June 28, 2006

Resurrecting Ghosts

"Mothball Fleet."

Just hearing those words conjures up images of worn down, obsolete rusty freighters, decrepit warships, and sepia-tone pictures of half-sunken Liberty ships whose glory days have long since past.


They are the abandoned hulks and hulls no longer wanted or needed, destined for an ignoble end at the bottom of the sea after being used as a naval target, or at the end of a scrapyard's cutting torch.

But what if some of these grizzled veterans of wars past still had a story left to tell? What if some of these salt-flecked graybeards of the fleet still have a purpose, and can be called forth once more?

Finding that purpose is the calling of Ward Brewer, CEO of a little-known and unheralded non-profit Beauchamp Tower Corporation (BTC). Operation Enduring Service, the program started to press these aging ships back into service, began with a glance at a picture on a wall. As the Operation Enduring Service web site explains:

A 1944 Will Cressy lithograph of the USS Orion, which hung on James Gulley's living room wall since he returned from the war, now hangs on his grandson's office wall. In April of 2002, while working on his company's National Emergency Urban Interface Program, a momentary glance at that picture drew Ward's attention.

Taking a break from working on the company's emergency response program, Ward began searching for the USS Orion on the Internet to find out more about her. Several sites had pictures and brief histories of the USS Orion as well as other Fulton Class Submarine Tenders. There was one site, however, that would dramatically change future events. The USS Torsk Volunteers had been aboard the USS Orion in order to obtain various parts that were needed for the continued restoration of their submarine. While searching the ship, the "Torsk Bandits" as they called themselves, took numerous pictures of the USS Orion. It was these pictures that caught Ward Brewer's eye.

The USS Orion was built like a small city, carrying with her everything she could possibly need to perform her mission. It was all there, Machine Shops, Foundry, Electronics, Utilities, Berthing, Galleys, etc. This incredible concentration of capabilities made the USS Orion and her Fulton Class sister ships efficient, effective, and one of the most versatile assets in the United States Navy. It was the versatility and unique assets of these ships that resulted in Ward Brewer considering a project design so bold and unusual that few would believe it was even possible.

Brewer's general concept was simple; save these aging ships from the scrapyard, and refit them with the most modern technologies this generation can bring to bear to create a small fleet of ultra-capable disaster response and recovery ships.

The Fulton-class of Submarine Tenders was Brewer's first choice for this mission, but as more modern ships began to retire, the Mars-class Combat Stores Ship became the most logical choice to be refitted as the very first purpose-built Fast Attack Disaster Response Ships.

The former USNS San Diego may be the very first of this new breed of ships.


Outfitted with an emergency response center, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations center and a land/sea/air communications center than can coordinate across military, law enforcement and civilian radio frequencies, this ship will be the coordinating hub of disaster response in coming hurricane seasons, working with FEMA, the Coast Guard, Salvation Army and other organizations that response to the worse storms Mother Nature can throw at Gulf and East Coast states.

Able to provide food, water, fuel and emergency supplies to an area measuring of thousands of square miles, these ships will be able to do what no agency in any country has ever been capable of doing.

The problem, of course, is securing these aging vessels and finding a way to finance their refitting and return to duty.

Operation Enduring Service has long been pushing the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) to release a substantial number of ships to Beauchamp Tower Corporation from the James River and Suisun Bay National Defense Reserve Fleets.

National Defense Reserve Fleet, Suisian Bay, California

National Defense Reserve Fleet, James River, Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Ships of historical significance—particularly World War II-era ships—would be brought back to period standards and used as museum ships, providing future generations insights into how the Greatest Generation fought to preserve this nation's freedoms. A handful of vessels such as the USNS San Diego would be refitted for emergency response.

A substantial part of the operation—both museum ships and modernized disaster response vessels—would be financed by selling the salvage and scrapping rights to other vessels too far gone to be of further use except for as recycled raw materials. The total cost of this program to taxpayers?

Not one dime.

The salvage and scrapping of those vessels beyond their useful days will partially finance both the historical and rescue operations, with the rest of the costs being absorbed by the deep pockets of major corporate donors already committed to Beauchamp Tower Corporation.

As fantastic as it sounds, the operation will actually save the American taxpayer tens of millions of dollars that the Maritime Administration has been paying to companies across the Atlantic to tow away and dispose of ships as American shipyards want for work.

* * *

Long-time readers of this site know that I've been trying to do my small part to help make Operation Enduring Service a reality, as I've been writing posts advocating readers to help pressure Congressmen and Senators for support about it off and on since early November of last year.

Back in March I had something of an idea, an alternative to harassing Congressmen, and being in near daily contact with Brewer (who I have since come to regard as a long-distance friend) I passed that idea along. I then more or less stopped my public advocacy for this project, even as that idea went to the right people and things began to get a bit more interesting (to put it mildly) behind the scenes.

It pains me as a blogger to sit on a good idea, but I've done just that thus far. If things go as planned, I should be able to break that silence very, very soon.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 28, 2006 10:25 AM | TrackBack

It would be nice to see them used for something like that instead of a breakwater.

Posted by: Retired Navy at June 28, 2006 01:23 PM

With the sinking of all the Sprunace Class DD's, (last week the Stump & the Comte De Grasse) which were built in the mid 70's to early 80's, we no longer have a fleet reserve. Not to mention my first command CVA-66 USS America.

Posted by: Tim at June 28, 2006 05:07 PM

Cool boats.

Posted by: Johnny at June 28, 2006 07:43 PM

In case anyone is interested, another reported Saddam official has been found to be working with al Qaeda in Iraq.
Details here

Posted by: Mark Eichenlaub at June 28, 2006 08:18 PM

That's a bit of a bummer to hear about the Spruance DDs being used for target practice. I was a Plankowner on the Comte de Grasse. We put a lot of hard work and hours into that ship. Sad to hear about her going to Davy Jones Locker.

Posted by: JM at June 29, 2006 12:33 AM

My father served on DD-425 USS Madison, and DD-681 USS Hopewell in both theaters in WWII. I don't know what became of the Madison, the Hopewell was used as a target in '72. I am living testament to American ship building; he survived to meet my mother!

Posted by: Tom TB at June 29, 2006 05:56 AM