This is from the bloggers roundtable November 12th, 2008 with Commodore Peter Dallman, Commander, Boxer ESG/Amphibious Squadron Five; Colonel David Coffman, Commanding officer, 13th MEU; and Captain Mark Cedrun, Commanding Officer USS Boxer. As you read, I think you'll note like I did that Col. Coffman steals the show, at least in regards to my question.
You can find the entire transcript of what I thought was a really good coversation here (PDF). Below was my questioning as part of the conversation.
I thought the first bits were interesting, but I really think the conversation opened up when the topic shifted to USS New Orleans (LPD 18). This was the same day as the Time magazine article that called the San Antonio the Floating Fiasco. I have added some commentary and observations.
Q. Galrahn: I have a question on the make-up of the strike group. I noticed that the USS Milius had been mentioned as part of the strike group up until this point, and the captain did not mention the ship. I was wondering if there was a reason. Did it -- is it different tasking or just no longer part of the group?In other words, the strike group consists of:
A. COL. COFFMAN: Well, that's a good question. Milius had been previous -- had been part of our group, but it's been decided that she's going to deploy separately and not as part of our group -- (inaudible) -- missions.
USS Boxer (LHD 4)
USS New Orleans (LPD 18)
USS Comstock (LSD 45)
USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)
USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93)
USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719)
Q. Galrahn: The second question was in regards to the Boutwell. I know that in the Pacific you guys have deployed cutters with your ESGs in the past. I'm just curious. I understand the cooperative function that is gained when you have all three of the maritime services together. I'm just wondering if there is a specific role or purpose for the inclusion of the cutter as part of the strike group? Is there -- are you planning exercises that emphasize more law enforcement? Is that the reasoning? Is there some sort of specific reason that you're bringing the Boutwell along?
A. COL. COFFMAN: You want me to answer that? Okay. Because I -- we took one on (inaudible.) I mean, the primary reason is because countries, potential countries --
A. COMMODORE DALLMAN: Go ahead, Mark.
A. CAPT. CEDRUN: Yeah, this is Mark Cedrun, CO of the Boxer. You're pretty much on target. I'll echo what the colonel said and that we don't specifically know what our tasking is going to be once we go, but having done a CARAT deployment, which is a cooperative and readiness afloat training deployment with the Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau, the possibility exists that if we are tasked to go to a country en route to wherever they're sending us that a lot of these folks are very interested in our Coast Guard and how the Coast Guard operates off American shores and they like to mirror that and apply that to their own country. And that's what I saw when I did CARAT in 2002 when we went to various countries in Southeast Asia.
So they were very interested in coastal patrol, law enforcement, coastal defense and bringing a Coast Guard cutter along with us. You've got the pros from Dover and they're very interested in how our Coast Guard operates. So that's the primary purpose.
A. CAPT. CEDRUN: And I would also add in there that, obviously, there's a broad array of maritime missions and tasks that the Navy side -- that we're tasked to do in maritime environment, which is not only the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard pitch into the fight, but also, you know, obviously, we're working with many coalition partners to fulfill those tasks in order to create stable conditions at sea which are going to allow economic prosperity to continue and enhance global security. So the whole idea of the Coast Guard is pitching into the fight and helping us continue to support from the maritime side in order to fulfill those missions of the combatant commanders.
Q. Galrahn: Did you guys request the cutter, or was it assigned to you from your boss? How did that come about to where the cutter gets to be integrated into the strike group?
A. CAPT. CEDRUN: Well, that's probably more of a question for the Coast Guard. They -- obviously, they're aware of our schedules and we work the Navy and Coast Guard together in order to get to an agreement where they would deploy with us.
So it's a little bit above my pay grade to articulate exactly how that was discussed, but, you know, certainly it's a handshake agreement between the Navy and the Coast Guard to reach an agreement on how and when they are going to deploy ships with strike groups. As a matter of fact, the Boxer did have a Coast Guard cutter with us last time we deployed as well, so it certainly is not uncommon.
For the record, I have asked the Coast Guard and hope to get more information regarding the deployment of the USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719). These are the deployments we can expect the National Security Cutter to make in the future, so we might as well be talking about them now. I believe these deployments have a lot in common with the recent deployment of the USCGC Dallas (WHEC 716) off Africa, and later to Georgia. Anytime the Coast Guard is deploying forward, this blog is interested.
Q. Galrahn: And the final question I was going to ask about the ships is, this will be the first deployment for the USS New Orleans and -- I mean, even today, Time Magazine runs a story -- I think, the quote was pretty brutal. Something about a floating fiasco when they were talking about the San Antonio. Are you guys concerned about this? Is this -- are you taking any measures to account for the possibility that the New Orleans may run into some problems per se on its first deployment similar to how the San Antonio was?Chuck Simmons at America's North Shore Journal also picked up on this, and asked a follow up question later on the topic. One thing forgotten about the LPD-17 class is how the Marines, who have become heavy due to Iraq, are able to get more equiment aboard. Col Coffman describes it as getting all his stuff onboard. This becomes a major theme of the rest of the blogger roundtable discussion.
