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Navy ships transport Army's Stryker Brigade vehicles to Persian Gulf

WASHINGTON, (USTCNS) --- Seeing the U.S. Army's new Stryker combat vehicles for the first time can spark some confusion. Are the high-tech vehicles similar to the Army's lightweight humvees, or are they more like their armored tracked fighting machines?

Mariners operating two of the Navy's largest cargo ships, USNS Sisler and USNS Shughart, are getting the chance to look over these hybrid vehicles while transporting nearly 300 Strykers to the Persian Gulf.

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division based in Fort Lewis, Wash., headed to Iraq in late October where they will play a peacekeeping role in the country. Their Strykers and all of their associated gear departed aboard the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command ships in mid-October. MSC is the U.S. military's ocean transportation command.

USNS Sisler and USNS Shughart loaded 380,000 square feet of the brigade's high-tech Stryker vehicles and support equipment, an amount equivalent to seven football fields.

United States Naval Ships, or USNS, are government owned, noncombatant ships crewed by civilian merchant mariners.

Sisler and Shughart are 950-foot large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships that can each carry 300,000 square feet of combat cargo and equipment. The ships each have seven internal decks with connecting ramps that enable vehicles and equipment to be quickly loaded.

The LMSRs' size, stowing capacity and strengthened decks are ideal for transporting 140,000-pound M1 Abrams tanks, 60,000-pound Bradley fighting vehicles and Strykers.

Compared to M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers are lightweights. They weigh between 38,000 to 42,000 pounds depending on the configuration of the highly maneuverable vehicle.

The MSC Seattle staff and Navy reservists worked around the clock for seven days in intermittent rain to assist with the loading of both ships.

Civilian stevedores loaded the brigade cargo, and some had been trained by the Army to drive the Strykers aboard the ships to speed the loading process. It was easy to tell they enjoyed that part of their job. They climbed out of the multi-wheeled vehicles with big smiles on their faces.

The huge cargo ships sailed with extra security personnel aboard. Called Guardian Mariners, 12 armed Puerto Rican National Guard soldiers from the 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade were aboard each ship to provide armed protection for the crew and the critical cargo.

Prior to establishing the Guardian Mariner program in early 2003, the ship's crew was responsible for ship security supplemented from time to time with small detachments of military personnel. Once the ships arrive at their destination, the Guardian Mariners will move on to another assignment.

MSC operates more than 120 noncombatant ships daily around the world. All MSC ships are crewed by civilian mariners who are federal civil service employees or employed by companies under contract to the Navy. At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom sealift operations in mid-March, more than 210 ships were operated by the command including cargo ships chartered from the commercial shipping industry and government owned ships activated from reduced operating status. More than 165 ships were directly supporting OIF operations by carrying the heavy volume of equipment for war fighters or replenishing U.S. Navy ships at sea.

MSC supports all branches of the U.S. military by transporting combat equipment and supplies; providing underway fuel and supply replenishment for the Navy fleets at sea and providing operating ships for undersea surveillance and oceanographic missions. MSC also operates prepositioning ships laden with combat equipment and cargo and located at strategic locations around the world enabling them to quickly sail to contingency sites when called.
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