CHINHAE, South Korea — With most of the 37,000 troops on the Korean peninsula within easy reach of communist North Korea, the U.S. military keeps close tabs on its ammunition stocks — everything from missiles and artillery shells to rounds for machine guns, rifles and pistols.

If ammunition needs repair, it’s done in South Korea when possible. If repairs can’t be made there, or the ammo is too old to use, it’s shipped to the United States to be reconditioned or destroyed.

And so it was last week that things were bustling at the South Korean army’s ammunition pier in Chinhae. In peacetime, the pier is the sole transit point for U.S. military ammunition moving in or out of South Korea — such as the cargo of the Eric G. Gibson, a civilian vessel on long-term charter to the Military Sealift Command.

The Gibson was tied up pierside after arriving May 1, loaded with several hundred containers of fresh ammunition for U.S. forces. It would take back to the States hundreds of containers of ammunition to be repaired or destroyed. The Gibson was to finish loading the stateside-bound containers this weekend, then steam to Japan to pick up more.

Lifting the containers at Chinhae was a monster-size gantry crane, a red steel behemoth whose long legs move on tracks running shipside along the pier. As Korean army flatbed trucks pulled up, the crane operator, in a glass cab high above, worked levers that maneuvered steel clamps onto a container’s corners. The crane lifted the container off the truck, shuttled it sideways over the ship, then lowered it into a hold.

Army Spc. Benjamin Dunaway of the 72nd Ordnance Company stood with a clipboard, checking off containers as they were hauled aloft. The job is important, he said: “If we don’t receive the ammo or ship the ammo as it needs to be, our troops don’t fight. They won’t have bullets. If they don’t have bullets to deter the enemy, then we’re gonna just get all run over.”

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