MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
Where the sound of the ocean waves meets the smell of saltwater at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan lies harbor operations, a vital part of the air station’s mission. What’s even more vital to the air station’s success are the Sailors who ensure the harbor remains functional.
“We have a general-purpose pier that’s over 1,000 feet long, that can bring in various vessels like landing helicopter assault ships, landing helicopter dock and destroyer guided missile ships,” said Chief Petty Officer Juan Vigil, the harbor master with MCAS Iwakuni’s harbor operations division.
The harbor primarily supports MCAS Iwakuni by allowing various ships to dock and conduct logistical operations.
To achieve this mission, the harbor relies on its Sailors; each with his or her own specialty, known as a rate: such as boatswains, electricians, or enginemen. The boatswains’ job is to conduct maintenance on ships and their equipment. The job of an engineman at the harbor is to ensure each ships’ oil is changed and repairs are done, if necessary. The electricians’ job is to check on the wiring and functionality of any electronic equipment on board. Harbor personnel use what’s known as the 3-M manual, a system designed to help manage maintenance and maintenance support as a way of ensuring equipment operability aboard vessels and shore equipment. Using the 3-M manual is a good tool to makes it easier to teach new sailors how to conduct maintenance.
The Sailors of harbor operations also regularly work in tandem with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines and the Provost Marshal’s Office. EOD coordinates with harbor personnel to help transport EOD technicians to EOD training sites, which can only be reached vis watercraft. As the first line of security for the harbor, PMO plays a significant role in helping secure the harbor’s assets and providing local security as appropriate.
Many of the Sailors assigned to MCAS Iwakuni arrive directly from their initial training. Local training, conducted by more experienced members of the crew, is instrumental to getting those new arrivals integrated into operations.
“Being as we have sailors coming straight from basic training to the harbor instead of going to a ship and getting the experience that a lot of us have, they need on-the-job training, so while we are executing an operation it’s imperative to teach as we go,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Yara Schmidt, a Boatswain’s Mate with MCAS Iwakuni’s harbor operations division.
Sailors who come in from basic training receive mentorship on tasks like how to conduct repairs on vessels and their equipment and how to conduct watch shifts, and they also practice skills they originally learned in basic training. The mentorship from the senior sailors helps build camaraderie.
The air station’s joint operability with other services and armed forces such as the U.S. Army, Navy, and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force has been positively impacted by the frequent number of incoming ships and training exercises. The air station’s harbor itself plays a role in the U.S.-Japan alliance by assisting in docking and off-loading larger vessels that come in, as well as allowing the conduct of bilateral training exercises. These opportunities to conduct hands-on training allows new harbor personnel to familiarize themselves with the knowledge they need to expedite the time spent on maintenance for vessels and mooring up ships.
“The harbor also works hand-in-hand with the environmental department”, said U.S. Navy Sailor Christian Sucik, an Engineman Fireman Apprentice with MCAS Iwakuni’s harbor operations division “We do oil spill prevention and clean up training too.” said Sucik.
The environmental department conducts frequent annual training exercises with the harbor and JMSDF. These training exercises include evolutions like oil spill response, where the department simulates an oil spill using biodegradable soap and catches the soap using an oil boom to prevent it from seeping into local waters. Sailors also receive guidance on different ways to set up boom reels, a hydraulic easily deployable oil boom used to catch and contain oil leakage, and ways to extinguish fires.
MCAS Iwakuni’s harbor is the only port collocated with an airfield, and the support the harbor provides not only helps the air station but the entire Indo-Pacific Region. Its ability to quickly dock, deploy ships, and give supplies to units for future aerial transportation is an important aspect too, as it allows the air station to support various regions of the country that require support in the event of natural disasters.
The harbor directly effects the U.S.-Japan alliance, operational readiness and execution. The Sailors of the harbor make it possible to complete the mission at hand and ensure that no matter what time or day, MCAS Iwakuni Harbor is able to support.