"You pretty much have to drag [the floating systems] off the beach and place them in some sort of safe haven," said Lt. John Orr, the man in charge of this ELCAS build. "This system just smiles and says, 'Keep coming.' So it is a perfect Seabee system."
Indeed, hurricanes have increasingly hampered humanitarian aid, and combat can cripple port operations. As China builds air strips and outposts on reefs and islands in the South China Sea, many Pacific allies look to respond by building fortifications on desolate islands. Despite this potential demand, the ELCAS modular pier remains the only one in the world, and only 80 sailors are qualified to build it (a number that will double by the end of September). The system can be used to rapidly deliver vehicles and cargo ashore in an amphibious operation, for example.
Rear Adm. Katherine Gregory speaks to Steelworker 2nd Class Elias Mrich during her visit to the Elevated Causeway System (ELCAS) Exercise on board JEB Little Creek.
Photo Credit: MC2 Taylor Mohr/Navy
The number of qualified Seabees is due largely to a 2011 Navy decision to pause ELCAS builds while it analyzed operational cost and other options. Soon after taking the helm at Amphibious Construction Battalion 2, Capt. Marc Delao pushed ELCAS as one of the unit's major mission sets, and got the green light to resume training. By that time, Seabees had seen one-third of the active force and half the reserve cut, so the ELCAS team has to rely on active and reserve Seabees from both coasts.
"Teamwork is big out here," said Paro, who serves as operations chief for Charlie Company, PHIBCB-2. "You have to match up guys with the experience and skill with the ones who don't have that. Skills can be taught, but being able to integrate from such a wide variety of people is most important when you look to build a crew that is efficient out here."
For many khakis, the key challenge for such a build is to maintain a good flow from the marshalling yard to the pile yard, where the 38-foot sticks are positioned. "You have to feed this monster," Paro said. "As soon as you stop feeding that crane, everything stops."
For Orr, the khakis were key.
"There is an incredible amount of institutional knowledge all over this beach," Orr said. "Now we have to pass that on to the young petty officers, and we have to make sure they maintain that skill. We have to just keep building it."