Logistics Specialists Keep Fire Alive in VP-4 Skinny Dragons

Written by: LTJG Lane A. Cobble
Supply Officer, NCTAMS PAC
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Bio: A Danville, Virginia native and University of Virginia graduate, LTJG Cobble completed schoolhouse training in Athens, GA in May of 2009. LTJG Cobble spent two years on the USS Eisenhower (CVN 69) before transferring to NCTAMS PAC Wahiawa, HI in July of 2011.

VP-4 POC: LTJG Jenna Rose (PAO)
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In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, four thousand miles from the coast of California, the Ko’olau Mountain Range juts out of the ocean and surrounds Kaneohe Bay. It’s a spectacular sight. The green, tropical mountains rise far above the horizon and loom large, the way stadium seats rise up and surround the football fields of NFL and college teams. Make no mistake though, the grand stage, the main act, is the bay itself, which coolly projects its own panache and grandiosity. Kaneohe Bay is the largest sheltered body of water in the main Hawaiian Islands. Eight miles long and almost three miles broad, it is dotted with reefs and sandbars that lie just under the surface of the water.

Looking out upon the kaleidoscopic bay water is Hangar Bay 104, the home of the VP-4 Skinny Dragons. Two P-3C Orions sit parked and facing open bay doors which showcase views of the bay and allow the reliable Pacific trade winds to roll right through the hangar bay. Life isn’t too bad here at the edge of the water at Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), and the Logistics Specialists who sit in the Material Control office, not twenty feet from the wing of one of those Orions, know it. “Oh I’ve been hiking, snorkeling, parasailing, I went on a shark dive,” says LS2 Anna Anagaran, a nine-year Navy veteran who enlisted out of high school from Santa Clara, California. “There were only about four or five sharks. They weren’t too big.” When asked about the safety of such an excursion, she retorted “Well, you’re in a cage.” LS2 Anagaran has been on the island for a while now, having completed tours at FISC Pearl Harbor, VP-9, and the USS Chafee. She helped pre-commission the Chafee in Bath, Maine, then sailed with her all the way to Oahu. “We sailed from Maine to Boston, to Puerto Vallarto, San Diego, then to Hawaii.”

Not every Logistics Specialist at Patrol Squadron Four has spent that many years on the island. LS3 Kayla Peggs is in the middle of her first tour out of ‘A’ School. Hawaii was her top choice and LS3, a photographer by hobby, spends a lot of her free time exploring the island with friends, especially with those friends who have nice cars to ride around in. “I’ve gotten some really good photos from the car.” Another big fan of Hawaii life is LSC Baby Wakefield, who’s been on island for eight years running. “I loooove Hawaii. The weather is perfect.” Originally from the Philippines, the location is just right as well, “It’s not too close but not too far from my family in the Philippines. They can come visit, but they’re not over here all the time. Plus, there are a lot of Filipinos here in Hawaii, so it’s kind of a home away from home. I can get some good Filipino food whenever I want.” She’d like to get into surfing, but she’s not a huge water person. Neither is LS2 Robert Nelson, “I’m not much of an outdoors person. I’m a bit of a computer nerd. I don’t like being stuck on an island where you can’t just get up and do something or go somewhere, or just go to another state or to Las Vegas for the weekend.”

What LS2 Nelson, a native of north Georgia, looks forward to during this tour is deployment. “I had a night shift during my last deployment with another squadron. I was the only guy there at night: ordering parts, putting together shipping labels, getting shipments set up for the day watch. I didn’t get to see much of the town we were in.” This time around will be different. The Skinny Dragons will be headed to parts of Europe and the Middle East and he’ll get some more quality, tourist-friendly liberty.

As LS2 Nelson attested to, deployment for P-3C squadron Logistics Specialists isn’t all sightseeing in exotic locales. They might not be out at sea, sleeping and working on a ship every day, but the workload is heavy and unrelenting. “We were busy changing props and engines like crazy last deployment,” says LS2 Anagaran. “We’re on land, which is nice, but we’re working every day, all day. We don’t get days off like you get on ships sometimes. You can see more of a city by pulling into port for a few days than we get to see being there for a month.”

What makes the workload so burdensome during deployments is the three-squadron cycle that P-3C squadrons operate on. While the Logistics Specialists only have three planes to order and track parts for in Hawaii, once they deploy the squadron will take ownership and responsibility for upwards of nine more P-3C Orions in theater. That’s a two hundred percent increase in parts and supplies to be ordered, all while dealing with the difficulties and stresses of doing the job abroad on a different base, then packing out again to move to a new base if the mission calls for it.

Maintaining P-3C Orions is difficult enough here in Hawaii. The P-3C platform was first introduced to the Navy by Lockheed in the 1960s, as an upgrade for the aging twin piston-engine Lockheed P2V Neptune. The P-3C scoured the oceans and waterways of the world during the Cold War, keeping tabs on Soviet Navy ballistic missile and fast attack subs. In the event of full scale war, the Orions and the crewmembers who manned them would be called upon to eliminate those threats. While upgrades have expanded the P-3C’s capabilities beyond its anti-submarine and maritime surveillance functions, she’s still aging and the Navy has already lined up a replacement for her: the P-8 Poseidon.

Finding parts for an old, discontinued aircraft makes the logistics job even more laborious. “The P-3C is an old platform and it’s difficult to get parts,” shares LSC Wakefield. “There are a lot of discontinued parts and it’s a longer process finding those parts. You have to spend more time talking to tech reps and you have to open purchase some items. Most of our support comes from JAX and Whidbey Island.” What makes things more complicated is that the VP-4 logistics process falls under a Marine Corps command, Marine Aviation Logistics Support (MALS 24). There was a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that was a catalyst for some official changes in policy for MALS 24 and its subordinate commands. “We can’t open purchase or use credit cards to purchase parts anymore. That makes things more difficult.” Plus, as with other Navy logistics systems, sometimes there are issues with ownership of a part; one system says this depot has a part while another system says a different command owns it. “We just have to stay on top of it. There are three main steps: we identify the part we need, locate that part in the system and compete with other squadrons to obtain the part, then keep running it to ground until we get it delivered to us.” As the saying goes, the money is in the follow-up.

“Without Supply, our operations would grind to a halt,” says Patrol Squadron Four Commanding Officer CDR Brent Strong. “I believe it was Napoleon who said ‘I want my colonels to know tactics and my generals to know logistics.’” When asked about Supply’s role in VP-4’s mission and its every day interaction with the rest of the squadron, Commander Strong remarked, “Especially with the age of the P-3C, we would not be in the air very long. They stay engaged with everyone and make sure our needs are met, whether it’s flight suits, or fuel, or keeping those wrenches turning.”

Critical to keeping those wrenches turning year after year is training the junior sailors in the ways of Navy logistics. Along the way, those sailors who end up here at VP-4 in Hawaii get some great Navy experiences and training that lie outside the normal LS purview. LS3 Peggs is almost qualified as a yellow-shirt, more formally known as a Plane Handler. “I help recover and launch the aircraft out on the runway. It’s a big adrenaline rush.” Even if they don’t get to work on the runway, the Logistics Specialists in VP-4 can walk just a few feet and set their eyes on the stunning aquamarine waters of Kaneohe Bay and the lush, towering Ko’olau Range.

VP-4 Skinny Dragons on the flightline with the Ko’olau Range in the background.

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