NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- The Navy's high-speed vessel Swift (HSV 2), homeported at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., played a major role in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in September.
Swift was pierside at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, when the crew learned they were needed to deliver fresh food to federal, state and local agencies assisting with the relief efforts.
"You can only eat MREs (meals ready to eat) for so long," said Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Pournelle, Swift's executive officer.
With most roads inaccessible, Swift and its crew were tasked with delivering the necessary supplies by water.
According to Chief Quartermaster Robert M. Collins, Swift's navigator, traveling through water littered with debris would have been a difficult task for any Navy ship, but the HSV's capability allowed them to navigate with ease.
Swift crew members moored at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Fla., loaded the mission deck with supplies and then departed for New Orleans to resupply the Navy ships already on station. It became apparent to Collins that Swift's storage capacity was underestimated.
The crew worked 12- to 15-hour days loading supplies onto the ships moored at NAS Pensacola. Swift made three trips back and forth from Pensacola to New Orleans carrying a total of 501 pallets of food and fuel.
"People don't quite understand that we can fit ten tractor trailers down in our mission deck, fully loaded," added Collins.
Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Scott Buffington, leading petty officer of deck department, said the motivating factor that kept the crew going was knowing they were helping their fellow Americans.
A native of Bastrot, La., Buffington knows firsthand about helping those in need. Buffington was aboard Swift during Operation Unified Assistance, a mission to aid victims in the months following the December 2004 tsunami.
"This is nowhere near the devastation I saw during the tsunami relief, but being my home state, for me it was like a bomb went off," said Buffington.
He also said helping in the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina was like helping family, not just for him but for everyone on board.
Collins said two words came to mind while he was in New Orleans - "eye opener."
"It's a good feeling to be a part of any humanitarian evolution, but it was especially good because it was our own people," said Collins.
"The crew on board Swift jumped from one task to another as soon as they heard the call," said Pournelle, commenting on his crew's ability to adapt to the difficult mission.
It was Swift's high-speed capability, added Pournelle, and the crew's dedication which enabled them to respond quickly.
"You can build all the high-tech ships in the world, but unless you have the crew that's capable and willing to do the work, it's useless," said Pournelle. "You name the mission, you give us the module, and we can do it."
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