Friday, March 30, 2001

Blount Island Command

Since the Marine Corps 1986 territorial occupation of Blount Island in Jacksonville, Fla., many vital military operational support milestones have been achieved. However, there are still many Marines that are not familiar with this facility that plays a major role in our military operations abroad.

The Marine Corps has been attesting to the significance of Blount Island for the past several years. "We will achieve our concept for a MPS future (at Blount Island) that will provide a previously unachieved degree of

strategic agility. " said General James Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), last September while testifying at Readiness Hearings.

Located just inland of the Atlantic Ocean near the mouth of the St. John's River, this 1700 acre terrain known as "Blount Island" has proven itself to be ideally suited for the Marine Corps Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons (MPS). The Blount Island Command operates on approximately one-half of this landmass.

As the Executive Agent for the Marine Corps Prepositioning Programs, Blount Island Command plans, coordinates, and executes the logistics efforts in support of MPS and Norway GeoPrepositioning Programs. The Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) is a naval projection asset that significantly supports the employment of Naval Expeditionary Forces. MPF provides options for rapid deployment and employment of forces across the spectrum of conventional operations. In other words, cargo ships loaded with food, equipment, medical supplies and many other goods are prepositioned worldwide to equip Marines who are serving in military operations abroad. This provides greater mobility and flexibility for Marines who would ordinarily have to "carry" this gear if not for this program. Blount Island Command is where a small group of hard charging dedicated Marines and civilians offload/onload this gear to ensure it is maintained and ready for use.

Fifteen Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS)are leased by the command and are crewed by U.S. merchant mariners employed by the ship operating companies under contract to Military Sealift Command. The MPS program is a national strategic asset. The command manages more than $2.8 billion of assets that represent 60 percent of the Marine Corps ground combat equipment.

Currently, Blount Island Command is estimated to have an overall economic impact of about $400 million annually. It provides more than 1,000 jobs and does business with over 150 vendors in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. In 1989, Blount Island Command became a subordinate command of the Commander, Marine Corps Logistics Bases.

Col. Christopher C. Kauffmann assumed command of Blount Island Command in July 1999. He, along with his staff of 108 Marines and 49 civilians ensure the shipping job gets done right. They oversee offloads/back-loads, maintenance cycle operations and strategic throughput. "Throughput" pertains to Blount Island's capability of receiving strategic-level equipment and materiel from numerous origins, organizing it, and forwarding it to the appropriate requesting agencies in a timely manner.

The task of "emptying" a ship, inspecting equipment, and "filling" the ship back up is not easy. Typical loaded cargo is MAGTF Ground Equipment (LAVs, tanks, 5-ton trucks), rations, ammunition, repair parts, medical/dental supplies, heavy engineer support equipment, fleet hospitals, USMC joint task force infrastructure equipment, and expeditionary airfield (EAF) sets.

Blount Island Command is considered one of the premier forward presence prepositioning maintenance facilities in the world. The ability to surge and berth up to seven ships simultaneously is an outstanding asset unto itself. The MPF concept remains a relevant and proven capability which provides a cost-effective increase to U.S. crisis response capabilities. Blount Island Command has repeatedly demonstrated responsiveness to contingencies and improves operational flexibility for combat, disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance operations. For example, the island's additional throughput capabilities were clearly demonstrated during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm when 59 ships and over 220,000 tons of unit equipment and sustainment cargo were shipped to Southwest Asia.

The land occupied by Blount Island Command has been under lease to the Marine Corps since 1986. Realizing the long-term military importance of the facility, the Marine Corps is currently conducting actions that will lead to the purchase of this property.

Since a familiarization meeting held in May of 2000 between Marine Corps representatives and Jacksonville city officials, a number of significant events have occurred. General Jones established a formal executive steering committee chartered to oversee and guide the procurement of the Blount Island facility by establishing priorities, approving courses of action, and recommending to the CMC positions as necessary to effect the acquisition of appropriate real estate interests.

Also, Congress appropriated the monies required to accommodate the acquisition goals for the current fiscal year. General Jones called the purchase one of the "top priorities" for the Marine Corps.

"We believe we should purchase, by 2004, our important prepositioning facility in Blount Island, Florida." Jones stated.