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MSC loses civilian mariners but gains MSC reservists

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A few of the Navy's Military Sealift Command civilian mariners got the unique experience of working as active duty military personnel for MSC during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were mobilized by their reserve units to fill openings due to the command's increase in operations to support OIF.

Reservists are often activated to fill the openings during contingencies when the military must increase its operations. MSC, the ocean transportation provider for the Department of Defense, has 1,500 naval reservists assigned to 40 reserve units nationwide. When mobilized, these reservists are trained to assist MSC with operations aboard ship, at MSC headquarters and at MSC area commands.

At the peak of OIF, there were 285 reservists activated to serve with MSC, 169 of which were assigned aboard MSC ships.

Some of the reservists were, ironically, working as mariners for MSC when they were activated.

Chris Ballou, a second mate aboard fast cargo ship USNS Antares, got this opportunity. In April, he was activated and assigned to MSC Central, the area command that represents MSC in the United States Central Command, located in Manama, Bahrain.

Ballou, a commercial mariner for an operating company under contract with MSC, had just returned from the Persian Gulf aboard Antares.

While helping to reload Antares for her next mission, Ballou received a call from a superior at his reserve unit in Boston, Mass., who told him he had been activated to MSC Central. A week later he was serving as a U.S. Naval Reserve lieutenant in cargo operations for the MSC area command.

Ballou's job is to coordinate cargo off-loads at the military port in Bahrain. This kind of work is nothing new for Ballou who has a total of 20 years of experience as a civil service mariner for MSC and as a commercial mariner. He has also served in the active-duty Navy. His experience has helped him assist other military personnel at MSC Central with questions on the operations, equipment and command structure aboard MSC ships. He also acts as an informal liaison between the Navy and MSC ship masters.

"I speak both the Navy and merchant mariner language," Ballou said. "And I know about the ships because I've sailed on them."

During OIF, reservists have been working at MSC headquarters, MSC area commands and aboard MSC ships.

They have also served on Ready Reserve Force ships. These ships are maintained for readiness by the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration and are under the control of MSC when activated. The reserve mariners aboard the MSC and Ready Reserve Force ships perform underway replenishments as well as cargo loading and off-loading.

The choice to put MSC mariners into an active duty position during war is not uncommon, according Lt. Cmdr. Miguel Lake, USNR, the reserve readiness and training officer at MSC headquarters.

"They have proven themselves subject matter experts in their field, and when we mobilize for war, it just makes sense to bring them on active duty," Lake said.

MSC normally operates about 120 civilian-crewed, noncombatant, active ships for a variety of missions around the world. That number expanded to about 214 in March 2003 as additional ships were activated from reduced operating status or chartered for the command's support of U.S. forces in OIF.

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