Did you know Wake Island is a strategically positioned refueling stop for military aircraft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean located roughly 2,300 miles west of Honolulu and 1,500 miles east of Guam?
When the lack of a safe and reliable coastal working boat threatened to impact tanker offload operations on the island, Defense Logistics Agency Energy tapped in to its extensive supply chain management resources to find a solution.
“A small boat allows operators to maneuver easier around the tankers when setting up or taking down the spill booms and the 1,500 feet of floating hose required for offload operations,” said Edward Guthrie, DLA Energy Hawaii management and program analyst. “It also gives the operators an easy working platform.”
More importantly, the boat needs to handle the strong or unpredictable currents around the island. When contractors used three small auxiliary support boats to complete a tanker discharge operation in January, they were too small to safely execute the operation and to operate under the sea conditions, Guthrie said.
“This created safety and environmental risks to personnel performing the work,” he added. “It was critical that a plan for auxiliary support boats be established and ready for execution by August when the next tanker resupply is expected,” he said.
Wake Island, a U.S. Territory under administrative control of the Department of the Air Force, is less than 3 square miles – half the size of Key West, Florida – and has limited local resources. Guthrie worked with Wake Island military leadership to identify a solution.
“We agreed to look into the purchase of a new Boston Whaler (boat),” Guthrie said. “I provided them with information on a manufacturer that DFSP (Defense Fuel Support Point) Okinawa uses that has similar waterborne operations for offload tankers as Wake Island.”
Because port operations couldn’t wait the year it would take to deliver the new Boston Whaler to the island, Guthrie enabled his supply chain network.
“I called the deputy director at FLC (Fleet Logistics Center) Pearl Harbor and asked if the Navy had any boats they were looking to turn in,” Guthrie said. “Within days, I received a call from Port Operations in Pearl Harbor. They said they had a boat, and we were welcome to come look at it.”
After examination and discussions with Wake Island, it was determined the boat would meet their immediate needs, he said. In June, after the official paperwork finalized the transfer of the asset from the Navy to the Air Force, the platform boat arrived on Wake Island.
“It was tested in the surrounding waters of Wake Island and had no problems maneuvering,” Guthrie said.
The platform boat not only keeps scheduled operations on track but also proved valuable during the replacement of one of Wake Island’s two tanker mooring buoys – both of which are necessary for tankers to safely moor during offload.
“It was fortunate that the boat was available to support the Navy dive team,” said Eric Parsha, DLA Energy Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization division program manager for Air Force sites like Wake Island. “Having the platform boat available was a tremendous savings. The team was able to avoid deploying their dive boat, which saved roughly $500,000 in special air mission costs.”
While the boat was a great working platform, in the end it was too small to safely tow the 17,000 pound 11-by-13 foot buoy due to weather and sea state, Parsha said. The team ended up augmenting the effort by contracting a tug for a day, which happened to be on the island for other contract work.
Once Wake Island gets the new Boston Whaler, the platform boat will still be a valuable asset to island operations, Guthrie said.
While most people think a supply chain is about getting a commodity from point A to B, Guthrie’s connections showed that it is much more than that – it’s about strong partnerships.
“Fuel in itself is fairly simple, but to get it to the right place and ensure the warfighters have it when they need it the most takes a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “Over the past 45 years, I have made a lot of friends in and out of the military dating back to when I was still in the service. We call on one another from time to time to help out. In the case of the platform boat, we were in the right place at the right time and it worked out for everyone.”