Rear Adm. Paul Schultz Remarks at American Merchant Marine Veterans National Convention

May 7, 2003

Good afternoon! Its great to be here in Atlantic City.

Im proud to represent the U.S. Navys Military Sealift Command, and Im delighted to help open the 17th Annual National Convention of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, because you are all heroes.

Now, I know heroes are usually associated with men in uniform, carrying weapons and marching off to war. And that certainly applies to the Armed Guard. How many of you are Armed Guard veterans? You all have my admiration and respect.

But, back to heroes. You and I know that there are, and always have been, heroes who dont wear a uniform, or even work for the government.

Americas merchant mariners have served in every U.S. war since the country began. It was merchant mariners who crewed Hannah, the first ship commissioned by the Continental Congress to go up against the might of the British Navy in 1775. And they prevailed, capturing the British ship Unity in short order.

Since then, you, Americas merchant mariners, have been the backbone of our nations maritime service, especially in war.

In World War II, you faced untold dangers from submarines, mines, armed raiders, enemy destroyers and aircraft, and the forbidding weather of the North Atlantic. Yet you never shirked your duties.

I know many of you lost good friends, even members of your family in the that great conflict. Only the U.S. Marine Corps had a higher casualty rate than you did.

Of all who went to sea in the defense of America -- who rode the floating bombs that carried aviation gas and other fuels, who stood the watch in Torpedo Alley, who watched helpless over the rail as other ships in your convoy went up in flames and down with all aboard -- of all those went to sea to defend this great nation, one in 26 did not come home.

Yet, through it all, you stayed on course, carrying the desperately needed supplies and equipment meant for our boys in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. And, through it all, you held true to the motto: Well deliver!

Its been the same ever since, from Korea to Vietnam, from Haiti to Kosovo, and now worldwide, but especially in Iraq.

Today, Military Sealift Command is the worlds largest employer of U.S. merchant mariners.

The young men and women who have taken up your legacy serve aboard MSC ships on every ocean.

They provide underway replenishment for the Navys carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups.

They gather undersea surveillance and oceanographic survey data for the Department of Defense.

They crew the ships that preposition combat equipment and supplies for our war fighters in strategic locations around the world, ready to marry up with the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy wherever and whenever needed.

And U.S. merchant mariners crew the sealift ships that carry the day-to-day military cargoes needed by the Department of Defense all over the globe.

Earlier, I mentioned Iraq. Let me tell you how about Military Sealift Commands support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since more than 6,000 of the 8,000 people who work for MSC are U.S. merchant mariners, I mean the merchant mariners support for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Back in October of last year, two of our ships were involved in an exercise held in Kuwait. When the exercise was over, the decision was made to leave the equipment on the ground in Kuwait, just in case the need for it arose in the near future.

In January, this foresight was rewarded as the buildup for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

Soon, MSC prepositioning ships, surge sealift ships and commercial charters were loading cargo in ports on the U.S. East, Gulf and West Coasts for Army units headed for Southwest Asia.

MSCs surge sealift fleet includes fast sealift ships and large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-on ships, or LMSRs.

The fast sealift ships, a mainstay of surge sealift in the first Gulf War, are almost 950 feet long and capable of 27 knots. They each carry more than 150,000 square feet of military cargo. We have eight of them, and all eight ships together can lift nearly the equivalent of a full Army mechanized division.

LMSRs are even bigger, capable of loading more than 300,000 square feet of wheeled and tracked vehicles and rolling stock on each ship. Thats equivalent to almost seven football fields full of Army gear.

For all their enormous size, LMSRs have a crew of only 30 commercial mariners. Thats because the ships are so highly automated a far cry from the ships most of you are familiar with.

LMSRs were added to the MSC fleet following the first Gulf War, when lessons learned pointed out the need for additional capacity.

We now have eight LMSRs in our Prepositioning Program and ten in our surge sealift fleet. Well add one more to surge sealift this summer. All told, the 19 LMSRs will give us an additional two million square feet of capacity in prepositioning and three million square feet in surge sealift capabilities.

Back to Operation Iraqi Freedom --it was late March, and we had reached a peak of 167 ships, in our steel bridge of democracy. That was more than 78 percent of the total MSC active fleet of 214 ships that day -- ships dedicated directly to supporting the U.S. forces engaged in freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny and persecution.

Since the beginning of the buildup, MSC and her merchant mariners have delivered more than 16.5 million square feet of combat gear for U.S. war fighters. During the same period, merchant mariners aboard commercial tankers under charter to MSC delivered more than 185 million gallons of fuel to the Persian Gulf: fuel for vehicles, aircraft and ships, supporting the full range of U.S. war-fighting forces.

We did face some challenges during all the sealift operations, weather being a primary factor from the very beginning. Ive seen photos taken from the bridge of one of our Ready Reserve Force ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The waves were almost on eye level not your typical summer cruise, but the merchant mariners aboard never wavered in their mission.

By the same token, the weather at the port of Ash Shuaybah was a big factor: we also have a photo of one of our LMSRs waiting to off-load, stalled because of the low visibility caused by a sandstorm. In the picture, you cant see more than halfway down the length of the ship -- about 160 yards for you golfers. And the sand gets into everything!

Another challenge was the Suez Canal. Its very narrow, with very little maneuvering room and no room for error. More than 100 of our mariner-crewed ships had to pass through that canal, including the ships carrying the 4th Infantry Division that were not allowed to off-load in Turkey and had to reposition to the Persian Gulf to off-load in Kuwait.

Of course, off-loading all those ships in Kuwait meant that Ash Shuaybah was extremely busy. And it could only handle six ships at a time. The staff of the MSC office in Bahrain, one of our five area commands, helped choreograph the movement of ships into and out of the Ash Shuaybah berths at the same time avoiding all the other military ship traffic in the area, an incredible feat!

Force Protection continues to be a challenge for MSC ships, since we are basically non-combatants. Harking back to the Armed Guard, we owe many thanks to the Guardian Mariner program for helping meet this challenge.

More than 1,300 Army reservists were activated to provide force protection and security aboard MSC ships sailing to and from Southwest Asia. The soldiers came from Puerto Rico National Guard Unit 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade. They were organized into 110, 12-person teams, which began reporting aboard MSC ships Mar. 19. [platoon-level weapons: .50 cal, BARs, M-16s, etc.]

Of course, as Yogi Berra said, "It aint over until its over." MSC and our merchant mariners did extremely well in deploying the war-fighting equipment and supplies for Operation Iraqi Freedom. But, when redeployment begins, we have to do just as well. Nobody remembers the first three quarters of a close game -- its the last quarter that counts. For MSC, redeployment will be the fourth quarter.

But Im sure well see the mission through as effectively and efficiently as we did in getting all that cargo to Kuwait in the first place. And well do it because of the men and women of the U.S. merchant marine -- those "youngsters" who have taken the baton from you, as you did from the generation before you.

Theyll finish this race, and win. And theyll start the next one with the same energy and drive as you did when the call went out to merchant mariners 60 years ago in World War II . . . and 50 years ago in Korea . . . and 40 years ago in Vietnam . . . and twelve years ago in the first Gulf war . . . and now.

Like you, theyre U.S. merchant mariners. You delivered, and so will they.


Speech courtesy Rear Admiral Paul Schultz

Ready Reserve Force Ships