Capability, Security are Hallmarks of Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group Mission
By EVAMARIE SOCHA, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — A secure communications network on a small cellphone is Lt. Cmdr. Blaque Washington’s dream. For now, he settles for phone calls using something the size of a brick.
The larger, though outdated-in-size, mobile phone is preferred, however, because it uses an assuredly secure network, said Washington, the training, readiness and assessments officer for Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NAVELSG), based in Williamsburg, Va.
NAVELSG personnel — about 440 active duty and 2,200 Reservists — are literally the movers and shakers of military operations. When any American armed force gears up for a mission, NAVELSG does the inventory, load and offload of everything needed “from bullets to beans,” Washington said, setting things up and tearing them down so warfighters can do their job. Ammunition and fuel are among the items NAVELSG resupplies the most, and are also are the trickiest to get to forces.
This is why the best plans are secret plans; no one wants the enemy to know where service members are, how well stocked they are or how long it’s taking to get them started or supplied. Today’s cellphones may be compact, but they travel networks that cannot be secured enough for military use. Walkie talkies have the same issue.
“Communications can make or break a mission,” Washington said. “Security and size are the main concerns. And I haven’t seen anything yet” that fits the bill. Hence, the brick.
Secure communications over better-sized devices is something Washington planned to look for during the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, which started April 3 at National Harbor, Md.
Something that would allow exchange of procedures over a smaller phone would be great, he said.
His other wish-list item: strong slings.
Moving equipment is tricky, Washington said. A mission hinges on everything working; equipment damaged in transit is not an option. Slings must be very light but durable and capable of lifting thousands of pounds, he said, including ship containers, trucks and floating piers.
So, secure communications and slings — two divergent things — are equally important to NAVELSG, which supports all military branches and even works with a civilian agency or humanitarian organization when needed. For instance, it helped the National Science Foundation in an Antarctic exposition, delivering equipment and supplies, and transporting back everything from unneeded vehicles to human waste — no plumbing at the South Pole, after all, and nothing is left behind. It’s also been there for the Red Cross in relief efforts following natural disasters.
The group has seven battalions — four ready to deploy at any time while the others are either gearing up or winding down from a mission. NAVELSG currently has personnel throughout the United States and in Afghanistan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Leaning heavily on Reservists, it takes about three years to get personnel up to speed on the operations.
Missions also can change at the drop of a hat, Washington said.
“We can train, train, train, but if the enemy becomes aware of what we do, then the mission becomes something wholly new,” he said.
So, one more hope for that secure but smaller cell phone: “Capability and security,” Washington said. “Those are the watch words.”