ABOARD USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC/JCC-20) -- Even though surrounded by hundreds of miles of water, USS Mount Whitney which is taking Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa to northeast Africa, stocked up on everything from eggs to fuel during replenishments at sea recently.
An RAS involves two ships, with one providing supplies to the other in the middle of the ocean. Military Sealift Command's Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force program provides the combat stores ships and oilers that transport equipment, fuel, supplies and food to sustain U.S. forces worldwide.
There are several reasons why the ship conducted an RAS rather than pulling into a port and loading supplies, according to the ship's supply officer, Lt. Cmdr. Eric S. Stump.
The Dimmitt, Texas, native went on to say, "It's very expensive to load the ship in a foreign port because of any taxes we might have to pay, so I'd say cost efficiency is probably the biggest reason to conduct an RAS."
However, several other factors make an RAS more efficient than pulling into a foreign port.
"Without having to go ashore for repair parts, food or fuel, our vulnerability is significantly decreased," said the ship's commanding officer, Capt. David W. Prothero, of Rockville, Md. "Of course, the ship carrying the supplies is at risk when she pulls back into port, but we can provide some extra protection to her."
In addition to decreasing the ship's risk for sabotage, an RAS also increases mobility.
If the ship is stopped at port and the crew is ordered to respond to a crisis in some other part of the world, it would take a considerable amount of time before the ship is ready to move out, according to Prothero.
"An RAS allows the ship to stay at sea for a good amount of time because we can go anywhere while carrying our supplies on our back, so to speak," Prothero said. "Theoretically, the ship was designed to be at sea for six months, but being at sea that long is bad for morale and, by that time, so much is broken on the ship that we can't fix at sea. We have to stop."
When the ship's fuel is topped off, USS Mount Whitney could go 10 days to two weeks without needing more fuel. However, Prothero said it's better to have the ship topped off so the reaction time is not prolonged if the crew is called to action. An RAS allows for this.
During the ship's first RAS for this deployment, 23 palettes of food and supplies were transported via CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter from NFAF's combat stores ship, USNS Spica (T-AFS 9) to the flight deck of USS Mount Whitney.
"Even though the ship didn't get too much this time, if we had loaded up in port, it would have taken a large working party and probably hours to get everything on the ship," said Stump. "But doing the re-supply out on the water with the helicopters took, altogether, about an hour to complete."
After completion of the RAS, Prothero complimented his crew, "The air crew aboard the ship specializes in replenishments at sea, and we had good weather. Even though we're the newbies to this, we were surrounded by so many experts that we did quite well. The entire crew did a great job getting the supplies on the ship. They made it seem like it was second nature."