AT SEA -- During the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Certification Exercise - the final stepping stone before deployment into the Pacific and Central areas of operation - dozens of Marines and sailors are moving ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and back again every day to support mission essential tasks like non-combatant evacuations, airfield seizures and more.
To keep track of the men and women moving around the battlespace, the Navy-Marine Corps team looks to Combat Cargo, a special unit that keeps accountability, maintains safety checks and more.
“Combat cargo is a detachment of Marines with a twist,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anthony Rodriguez, the combat cargo officer aboard the USS Boxer. “We’re a mixed group of specialties working for a Navy chain-of-command to provide reliable accountability for any movement of troops inbound, outbound or between the ships.”
The journey to becoming a member of Combat Cargo begins before pre-deployment training. The MEU and its subordinate commands each submit names of Marines to be trained. These Marines come from a variety of military occupational specialties and are then taught by the seasoned personnel on ship.
“From combat engineers to aircrewmen, we’ve got Marines from communities across the Marine Corps,” said Cpl. Charles Redmond, one of the noncommissioned officers in charge of Marines on the well deck. “The diversity makes us unique and gives us a lot of resources to pull answers from when we need them, like the Corps as a whole.”
The combined-arms force the MEU brings to the table calls for thorough accountability of Marines at all levels. If the number of Marines flying off on a mission is incorrect, a Marine could be left behind or injured in a training area, so it’s important those numbers are maintained correctly, according to Rodriguez.
“People most often think about us collecting info on the ramp or in the well deck when they’re leaving or returning, but accountability is just one part of the job,” said Cpl. Fernando Fernandez, one of the noncommissioned officers in charge of Marines on the well deck. “Another aspect is the finite amount of usable space on ship. We make sure it’s all used safely and effectively with load plans and heavy equipment.”
The Combat Cargo detachment also has responsibilities to transport injured personnel to medical care in the event of a mass casualty event on ship as well as building pallets with netting for airlift. It also has the added benefit of growing the Marines on personal and professional levels.
“When I came to Combat Cargo four months ago, I was general population,” said Fernandez. “I’m a team leader for four guys in my primary job, but now I’m responsible for more than 20 Marines. It’s more responsibility than I expected, but it’s nice.”
Realistic, challenging training like CERTEX, where missions of multiple types are executed throughout the day, prepares Combat Cargo to support and succeed even in high stress periods so they will be ready to perform in any clime and place during their deployment.