USS BOXER, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Boxer (LHD 4) and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 Detachment (Det) 3 completed a low-visibility ammunition on-load of approximately 700 pallets Dec. 2.
The operation began Nov. 17, near the end of the Boxer's Composite Training Unit Exercise but had to be postponed until early December due to fog. The operation was safely completed 15 days after it started as Boxer moved 600 pallets of ammunition prior to the postponement and another 100 pallets to complete the operation.
"The biggest obstacle during this operation was the fog," said Aerographer's Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Emily Lormand. "We had less than one mile of visibility. That meant helicopter pilots could not see the flight deck in order to unload ammunition."
Aerographer's mates made weather observations every 30 minutes during flight quarters. They also gave weather condition briefs to Amphibious Squadron 5 and Boxer leadership.
"We helped operations by forecasting weather conditions and offering recommendations based on weather conditions," said Lormand. "Wind, sea state and visibility are always a concern."
Each day of the operation, helicopter pilots and flight deck personnel had to adapt to low-visibility conditions due to the fog, focusing primarily on safety.
"During the ammunition on-load our primary concern was the safety of everyone on the flight deck," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate Handling 2nd Class (AW/SW) Charles Ellis. "There were so many moving parts and potential risks. We told Sailors and Marines to ask if they didn't know how to execute a task safely and correctly."
HSC-21 pilots transported the ammunition to Boxer by hanging the pallets below MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters and setting them on the ship's flight deck.
"HSC-21 Det. 3 was tasked with moving ammunition from a landing zone near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., to the ship," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Kirby, HSC-21 Search and Rescue Det. 3 officer in charge. "During both underway periods our pilots could not see much out of their helicopter windows, so we had to rely on positional tracking instruments."
In order to carry out the mission the pilots relied on more than mechanical instruments to ensure a safe operation from the pilot's seat.
"We went through several planning briefs beforehand, set all kinds of controls and measures, and we exercised operational risk management," added Kirby. "The postponement made for a long final day for everyone involved, but the teamwork shown by HSC-21, the flight deck crew, combat cargo and the aviation ordnancemen was amazing."
Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group (BOXESG) is at sea for its final pre-deployment underway.
"It felt good to complete this operation because we adapted to poor weather conditions and executed," Ellis said. "That's a real confidence booster for us."
BOXESG is currently preparing for a deployment scheduled for early next year.
BOXESG is comprised Amphibious Squadron 5, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Comstock (LSD 45), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719), USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, Naval Beach Unit 1, Assault Craft Unit 1, Beach Master Unit 1 and Fleet Surgical Team 5.
The 13th MEU is comprised of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.
For more news from USS Boxer, visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd4.