It was a deployment the Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport has been wanting for 50 years. The deployment on Saturday came to fruition as contracted longshoremen from ILA 1303 and Seabee personnel worked side by side to load equipment from the Naval base onto the USNS Spearhead, which was temporarily anchored in the Port of Gulfport.
The loading of the ship marked the first time since the port was designated a Strategic Port by the Department of Defense about a year ago that the local Seabee base used it for a deployment. The base celebrated its 50th anniversary July 13.
“On this particular deployment, we are going down to Honduras for five to six weeks, then we’re going to shift over to Guatemala for five or six weeks,” Lt. Cmdr. Josh Perry said. “We’re really excited to be able to use the Port of Gulfport — it’s very, very advantageous for us to deploy out of the Port of Gulfport.”
Perry said 85 people were working on the mission ashore, and the afloat command consists of about 45 people.
“We are a local part of the Gulf Coast community, and being able to embark from our home station is something we’ve never been able to for a mission,” he said. “We typically go to the Gulfport airport and we fly away to different destinations, and this is a unique opportunity because since the mission is in Central America, it’s basically in our backyard and we can deploy from our home station.”
Money, Perry said, was another big factor in using the local port.
“It evolved very quickly whenwe looked at the cost to line-haul all of our equipment up to Virginia to embark on the USNS Spearhead, which is home ported, and it was a lot of money,” he said. “It was considerably less for the Spearhead to come around and load us — we’re protecting the taxpayer’s money.”
Port director Jonathan Daniels said the historic deployment was the result of a “rigorous process.”
“This was an evaluation that started in 2004, but with Hurricane Katrina coming through, everything was put on the back burner,” Daniels said. “We were notified in November 2015 that, in fact, we would be designated as one of the nation’s 17 Strategic Ports. We fill a very a important geographical gap.”