Marines on supply ship eager to help Somalis OPERATION RESTORE HOPE

December 08, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ABOARD THE LT. JACK LUMMUS -- Capt. Stan Jones is a strapping guy with a football player's gait and a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth.

"People have the wrong idea about Marines," he said. "They think all we want to do is shoot people."

"This is what's great, where we get to go out and do something like this, really helping people," he said. "You know, everybody has the fantasy of smacking down the bully who kicks sand on defenseless people. That's what we're going to do in Somalia."

The Lummus is a giant floating warehouse. It even looks like one, squat and boxy and bristling with catwalks and cranes.

But in its seven levels of sprawling cargo space sit seven M-1 tanks, eight light armored vehicles, 27 amphibious assault vehicles, about 100 Humvees (some outfitted for troop transport, some carrying .50-caliber machine guns or TOW missiles), 500 other vehicles (including four souped-up motorcycles for message runners), 226,000 cubic feet of ammunition, four desalination plants, three gigantic forklifts ("dragon wagons"), and dozens of metal containers full of tents, cots, food, fuel, photographic film and mail.

"I wish they'd get that mail out," said Capt. Bart Monahan, whose wife gave birth to a second girl just as he was leaving his home port in San Diego a few months ago. "I bet there's some pictures in there for me."

The skipper, Capt. Harold Vanderploeg, also is looking forward to a family reunion. His daughter is third mate on one of the three supply ships that are on their way to back up the Lummus in support of the coming military intervention in Somalia.

The captain is a good-natured fellow, with 35 years of experience in the merchant marine. The Lummus is owned by a private corporation but leased to the Marine Corps as part of the five-vessel Maritime Prepositioning Squadron based in Guam.

"Make yourselves at home," Captain Vanderploeg told the visitors who joined the Lummus in Mombasa, Kenya, for the trip to the three-ship flotilla from which Operation Restore Hope will be launched. "But don't go on the foredeck after dark. You get swept off, and we'll never find you. And watch where you smoke."

The huge magazines of gunpowder and explosives in the ship's No. 1 and No. 2 holds, he added, could create "an explosive arc" large enough to vaporize a small city.

For the most part, the Marines and naval cargo specialists aboard the Lummus are wondering what they will find when they reach Mogadishu's harbor.

"You just got to get there and eyeball it," said Lt. Steve Fitzgerald, one of the Seabees who'll supervise the unloading. "That's the one thing we learned down in Miami during the joint task force after the hurricane. The first week, we didn't really know what we were doing. You have to figure it out when you're on the ground and you see what you're up against."

One thing the Lummus doesn't have to worry about is fuel.

"We can cruise around the world in this without refueling," Captain Vanderploeg said.

Down below in the dark holds, the tanks stand cheek-by-jowl with the howitzers, and the armored assault vehicles cover the floor like a military traffic jam.

Col. Bancroft McKittrick was supervising the final preparation yesterday for the rendezvous with the three ships carrying 1,800 Marines off the coast of Somalia. Like most of the men on the Lummus, Colonel McKittrick is confident that the firepower in the ship's belly will be more than enough to subdue any Somalian bandit.

They are, indeed, an impressive sight, all those hulking assault vehicles stretching into the shadows.

"Those guys in Mogadishu in their jeeps with their automatic rifles are going to take one look at one of these amphibious assault vehicles and they're gonna go, 'Oh, my Lord,' " said Lt. Steve Weintraub, an operations officer from the USS Rushmore, one of the three ships loaded with Marines.

Colonel McKittrick agreed. "I think that once we get in there, after the initial flurry, things will calm down pretty well," he said.

He describes what each of the machines can do: "This one here is a road grader, this one's full of avionics equipment, these assault vehicles will provide escort for food convoys into the interior. Nobody's going to mess with them."

If the Somalis simply are going to roll over, then why the need for all the M-1 tanks and the really heavy firepower?

"I don't think we'll need to use them," Colonel McKittrick said. "But they'll make quite an impression. We can take them out there, let the turret swing back and forth -- if need be, let a round or two off."

A thin smile spread across his face. "You might say they're for crowd control," he said.

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