U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- The tropical sun reflected off the blue waters of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the U.S. Navy's SS Maj. Stephen W. Pless (T-AK 3007) steamed into port Jan. 16 to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 821-foot Navy cargo ship carried a containerized fleet hospital and more than 60 pieces of rolling stock, including vans, buses and field ambulances, for Joint Task Force (JTF) 160.
The task force is heading detainee operations at the base, which is being used as a temporary holding facility for Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other detainees that come under U.S. control during the war on terrorism. The fleet hospital, built of container structures and tents, is a 500-bed facility with areas including a surgical suite, casualty receiving area, intensive care unit, lab and pharmacy.
SS Maj. Stephen W. Pless is a Maritime Prepositioning Ship normally located in the Mediterranean Sea where she prepositions equipment and supplies for the Marine Corps. Pless is contract-operated by civilians for the Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC), the ocean transportation provider for the Department of Defense.
The ship was in Norfolk, Va., having just completed routine maintenance, when she received the assignment to deliver the Guantanamo Bay cargo.
Pless proceeded Jan. 11 to Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Fla., where she loaded the Navy fleet hospital, stored in 70 containers, and the rolling stock. Pless then departed Jan. 13 for U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. Arriving pierside Jan. 16, the ship tied up and then extended her massive stern ramp toward the pier to enable Marines from JTF 160 to drive a steady stream of wheeled vehicles off the ship and onto the pier.
The Marines completed the vehicle off-load in just over an hour. Using the ship's 30-ton gantry crane, Navy stevedores off-loaded all 70 containers that same day.
"It surprised me that they got everything off-loaded that quickly," said Charlie LeBlanc, operations officer for the Military Sealift Command office in Beaumont, Texas.
LeBlanc arrived on site Jan. 11, to liaise with port operating personnel and JTF 160, and to survey the piers available to the ship.
"Guantanamo Bay is a Navy base and, therefore, not built for normal cargo operations, meaning the piers do not have large cranes like a commercial port," said LeBlanc.
This is one reason why the Navy maintains ships like Pless. Unlike most commercial cargo ships, Pless has large shipboard cranes and a roll-on/roll-off ramp that enable her to work in limited or undeveloped ports.
Pless is one of about 40 Military Sealift Command ships prepositioning military equipment and supplies near potential hot spots around the globe. The afloat prepositioning ships are part of about 115 active ships operated by MSC worldwide.
In addition to prepositioning, these ships provide an array of transportation services, including at-sea logistics support to the Navy fleet, seagoing platforms for special missions, and surge sealift of military equipment and supplies in wartime and peacetime.
For more information on Pless or the Military Sealift Command, visit the command Web site at http://www.msc.navy.mil.