance issues that we would have expected," said Malinowski.
This may be in part because crews of Marines who have arrived on the incoming MPF ships with the gear, are checking and repairing what they can while still at sea. The Marines, mostly from Camp Pendleton, use on-board tools and parts, said Staff Sgt. Hector Ayalahernandez, a 29-year-old Chicago native, who traveled from Pendleton to meet up with one ship in the Indian Ocean.
For any equipment still damaged after being taken off the ship, BSSG-1 also has mechanics who can try and make repairs on the spot.
At the group's command center, Marines carefully track each ship's offload.
"It's very detailed for one ship or one aircraft, even more so when we have several ships or several aircraft on top of one another," said Malinowski.
After debarking, Marine drivers deliver the gear to the staging areas for each of the major commands involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom - I Marine Expeditionary Force, 1st Marine Division, 1st Force Service Support Group and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. They then distribute it down to their subordinate units.
The gear will be staged at assembly areas in western Kuwait until I MEF's main forces arrive later this spring.
In addition to the landing support staff, hundreds of drivers from a myriad of units, both active duty and reserve, are attached to BSSG-1. A company from 2nd Military Police Battalion in Camp Lejeune, N.C., provides convoy security.
Also lending an unexpected hand is A Company, 2nd Transportation Support Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, who pledged to put approximately 200 Marines to work driving vehicles during downtime while waiting in Kuwait for further missions, said Capt. Dan Bradley, 34, the company's commander and St. Louis native.
"One team, one fight - that's our theory. Everybody supports the offload. Everybody supports each other getting into the country," said Malinowski.
Once their mission is completed, two-thirds of BSSG-1 personnel are expected to move to Iraq, while the others will return to the United States.
Approximately 25,000 Marines and sailors will be deployed to Iraq and Kuwait by this spring, with the 1st FSSG making up nearly a fifth of the force. Many of the returning Marines have only been home from Iraq a few months.
Although the deployment is being dubbed by some as "Operation Iraqi Freedom 2," it is a continuance of the Phase IV operations of the original OIF, and the Marines' primary mission will be to conduct stability and security operations so that the fledging Iraqi democracy can thrive.