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Sub tender USS Emory S. Land arrives in Rota to repair aging cargo boats

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — For Port Operations Officer Lt. Cmdr. Chris Reardon, the arrival of the 646-foot sub tender USS Emory S. Land at Rota on Wednesday morning was a welcome sight, though he doesn’t have a submarine under his command.

His cargo boats rusting at the edges, his tugs suffering the detriments of age, Reardon’s small flotilla of port operations craft has suffered from the effects of the Navy’s shifting presence in Europe — for years, no one at Rota has been able to fix them.

Though the arrival of a bulky sub tender in the past hasn’t been cause for optimism for his boats, another Navy movement — to streamline its operations — changed that this week.

In a new service being offered by the Land, starting Wednesday the ship’s repair crew will perform its first-ever maintenance on port operations vessels outside of its home base of La Maddalena, Sardinia, a “fantastic” benefit for Rota that will improve its boats at minimal cost, Reardon said.

Originally commissioned as a submarine tender built to repair Los Angeles-class attack submarines in the late 1970s, the Land has already expanded its list of maintenance clients to include a range of surface ships, said Cmdr. Brian McGinnis, repair officer for the Land.

The ship’s 400 repair personnel specialize in everything from fixing keels to custom-making metal bolts, McGinnis said, and next week 14 welders from the Land are heading to Kuwait to armor Humvees.

“We can fix about anything,” he said.

With the Land stopping in ports such as Rota on its way to other missions, it made sense to also offer the crew’s skills to spruce up the local operations craft as well, McGinnis said.

“We have a tremendous capability and capacity that is under-utilized, and we are looking for customers to provide services to,” he said.

Reardon said that using the Land to fix local ships will save Rota a significant amount of money by eliminating the need to hire an outside contractor. His only expense for getting his craft fixed, he said, will be the cost of parts, a tab McGinnis said would run him about $6,000.

For the repair workers aboard the Land, however, the expansion of services is somewhat less than thrilling.

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Mims, a machinist’s repairman, said he works in a shop where “we take big chunks of metal and make it into pretty much anything you want.” So, the port operations repairs are generally “nickel-and-dime-type things,” Mims said.

“It’s actually a pretty boring job for the port operations,” he said.

The approximately 1,400 sailors and Marines aboard the Land made the short stop at Rota this week to meet up with the USS Newport News, a submarine out of Norfolk, Va., before traveling on to the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of equatorial Africa.

There, the Land will spend several weeks working on community relations missions with the coastal countries, performing some humanitarian aid work and tutoring workers on ship repair techniques, McGinnis said.


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