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Strategic Sealift Officers: Coordinating the Navy’s Needs

By Lt. j.g. Kelsey Ireland, Strategic Sealift Officer, MSC Europe and Africa | Nov. 19, 2020

SOUDA BAY, GREECE —
Ensigns Brandon Gotha and Forrest Plumer earned their Strategic Sealift Officer warfare device presented by Lt. Cmdr. Joe Kerley.
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | 201022-N-AZ866-0012 Ensigns Brandon Gotha and Forrest Plumer earned their Strategic Sealift Officer warfare device presented by Lt. Cmdr. Joe Kerley. All three members are Strategic Sealift Officers and arrived in Souda Bay, Greece, Oct. 19 on M/V Maersk Valencia where they were serving as the ships Tactical Advisors (TACAD). TACADs embark on vessels under operational control of Military Sealift Command as advisors to the Ship's Master and act as a liaison between the MSC ashore team, U.S. Navy and merchant vessels. Their mission is to communicate intentions with the area commander and securely coordinate ship movements. They can also coordinate escorts and convoys in contested environments. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Kelly Agee)

U.S. Navy Reserve Strategic Sealift Officers (SSO), Ensigns Brandon Gotha and Forrest Plummer, were awarded the SSO warfare device by Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Kerley after completing underway training on M/V Maersk Valencia, Oct. 22.

Gotha and Plummer arrived in Naval Support Activity Souda Bay in Greece after serving as tactical advisors (TACADs) on Maersk Valencia. TACADs embark on vessels under operational control of Military Sealift Command as advisors to the Ship's Master and act as a liaison between the MSC ashore team, U.S. Navy and merchant vessels. Their mission is to communicate intentions with the area commander and securely coordinate ship movements. They can also coordinate escorts and convoys in contested environments.

Both Ensigns not only received their warfare device, but their arrival in Souda Bay completed their training as TACADs. They departed Souda Bay back on Maersk Valencia, without their instructor, as qualified officers.

MSC initiated the TACAD program for its SSO community in 2017. All SSOs hold unlimited-tonnage deck or engineering merchant marine licenses in addition to commissions in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

During the pinning, Gotha and Plummer were reminded of the unique service they provide to the U.S. Navy as SSOs.

"Their special qualifications as both Naval Officers and Merchant Marine Officers provides a tremendous value to the Navy," said MSC Marine Transportation Specialist and retired SSO, Hugo M. Polanco.

To qualify for the warfare device, SSOs are required to receive their U.S. Coast Guard license and complete several Navy and command-required trainings, such as post-commissioning indoctrination, MSC 101, Navy Reserve Fundamentals and Primary Professional Military Education. After the initial requirements are complete, they must also go on two additional active duty for training orders.

SSOs are small community of around 2,000 reservists that are civilian merchant mariners and sail for MSC or commercially. They serve as subject matter experts in sealift, maritime operations and logistics.

One of the core functions of the SSO program is to serve as the connection between the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Merchant Marine, having earned their U.S. Coast Guard license while also serving as naval reserve officers.

“Once commissioned with their U.S. Coast Guard licenses in hand, receiving their warfare device provides greater opportunity as they continue along their naval career,” said Polanco. “The sky is the limit!”
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