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NEWS | Feb. 11, 2015

Maritime Prepositioning Force Responds to Cobra Gold 15

By Courtesy Story

The maritime prepositioning ship, U.S. Naval Ship Pililaau, sails across the pacific ocean February 6 with equipment and supplies for exercise Cobra Gold 2015 in Thailand.

The Pililaau is one of many ships which make up the Marine Corps' Maritime Prepositioning Force. The MPF provides the Marine Air-Ground Task Force essential equipment and supplies to support and execute crisis or contingency responses worldwide. 

The need for a Maritime Prepositioning Force was first noticed by the nation’s military leaders in the Persian Gulf and, as a result, the Marine Corps had equipment and supplies aboard seven vessels by the 1980’s. The MPF became fully operational between 1984 and 1986 with 13 ships organized into three squadrons strategically located to support global coverage. The Marine Corps continues to utilize MPF capabilities for humanitarian assistance, disaster response, training exercises and, if called to do so, to support wartime efforts. 

The MPF has supported operations such as Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Restore Hope and Iraqi Freedom. The most recent real-world support was in 2010 for humanitarian operations in response to damage caused by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. 

“Our main function is supplying the Marines, but they also do humanitarian aid when possible,” said Don E. Pigott, captain of the U.S.N.S. Pililaau, from Oviedo, Florida. 

The prepositioning of equipment and supplies throughout the globe enhances the Marine Corps’ ability to be an expeditious force in readiness. Service members with different skill sets are formed into an Offload Preparation Party, which prepares the equipment and supplies for offload while the ship is underway.

“[The] MPF is a good asset. In any instance we’re constantly ready,” said Staff Sgt. Michael V. Estrada, an embark specialist with Blount Island Command supporting the OPP aboard the Pililaau. “We’re always prepared for any mission, and that’s what these ships are made for. We’re a force ready.”

Since the disbanding of Squadron 1 in 2012, the MPF now consists of only two squadrons. The U.S.N.S. Pililaau, based out of Guam, is one of the eleven ships part of Squadron 3 working for III Marine Expeditionary Force. 

The MPF loads the ships with enough equipment and supplies to sustain a Marine Expeditionary Brigade-sized MAGTF- approximately 14,500 members- for 30 days of operations. Ships like the Pililaau can hold 11,616 tons of cargo and have the carrying capacity of 380,000 square feet. 

“I found out we were leaving the day before we left,” said Lance Cpl. Jackson C. Chandler, a field radio operator with the Offload Preparation Party, from Sneads, Florida. “I’m impressed with how quickly they were able to put everything together. Everyone was well prepared and had everything they needed to complete their individual mission.” 

The crew of the Pililaau received the order to activate and support Cobra Gold 15, January 24. Seven days later they had left their homeport in Saipan, the largest of the Marianas Islands, and arrived in Guam where they fully stocked the ship with provisions and were standing ready for the OPP Marines coming aboard. During the voyage from Guam to Thailand, the OPP worked alongside the ship’s crew to prepare the equipment and supplies for the exercise. On the morning of February 8, the first amphibious assault vehicle left the lower deck of the ship and was staged on the pier in Laem Chebang, Thailand - nearly 3000 miles from where they started.
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