A. COL. COFFMAN: Yeah. This is Colonel Coffman from the 13th MEU. We are always concerned with the material condition and readiness of the ships, but I can tell you we've done two underways with my Marines on that deck. We have elected and we are the first to do this. They didn't do it with San Antonio. I have put my battalion landing team headquarters on New Orleans.
Yeah, with the capacity of the New Orleans -- and I know you're familiar with that from your question regarding San Antonio -- with this three ship amphibious group out of the West Coast here with LHD Class with Captain Fedrins ship, San Antonio class with the New Orleans and then our LSD, we've got a tremendous leap in capacity in terms of vehicle stowage and, or vehicle cube or square feet and cube stowage. So one thing is we've got a tremendous increase from what has become a very challenging problem for us here, as marine equipment has gotten bigger and heavier with armoring up and whatnot. So we're the -- really the first West Coast MEU here in the last few years that's been able to kind of get all of our stuff well established on board and be able -- (audio break) --
So we were the first MEU to be able to get this much stuff aboard, so that's -- and to put it across the decks to permit the distributed ops of the ships working separate areas. And that's, of course, led us to putting -- I have a flag on each ship. My CLB is on the LSD (sp); my BLT headquarters is on New Orleans; and the MEU command element and squadron, of course, are on the flagship over here.
And what I was going to tell you was we've gained great confidence in New Orleans' ship and crew and have done what the ship was bought to do, particularly over the two (inaudible) periods here of integrated training. We've been able to execute a mechanized raid profile off the New Orleans, basically as an independent platform with our amtrack and tanks and LCACs (sp) working off of that deck. So we're very excited about the increased capacity and capability of that ship. So as far as the employment end of it, which is my part of the business, we're really excited to have New Orleans aboard and have gained increased confidence during the workup period here. And I can probably throw it back to Commodore Dallman if he wants to talk about blue side material condition or any questions regarding that. Do you want to pick that part up, Pete?
A. COMMODORE DALLMAN: Sure, sure. Obviously we have specifically addressed the material concerns that we had from before and we're continually working to improve materials -- (inaudible). As the colonel said, we are always concerned about the material status of our ships. That's something that's very top of our list. But I would echo his confidence in this ship's abilities, capabilities to deploy on time and task, and be able to be flexible to respond to tasking from our, from our group, from the Colonel, or me or from higher authorities.was an emphasis in strategic Sea Basing evident in the discussion, and I was left with a completely different opinion of New Orleans (LPD 18) than I had going in. If you are familiar with loading plans, you can get a feeling for what the LPD-17 class is doing to the MEU, but also get a good feeling for what the LPD-17 class gives as a stand alone platform. Very interesting...
A. COL. COFFMAN: And let me jump back in on that too because I hit the bottom for the well deck and vehicle deck which were laid out beautifully to be able to do mech work and LCAC (sp) work. And the other improvement, as you probably know, is enhanced aviation capabilities. So the ship is designed to hold an aviation deck. We have exercised three different models of that during our workup in terms of the type of aircraft mix we would send over there. So again, it allows us to take that ship and kind of give it an entire mission to itself with a decent aviation compliment upstairs and then the way we put it together in terms of our assignment to shipping with mech capability coming out of the well deck. So for the employment and great capability and flexibility at how to employ that platform.
Q. Galrahn: Now Colonel Coffman, you said three different types of aviation on the LPD, are you talking about not just 46s but also you're talking about the H-1s as well, different groups or -- what does that mean?
COL. COFFMAN: Yeah, that's correct. So for example, if we were going to put the New Orleans against their mechanized raid or more of a kinetic mission then we can go ahead and put their fire support over there as well.
So we have exercised putting a AH-1 and UH-1 get over there which gives them there, basically self-contained capability with rotary-wing casts and then mechanized forces out of the well deck. If we were to send New Orleans, or focus them on less kinetic or humanitarian assistance or other ops, I can put assault helicopters over there, 46's or even 53's and give them assault support that has evacuation or those type of missions. So we're playing with the right kind of combinations to maximize the utility of that deck. As you probably know, I mean we started with the expanded spot LPD's some years ago to increase the aviation capabilities across the decks. But again, with this mix, and I'll throw in Comstock as well, so the increased capacity of the New Orleans has permitted us to reclaim the flight deck of Comstock. Over the last 10, 15 years we have frequently had to put cargo and vehicles up on top of Comstock, on top of LSDs, again because of our space issue. We are able to get what we wanted aboard. Clear two spots on Comstock so we have a good ready divert deck on Comstock. We have a secondary airport on New Orleans. And, of course, here with Captain Fedrin's ship, we have our primary air platform. So I would argue the same way, the addition of the New Orleans has got us back to a really good quality spread in terms of aviation capability to operate across all three of the amphib platforms. So we're delighted with that as well and so we're just kind of writing, or practicing the procedures and kind of the SOPs, the standard operating procedures of what kind of decks would best fit over there and best work over there with that enhanced aviation capability.
Q. Galrahn: Thank you very much.