A Trident pier like that deployed to Gaza during a training exercise in Virginia in 2012. The Army’s Trident piers and J-LOTS systems trace their roots to the floating causeways and ramps used in Normandy in the weeks after D-Day. US Army photo.

The makeshift pier erected by the Army off a beach in Gaza will reopen in the next week, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, reactivating one of the few systems still in use that can trace its roots directly to Omaha Beach and the 1944 D-Day invasion. 

While the Army commemorates the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings this week, a less known chapter of the landings came in the weeks after as allied forces struggled to bring supplies ashore at Normandy. In fact, a storm two weeks after the invasion destroyed a makeshift harbor on Omaha beach. In the aftermath, Army engineers began work on a pier system that would eventually lead to the Joint-Logistics-Over-the-Shore system, or J-LOTS, deployed to Gaza today.

Wednesday, the Pentagon said it soon plans to reopen the J-LOTS’ makeshift pier to restart humanitarian aid delivery to Gaza after the entire relief effort ground to halt as the pier broke up by heavy seas last week. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said that the latest cost estimate for the pier is $230 million, roughly $100 million less than previously thought. The U.S. military expects that the Gaza pier’s floating causeway will be re-anchored later this week and aid is expected to flow “pretty immediately,” Singh said.

“If there is a time and place where the commander feels that there’s another storm coming and out of an abundance of caution removes the temporary pier for whether it be hours or a day – I could see that potentially happening in the future,” Singh said. “But obviously, it’s hard to predict the future when it comes to weather.”

Still, the ramps and platforms that make up the J-LOTS system would not feel unfamiliar to a soldier at Omaha beach in 1944.

In the days after D-Day, the Army erected a floating causeway known as Mulberry Harbor at Omaha Beach. However, the structure was wrecked by a storm in mid-June 1944. The failure inspired Col. Leon B. DeLong to “design a portable pier that could stand up to rough seas,” according to the Army.

After WWII, the retired Colonel started a company to build 50-by-250-foot DeLong Piers. Unlike the floating bridges and platforms used on D-Day, the DeLong piers used long steel poles to dig into the sand, holding fast and even capable of raising the piers during storms. The systems were first used by the Air Force in 1951 to offload materials for runway construction at Thule Air Base, Greenland. The following year the Army awarded DeLong a contract for 17 piers.

As the Cold War began, the Army ran exercises and tested Logistics-Over-The-Shore 

Concepts off the northern coast of France to “rehearse for another Normandy-like operation in the event the Soviet Union destroyed the fixed ports with nuclear bombs,” according to the Army.

The Army would soon use the LOTS concept in Vietnam to bring supplies into theater. In 1966, the U.S. Military Assistance Command “developed landing craft offload sites to improve discharge rates at ports.” The Joint Logistics Review Board recommended that the Army needed to review its doctrine for LOTS operations and “incorporate the planned use of mobile/prefabricated piers,” Maj. Jon Michael King wrote in a 2020 paper.

Though rarely as in the spotlight as the Gaza pier, soldiers have deployed and used J-LOTS in humanitarian operations including Haiti. Soldiers also carried out JLOTS operations international exercises including Native Fury 20 in the United Arab Emirates in March 2020 and more recently in Talisman Sabre with Australia. 

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Over-the-shore in the Pacific

While traditionally a land-based force, the Army has been beefing up its presence in the water as the DOD pivots strategy and deterrence to the vast Pacific region with an eye on China. 

In February, the Army activated the 5th Transportation Company, a composite watercraft company outside of the U.S. for the first time in decades, the Army said in a release. The unit’s mission involves operating landing craft throughout the Pacific “as far South as Australia and as far North as the Republic of Korea or Hokkaido, the Northern Island of Japan.”

But as the last weeks have demonstrated, the system has weak spots. Researchers at the RAND Corporation wrote in an Op-Ed that the JLOTS mission in Gaza highlights the need for the capability in places where it is most needed.

“Seeing several Army watercraft move east from Virginia does beg the question as to how the Army is balancing such deployments against their primary missions in the Pacific,” RAND researchers wrote. “The Army had moved its watercraft from U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, only to later require the watercraft to return, which raises questions about whether this intra-theater capability is being correctly allocated.”

Soldiers on the project

Two soldiers working on the project were highlighted in two recent Army releases.

One is a watercraft operator assigned to the 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary). Spc. Briar Chasteen from Trenton, Illinois, was approaching his first permanent change of station with his wife and 18-month-old son when he was asked to be part of the JLOTS project.  

“Being a part of this mission was a choice for me,” Chasteen told the Army in a release. “I re-enlisted for four more years and gave up the opportunity to move to Japan. I decided to delete my orders so that I could assist in delivering aid to people in need.”

Chasteen said soldiers have faced several challenges during work on the JLOTS mission with high op tempos, building the Roll-on Roll-off Distribution Facility and Trident Pier, and dealing with the rough sea state. 

“We have had to get used to plans changing,” he said.

Sgt. Hagan Schutz, 25, grew up in the coastal town of Holland, Mass. His decision to join the Army was a shock to his family, he said. But with a childhood spent going to the beach, his future career was quite fitting. 

Schutz is a modular warping tug coxswain assigned to 331st Transportation Company, 7th Transportation Brigade. Modular Warping tugs are flat-bottomed platforms with twin, omni-directional jets. With a crew of seven, the tugs can navigate in waters less than two feet deep. 

For the JLOTS project, Schutz pilots the tugs that assemble the Trident Pier, and ensures the safety of six other soldiers aboard his craft.

“It can be stressful, especially during some of our recent situations,” said Schutz. “Ultimately I have to trust that everyone aboard knows their jobs and their responsibilities, and that makes my job a whole lot easier.”

Schutz said that this mission included a lot of “firsts” including his inaugural anchoring of the Army vessel into a combat zone.

“To be in a combat area is a different experience than I ever expected,” he said. “It’s definitely taught me to persevere with all the stuff we’ve been through. It’s been hard, but it teaches me to be a bit stronger and keep pushing through.”

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