Army watercraft company that saw action at Normandy and Vietnam reactivates in Japan
Stars and Stripes February 8, 2024
YOKOHAMA NORTH DOCK, Japan — A U.S. Army unit that will operate landing craft throughout the Indo-Pacific began work Thursday at this waterfront base south of Tokyo.
A bell rang out from the deck of the USAV Calaboza, a landing craft utility vessel, while about 40 soldiers stood in formation on shore, signaling the activation of the 5th Transportation Company, which had been inactive since 1997.
The unit “will strengthen maritime maneuver capabilities in contingencies, including disasters in the Indo-Pacific Region,” U.S. Army Japan said in a statement provided at the ceremony.
The company traces its lineage to Mechanical Repair Shop Unit 306, constituted in 1917 at Newport News, Va. It saw service in World War II, including at Normandy, and on the Saigon and Mekong rivers during the Vietnam War, according to the ceremony program.
The unit, led by Capt. Miata Schenaker, is evidence that “the Army can fight on land, air and sea,” U.S. Army Japan commander Maj. Gen. David Womack told dignitaries gathered at the dock.
A crew of 13 noncommissioned officers can deliver equipment and supplies to beaches using vessels like the Calaboza, he said.
The Calaboza and another vessel like it, the USAV Fort McHenry, which is deployed to Cairns, Australia, are the only watercraft operated by the newly activated company so far, Col. Ned Holt, commander of the Okinawa-based 10th support Group, said after the ceremony.
LCUs move personnel, gear and supplies to shore. They are small but boast the same payload capacity as seven C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. One LCU can carry up to five M1 Abrams tanks, 24 double-stacked shipping containers or 400 combat-equipped troops.
“These boats are older than most of these soldiers,” Womack said of the 1970s- and ‘80s-era landing craft.
Soldiers on the Calaboza sleep four to a room, although Warrant Officer 2 Jason McElrath, the vessel master, gets his own cabin, he said during a post-ceremony tour of the landing craft.
It is equipped with a pair of .50-caliber machine guns, a bow engine that enables it to maneuver in tight spaces, and an aft anchor that can winch the watercraft away from a beach, he said.
McElrath took charge of the Calaboza in June. He said the vessel had been on temporary assignment in the region and moved cargo, vehicles and troops to Sasebo, Okinawa and the Philippines last year.
Watercraft are integral to the Army’s annual Pathways training deployments of U.S.-based units to the Indo-Pacific, Holt said.
The 280 soldiers assigned to the company will live at Camp Zama, headquarters for U.S. Army Japan, and Yokosuka Naval Base, home of the U.S. 7th Fleet, each about 45 minutes’ drive from North Dock, he said.
A composite watercraft company includes five landing craft utility vessels, two tugboats, four maneuver support vessels and a harbormaster operations detachment to provide maintenance, according to an Army news release May 24, 2021.