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News | Aug. 28, 2017

DLA Distribution, MSC partnership enables annual Thule resupply

By Emily Tsambiras DLA Distribution Public Affairs


As the temperature soared into the mid-90’s in Norfolk, DLA Distribution employees raced a deadline to load critical supplies to be delivered 750 miles above the Arctic circle at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. 

For four searing days in mid-July, the team prepared the Military Sealift Command-chartered MV Ocean Giant with more than 3 million lbs. of materiel in support of Pacer Goose Sustainment 2017, previously known as Operation Pacer Goose.  The goal of the mission is to move a year’s worth of sustainment materiel into Thule AFB during the small window that the ice is thin enough to be broken and ships can pull into port.

According to Rick Caldwell, MSC representative on site at Thule, even in the “warmer” months, the weather is still a challenge.  “It’s inhospitable.  The weather can go from a ‘balmy’ 35 degrees to a chilly -10 fairly quick with the constant Arctic wind.”  

To meet the tight timeframe for delivery, DLA Distribution and MSC Atlantic had to begin preparations to resupply the air base many months in advance.

And planning for the mission is no small effort, says Caldwell.  Prior to the execution portion of Pacer Goose, extensive preparation is required.  “There are pre-planning meetings and various site surveys, depending on the cargo to be carried.  There is a tremendous amount of paperwork that is required… [and] we have to produce vessels schedules, briefings, clearances for crews and vessels, a  Letter of Instruction, Planning Order documents and more.”

Similarly, DLA Distribution conducted numerous planning meetings and coordination efforts throughout the spring to ensure required supplies, such as vehicles, medical supplies, dry goods, Commissary and Base Exchange supplies, and specialized equipment to handle jobs in ice and snow, were ready for load and the proper loading equipment in place.  

It’s not as simple as loading some boxes, says Isai Vazquez, marine cargo specialist for DLA Distribution Norfolk.  “Required items can vary greatly in size, so we also need to determine the equipment needed to lift those items onto the ship.  This year we onloaded a 68,000 lb. Aircraft loader a 35,000 lb. Air Force fire truck, among other items.”

Upon the loaded vessel’s departure from Norfolk, MSCLANT tracked the ship’s path to Thule, and, prior to arrival, ensured the port was clear for safe and timely entry.   A Canadian Coast Guard Ice Breaker escorted the ship toward the end of its journey, providing a helicopter for ice recon, and powerful radar to assist in ice tracking/vessel transit. “Having an icebreaker for escort is cheap insurance, as opposed to not having one and one of our vessels gets into dire straits,” said Caldwell.   

The organization also relied on the National Ice Center to provide Ice Analysis updates to the vessels, Caldwell and operations staff at MSCLANT.  

Following a multi-day offload and subsequent onload of items to be removed from the base, the Ocean Giant began its return to DLA Distribution Norfolk.

Upon its arrival back at Naval Station Norfolk on August 18, the DLA Distribution team offloaded more than 2 million lbs. of retrograde cargo such as trash and items for disposal, including several vehicles.

“I am extremely proud of the entire team and we are pleased to have contributed to yet another successful execution of the resupply in Thule.  The superb and seamless execution of this complex operation is a result of the strong and valued partnerships between DLA, the Air Force, Military Sealift Command and Navy Cargo Handling Battalion,” said Navy Supply Corps Capt. Andrew Matthews, DLA Distribution Norfolk commander.

Military Sealift Command first began supporting this mission in the 1960’s and this is the 20th year that DLA Distribution has participated in the Thule resupply.