INDIAN OCEAN – A team of U.S. Marines, Sailors and civilians are afloat near the equator in the Indian Ocean, but their mission has nevertheless ventured into unchartered waters.
Sailors and civilian mariners with Military Sealift Command, along with Marines from Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, are exercising their ship's logistical capabilities as a Theater Security Cooperation support vessel on a large scale for the first time.
The USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE-1) is the newest addition to the Marine Corps' Maritime Prepositioning Force, a program that enables the rapid deployment and engagement of a fully capable Marine Air-Ground Task Force anywhere in the world.
As part of the MPF, the ship will serve as a carrier of Marine Corps mission-essential materiel, which is prepositioned in a strategic location. In the event of conflict, contingency operations or a humanitarian crisis, the ship can respond quickly to deliver its cargo in support of the mission.
"It's been transferred to us as a military prepositioning asset in Military Prepositioning Ship Squadron 2," said Chief Petty Officer Nathan D. Price, command yeoman aboard the ship. "Basically our concept is to be prepositioned, forwardly deployed somewhere so that we can support the Marine Corps."
The ship's evaluation is part of Exercise Coconut Grove 2012, being conducted Oct. 6-16 in the Republic of Maldives.
The exercise is a bilateral training event conducted bi-annually between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Maldivian National Defense Force. While Coconut Grove focuses mainly on general military skills training for the Marines and MNDF forces, the exercise also provided a timely opportunity to test the ship's ability to perform during a real-world scenario.
Before going underway to the Maldives, military logisticians together with Merchant Marines conducted a logistical testing evolution to assess T-AKE-1's ability to offload 5,500-pound High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV).
The ship and her crew demonstrated they were more than capable.
"Today, we proved the concept," said Navy Capt. Calvin D. Slocumb, commander of MPSRON-2, following the test lift conducted Oct. 1. "We can do a lift of Marine Corps vehicles from the ship to a ferry. So the Marines can say, ‘This is one of the things we can do with this class of ship.'"
The MPF program is a combined Navy and Marine Corps effort, helping Marines fulfill their role and responsibility as the nation's force-in-readiness.
"Any combatant commander can contact us and let us know they need equipment or supplies at a forward deployed location and within 24 hours we'll be setting sail to provide the support," said Price.
Personnel aboard the ship will continue to assess its capabilities throughout the exercise.