Troops conduct biannual 'ammo barge' mission in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
Twice a year, millions of pounds of explosives and ammunition travel north through Pacific waters in a biannual migration designed to resupply military installations across Alaska.

"The ammo barge," is the casual term for it; but there is nothing lackadaisical about the attitudes of the service members in charge of making this operation happen.

"It supplies all the munitions from the pistols the gate guards use at the gates to the precision-guided missiles the F-22 (Raptors) fly around with," said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Dunlavey, a munitions stock control manager with the 477th Maintenance Squadron.

They are equipping a state larger than most countries, and more than twice the size of Texas, with enough ammunition to defend its soil and its citizens and what's more, they only have two shots a year to do it.

This year, the ammunition shipment began arriving April 15. Nine trucks toting 21 containers of ammunition -- weighing between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds -- will arrive on base, said Tech. Sgt. Jessica Evenson, the NCO in charge of munitions accountability for the 3rd Munitions Squadron.

The operation also supplies Richardson, Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base, and Air Station Kodiak with the munitions they need; more than 200 containers total.

The force driving the logistical muscle needed to resupply units with this much ammo is actually quite small, otherwise known as the expenditure report.

"Expenditure reports come from each individual unit that uses them around base," Dunlavey said. "As soon as they expend munitions, they have two days to get with us to show exactly how much they (used)."

Based on those expenditure reports, allocations are set up for the various units around base, Evenson said.

"We check all of our accounts and see what their allocations are for the next two to three fiscal years," Evenson said. "We compare that with their past expenditure rates. If they've only expended 30 percent, then we won't order as much, since we can support the mission with our assets on hand.

"We work with units all over base to make sure the assets they have recorded are still correct," Evenson said.

Dunlavey, Evenson and their colleagues amass these reports over the years, and when it comes time to order a new ammunition shipment, they track how much each unit has actually expended over a five-year period before placing their order.

"The barge is a bit larger this year than it has been in the past, because we are not only receiving new ammunition," Evenson said. "We are also exporting any unserviceable assets we have taking up room in our stockpile."

Many of the assets on the C-17 Globemaster IIIs and F-22s can expire.

When they do, new assets are provided, and the expired ones are sent to facilities in the continental U.S. to be refurbished or disposed of properly, Evenson said.

"We have three (shipping containers) worth of outbound munitions this time," Evenson said. "That was several munitions shipments we needed to send through the transportation management office channels so they could accomplish their mission before the munitions leave this base."

Overall, this is a stressful situation for the munitions stock control managers.

"It's always tense when you get a lot of units together like this," Dunlavey said. "It's always a big deal; the wing commander knows about it, so we always have a lot of visitors.

"But it's our time to shine," Dunlavey said.

When the barge arrives in port at Valdez, the containers are offloaded and shipped to either Elmendorf or Eielson. After arriving at the base, the trucks are checked in by security forces, transportation management, and munitions personnel.

"When they pull up to the gate, we have accountability Airmen and transportation management Airmen waiting with security forces," Dunlavey said. "TMO has to inspect the seals on the containers to make sure there's been no tampering with the trucks."

Then the trucks are escorted to the bomb dump and unloaded by contracted forklift operators as Airmen congregate at a safe distance, waiting to open the containers.

"Then our munitions inspection personnel take over and they rip out the innards of the (container)," Dunlavey said. "Such as high explosive bombs, egress items, small arms, flares, etc."

The group of Airmen standing by with bolt cutters, power tools, and crowbars is suddenly gone, replaced by the sound of creaking seals, cracking wood, and the clamor of forklifts.

"Then they are inspected, and if they pass," Dunlavey said. "They are stored (for) all of our accounts on base to use."

Behind every bomb, every rifle, and every detonator, there is a munitions person; there's no such thing as a one-click purchase when dealing with high explosives.

"It doesn't matter how many guns or how much aircraft we have on base," Evenson said. "If we don't have any munitions, nobody is going to be able to accomplish their mission."