by Captain Christina C. Shelton and Second Lieutenant Bill Battles
12/26/2012 - FORT EUSTIS, Va. -- Editor's Note: For
the first time, the Army and its only modular causeway system company
provided logistics-over-the-shore support to resupply research stations
The mission of the 331st Transportation Company, 11th Transportation
Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, located at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is
to provide a mobile pier powered by small Army vessels for the
discharge of cargo and equipment from watercraft to an unimproved
shoreline or degraded fixed-port facility. It also provides floating
facilities for the rapid discharge of rolling stock from
roll-on-roll-off cargo ships and other vessels.
The 331st Transportation Company has a long history in the
Transportation Corps and a very unique place in the Department of
Defense (DOD) inventory. It carries the DOD's only modular causeway
system (MCS). Its Soldiers train year round for worldwide deployment in
support of wartime and humanitarian aid missions.
Operation Deep Freeze
In 2012, the 331st Transportation Company displayed its
capabilities during Operation Deep Freeze 2012 in Antarctica. Operation
Deep Freeze is the annual resupply mission to research stations on the
continent of Antarctica, including McMurdo Staion, Palmer Station, and
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
The Army had not participated in Operation Deep Freeze in nearly 20
years, and this was the first time Army watercraft were used for the
mission. Regular participants in this mission are the National Science
Foundation (NSF), the parent organization of the U.S. Antarctic Program;
the U.S. Air Force; the U.S. Navy; the Military Sealift Command (MSC);
the New Zealand Defense Forces; and Raytheon Polar Services, a civilian
agency contracted by the NSF.
Army Watercraft Support
In the past, a large man-made ice pier was used to discharge
the resupply vessel, but an unusually warm winter prevented the pier
from reaching the structural integrity required for the operation. A
suitable alternative was needed. The NSF discovered the capabilities of
the MCS, requested MCS support, and entered into discussion with the
Army to determine its feasibility.
Since the 331st Transportation Company trains for
logistics-over-the-shore missions year round and employs its mobile
piers in various environments, Operation Deep Freeze was exactly the
type of real-world mission for which the MCS was designed.
Operation Deep Freeze required a pier able to sustain 24-hour crane and
truck operations and a crew to build and maintain the pier. After a
thorough analysis of the problem set, a T-shaped pier measuring 160 feet
long (from ship to shore) and 144 feet wide was designed and a crew of
41 Soldiers was designated to build and maintain the pier.
Getting to Antarctica
Fifty-three trucks transported the cargo, which included two
modular warping tugs and auxiliary gear, to Port Hueneme, California. [A
modular warping tug is a section of causeway powered by two diesel
motors and manned by a five-person crew.] In California,
the cargo was loaded onto the Merchant Vessel (MV) Green Wave, which MSC
contracted to deliver both the causeway and the supplies for McMurdo
Station. A crew of eight Soldiers flew out to California to assist in
the upload of equipment onto MV Green Wave.
In early February, 331st Transportation Company Soldiers flew to
Christchurch, New Zealand (a U.S. Antarctic Program launch point for
Antarctic missions). There the crew received specialized cold-weather
gear designed for manual labor during the ship offload in
Antarctica. Once outfitted, the Soldiers boarded a Boeing 757 operated
by the Royal New Zealand Air Force and flew to McMurdo Station, landing
on the Ross Ice Shelf runway atop 1,000 feet of solid ice.
The first few days in Antarctica were consumed by in-processing, site
surveys, moving into dormitories, and getting familiar with the area.
Winter Quarters Bay, where the operation was going to take place, is the
site where the first Antarctic expeditions to the South Pole began more
than 100 years ago. MSC contracted a Russian ice-breaker vessel, the
Vladimir Ignatuk, to break up ice within the channel so
that MV Green Wave could gain access to the bay. The old, unstable ice
pier was disconnected, with the help of a few hundred pounds of
dynamite, and moved to a temporary location south of the offload site.
The Mission Begins
The mission began in earnest on 14 February, when MV Green Wave arrived
and was moored to the old ice pier. With MV Green Wave in position, the
first step was to offload the two warping tugs. Once the tugs were in
the water and fully operational, Navy Cargo
Handling Battalion 1 (NCHB-1) and the pier crew from the 331st
Transportation Company began assembling causeway sections off the side
of MV Green Wave.
Within 72 hours, the pier was fully assembled and secured to the ice
wharf, where two bulldozers held it in place with steel cables and
winches. In addition, several lines were tied to bollards (strong posts
on the wharf), and the tugs were positioned on either side to
Logistics Over the Shore Operations
Once the pier was in place, the offload began. Over the next 8 days,
NCHB-1, Raytheon Polar Services, and drivers from the New Zealand
Defense Force unloaded across the causeway more than 8 million pounds of
cargo to be used by research stations and field camps across the
Drivers returned to the ship with 7 million pounds of ice, rock, trash,
recycling, and unneeded equipment that was then back-loaded onto the
vessel. This effort involved every
major organization at McMurdo Station, including the fire marshal, the
maintenance facility, ground operations, port operations, and supply
operations. It was truly a joint and
The Return Mission
Breaking down the causeway took only 36 hours. As soon as the
last warping tug was loaded onto MV Green Wave, the ship departed for
California. The Operation Deep
Freeze crew out-processed McMurdo Station and boarded a U.S. Air Force C-17 for New Zealand a day later.
By 5 March, all personnel were back at Fort Eustis. A crew was sent to
California to meet MV Green Wave and facilitate the return of equipment
to Virginia by rail using 22 DOD-owned railcars. The cargo was delivered
on 25 April.
Soldiers from the causeway crew were recognized on 10 April by U.S. Air
Force General William Fraser, the Transportation Command commanding
general, who visited Fort Eustis and presented crewmembers with Joint
Service Achievement Medals for their historic efforts.