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CHINHAE AMMO PIER, South Korea — Viewing the massive black hull of the SS Kocak makes it easy to believe it holds tons of equipment for Marines headed for a fight.

The Kocak and MV Phillips were docked here Wednesday as part of a 15-day exercise that began Sunday. Personnel will practice loading and unloading the two ships by swapping much of their cargo. About 680 combat vehicles, tanks and amphibious assault vehicles will trade places with 260 containers of ammunition, tools and spare parts.

The ships are part of the Maritime Prepositioning Force. The MPF is comprised of three Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadrons, fleets of four or five cargo ships designed to move quickly to the fight, outfit a 17,500-troop Marine Expeditionary Brigade and support the brigade for 30 days. The squadrons are based on Diego Garcia, Guam and in the Mediterranean.

The Maritime Prepositioning Program was started in 1979 under President Carter to improve response time so military operations could start quickly.

Troops would fly in from other areas, picking up their equipment when in theater.

The concept “demonstrates our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and complements the realignment of other U.S. forces on the peninsula,” said Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, commander of Marine Forces Pacific.

Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron 3 is based on Guam. Gregson said having the squadron there significantly enhances “our ability to rapidly deploy forces” to the Korean peninsula.

The squadron also will add a fifth ship, the USNS Wheat, he said.

The prepositioning program is one of 150 upgrades in South Korea on which the United States will spend $11 billion over the next three years, Gregson said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally ordered the 3rd Naval Beach Group to South Korea to support the mission, Gregson said.

Also supporting the mission are Marines from Okinawa and Navy personnel from the United States.

On the bridge of the MV Phillips, Captain Joseph F. Gibney Jr., a master mariner, said the ship moves at about 16 knots or 18.4 miles per hour and can reach strategic positions in just a few days.

The ship is jam-packed with equipment, including fuel, to supply Marines, Gibney said.

The SS Kocak came from Kuwait. Much of its equipment will be loaded onto the MV Phillips, which will head out for a two-year cruise, Gibney said.

The SS Kocak then will head to the States for refurbishing, he said.

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