The following is excerpted from an article written by Bill Mesta for Military Sealift Command. American Maritime Officers represents all licensed officers aboard the USNS Mendonca.
The contract civilian mariners who crew Military Sealift Command's Bob Hope Class USNS Mendonca (T-AKR 303), a large medium speed roll-on/roll-off ship (LSMR), brought aboard an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Augusta Bay Port Facility in Sicily, Italy, August 16.
The aircraft was brought aboard Mendonca to be transported back to the United States.
The F/A-18E aircraft, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW 1), embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), blew overboard due to unexpected heavy weather in the Mediterranean Sea, July 8.
"The Mendonca's crew assisted with planning the lift, landing the aircraft from the salvage barge's crane, and securing the F/A-18 on deck," according to Captain James Gill, master on the USNS Mendonca. "The USNS Mendonca received the tasking due to our available cargo space and geographic location. We were the right piece at the right place at the right time."
The aircraft was recovered from a depth of approximately 9,500 feet by a team from Task Force (CTF) 68, Naval Sea Systems Command's Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV), Harry S. Truman, Naval Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, and U.S. 6th Fleet embarked on the multi-purpose construction vessel (MPV) Everest and transported to Italy.
Mendonca has over 73,000 square feet of weather-deck space for cargo, and twin pedestal cranes which made the ship a perfect platform to transport the aircraft back to the U.S.
"The return of the F-18 came up as a lift of opportunity during our recent mission in support of Operation Resolute Castle," Gill said. "Our configuration and cargo capabilities allow us to support many different types of cargo. Whether it is lift-on/lift-off, roll-on/roll-off, containerized or break-bulk cargo, we can do it all - from artillery, armor, vehicles of all sizes, containers, helicopters, and now tactical aircraft."
The F/A-18's ultimate destination is Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
"Mendonca's crew performed extremely well," Gill stated. "The unique nature of the lift and aircraft has provided a break from the routine and kept everyone interested and involved."
Gill also credited overseas shore-side partners for the successful aircraft on load.
"MSC Europe and Africa's staff and the Port Operations Team made the process quick and painless," Gill stated. "We pulled in, anchored, conducted the lift, secured the aircraft, and cleared the port in a little over four and a half hours."
Gill concluded by stating, "this mission came together quickly and demonstrated the flexibility and valuable capabilities of the LMSRs and showed the Bob Hope-class of ships remain a valuable asset and should be utilized as much as possible."
The USNS Mendonca is crewed by approximately 30 contract civilian mariners who are employed by U.S. Marine Management, Inc.