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One visiting foreign vessel can keep U.S. Navy logistics Sailors pretty busy. Now, how about two foreign vessels? From two different nations, at the same time?
That was the scene at Naval Station Mayport starting in May, when the Brazilian submarine BNS Tikuna (S 34) and the Colombian submarine ARC Tayrona (SO 29) arrived for the 2022 Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI). DESI is an annual exercise that brings diesel-electric submarines from South American nations to Florida and California for exercises with U.S. naval vessels and aircraft.
It wasn’t a first, but it may be the way of the future. Planners are projecting that more foreign nations may gather in Jacksonville for the multimonth exercise in the future.
Sailors from Logistics Support Center Mayport provided the supply lifeline to the visiting crews. Juggling two foreign nations’ needs at once makes for an interesting day, said Lt. Emilio Nodal, officer in charge of the two-person team that handled the visiting submarines. The Mayport logistics center is a part of Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Jacksonville.
“That’s the uniqueness of the day when you come in. It’s, ‘Ok, what do they require today?’” Nodal said. “It could be, they have a meeting in Kings Bay, (Georgia.) We have to coordinate security to get them on the base, then we have to get them through security. … Everything they do requires some kind of security process or a special entity who has to assist us.”
At two points this summer, an urgent situation arose for the team.
One foreign sailor passed a kidney stone and another suffered apparent appendicitis. The Mayport logistics team rushed them to U.S. Navy medical care, which required obtaining a special federal ID number for each foreign sailor and providing translation service in the doctor’s office.
Another wrinkle is that the visiting nations don’t buy fuel and food from the established vendors that American ships use for supplies. Part of the job is taking them to grocery stores around Jacksonville. Costco and Walmart are among the highlights for the visitors.
The South American visitors are typically wowed by the American superstores. “With the Colombians, we actually rented a U-Haul, that’s how much food we had. We loaded an entire U-Haul full of food,” Nodal said.
Nodal’s enlisted counterpart is Logistics Specialist 1st Class Luis Martinez, a longtime Navy reservist activated for 90 days to come to Jacksonville for the DESI exercise. As a civilian back in El Paso, Texas, he works as an appraiser with State Farm insurance.
On a recent morning, Martinez waited at a Mayport gate for a fuel truck from a company that had possibly never delivered to the base before. He was armed with a special letter from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. Fourth Fleet saying that this fuel shipment should be allowed for the Brazilians.
Once at the pier, it took almost an hour for the fuel company and the Brazilian crew to find a connector that would make the American fuel line fit Tikuna’s fuel tank.
Martinez played facilitator, as all parties stood in a circle with heads bent over the hose pieces. The language exchange was a mix of Portuguese, Spanish and English. The Brazilians spoke their first language of Portuguese, plus some Spanish and English. Martinez is a fluent Spanish speaker.
Martinez said that if all else fails, he can resort to a translator app on his cell phone for help.
This is Martinez’s fifth time being activated for DESI. Sometimes he is called to San Diego for the West Coast version of the exercise.
“I like interacting with the young sailors that I meet out of the different countries. And being able to add that piece of speaking to these folks in Spanish,” Martinez said.
“I treat the subs and the personnel within those subs as my own family. My kids. ‘Hey, what do my kids need?’ Give it that family touch,” he said.
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