The Navy contacted the Defense Logistics Agency to order food delivery like ordering pepperoni pies from your favorite pizza place.
But it certainly took longer than 30 minutes to deliver more than a million pounds of food to three countries along the route of the USS George Washington’s historic voyage from San Diego, down around South America and up to Norfolk, Virginia.
The nuclear aircraft carrier served seven years as the Navy’s forward deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. It departed May 18 and has travelled 52,064 miles before arriving at Naval Station Norfolk Dec. 17, where it will undergo its refueling complex overhaul, according to the Navy.
The first email with the aircraft carrier’s food requirements for the part of its voyage around South America arrived in Al Harris’s inbox in Philadelphia in late March. Harris is a customer operations supervisor with DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain.
That email triggered a chain of coordination and support among partners within DLA, the Navy and commercial vendors and carriers.
The GW needed food prepositioned at resupply points in Panama, Chile and Brazil, while it sailed around the southern continent. This was the first time Subsistence arranged for food to be shipped to Chile and Brazil, Harris said.
After Harris knew when, where and what the GW needed to feed its more than 5,000 sailors, he worked with the Navy to place the orders with food vendors and contacted DLA Distribution.
“We trust that Distribution knows their business like we know ours,” Harris said.
DLA Distribution worked with the vendors and the Navy to arrange shipment of the food to the three countries, said Craig Beatty, a DLA Distribution traffic management specialist.
Commercial carrier vessels had to be identified that could deliver the food by the GW’s required delivery date, Beatty said. Sometimes those options were limited. Because there wasn’t an American vessel available to deliver to Chile, for example, U.S. Transportation Command had to approve the use of a foreign vessel.
The food had to be palletized and containerized, some with temperature controls, and trucked from the vendor to a pier for loading onto a vessel. Beatty and his team worked through strict cutoff times for loading the vessels, limited truck drivers and clearing customs.
The customs paperwork for Brazil had to be resubmitted using the metric system. Other shipping challenges were out of Beatty’s control.
The vessel to Chile had to avoid a category 3 hurricane. And two days before that ship arrived, the port was closed after an 8.3-magnitude earthquake and tsunami waves up to 15 feet hit the shore.
Fortunately, the port was cleared quickly and made operational in time for the vessel’s scheduled arrival, Beatty said.
Our job isn’t done until the food is on the ship
The Navy signs for and takes ownership of the food in the U.S. before the containers are loaded onto a vessel. Navy contracting personnel are at the foreign ports when the containers arrive.
They arrange for husbandry service providers to receive and store the containers, connecting them to generators to maintain temperatures. HSPs also locally procure short shelf-life items, such as dairy and bread.
Harris continued monitoring the containers while Navy personnel on the ground have responsibility for them.
“Technically, it’s not our responsibility, but they’re still our customer,” he said. “At the end of the day, if they don’t have the food on their ships, we’ve failed our mission.”
The GW was too big to pull into a port to resupply. Instead, two resupply ships from Military Sealift Command supported the ship with replenishments at sea. The resupply ship escorts the GW throughout its voyage and breaks off for the port to pick up supplies.
The USNS Guadalupe was the escort ship along the west coast of South America before the USNS Big Horn met the GW for east coast South America support, including the port of Rio de Janeiro.
There are two ways the GW was replenished at sea:
- Vertical replenishment via helicopter
- Connected replenishment, in which the ships are side-by-side and supplies are transferred through hoses and lines connecting the ships
None of this is possible without daily communications between the Navy, DLA Troop Support, DLA Distribution, vendors, carriers and HSPs, Beatty said.
“Everyone knows everything at any time,” Beatty said. “All are involved in every phone call and email.”
The GW left San Diego Sept. 8 after a hull swap with USS Ronald Reagan. That turnover was the first part of an unprecedented three-carrier crew swap in which most of the personnel will remain in the same areas to support geographical stability and reduce moving costs, according to the Navy.
Key personnel, including the commanding officer, executive officer and those related to unique systems, remained with their ships. Following the GW’s arrival in Norfolk, nearly two-thirds of the crew will return to San Diego and embark USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Along the way, the GW participated in multinational forces exercises with 15 partner nations, 447 sailors were selected for promotion and more than 1,700 earned warfare pins.
And thanks largely to DLA’s food support, Sunday brunch was another highlight for the ship’s crew during the deployment.
“You never see the mess decks more crowded on any other day of the week,” Yeoman 3rd Class Brandon Boyles said in a Navy article. “There’s something about pancakes in the afternoon that gets the ship up and going.”