Facelift for one member of the Army’s Navy
In the summer of 1918, the 3rd Division was fighting in northern France, in a battle that would become a turning point for World War I and the division’s reputation.
In the French Province of Champagne, along the banks of the Marne River, American forces were fighting off a strong German attack that may have given the German’s key strategic strongholds against the Allies.
While other units were retreating all around the newly organized division, 3rd Division maintained its position along the Marne River, against some of the heaviest fighting seen during the war.
The division stood fast, dashing Germany’s hope of gaining any further foothold in France and effectively putting Germany on the defensive. For this, the division earned the nickname “Rock of the Marne.”
Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing, commander of the American forces in Europe at that time, said 3rd Division’s performance was one of the most brilliant in the history of the United States Army.
This turning point for World War I and the turning point in America’s military history lives on in a tugboat named Champagne-Marne, for the battle fought that summer.
In a small ceremony at Kuwait Naval Base, a former 3rd Infantry Division commander, Lt. Gen. William Webster was on hand to help put the new nameplates on the tugboat in a small ceremony, May 6. Webster, now commander of 3rd Army/U.S. Army Central Command, still remembers with pride his years commanding the unit and its history.
Webster commanded 3rd ID from 2003 to 2006. While he was commander he was charged with reshaping the division into the Army’s first modular division.
Every vessel in the Army’s inventory is named after a Medal of Honor recipient or a famous military battle in American history, including this tugboat that made 3rd Div. one of the most feared in the Army.
2nd Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade, based out of Kuwait, maintains the vessel.
“Lt. Gen. Webster relished the opportunity to get the opportunity to get back to the Marne,” said Lt. Col Michael Wright, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade. “He liked that it was still being so well-maintained.”
The new signs displayed on the boat show the Marne patch on either side of the vessel’s name.
“The vessel is in excellent condition for being over 50 years old,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Proffitt, of Virginia Beach, Va., who serves as a marine maintenance officer with 2/401st AFSB. “The new boards were a fitting touch.”
The vessel’s ability is obvious to more than just one Soldier.
“The tugboat is an all-purpose thing,” said Wright. “It can bring barges into pier, pull boats and push boats.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Proffitt appreciated that he was there to see the ship and appreciates the unit’s work.
“It isn’t often that those of us within the Army watercraft community have the opportunity to make an impression on leaders outside of the field,” he said. “Although vessels are built to design specification, they are unique, each and everyone in its function and traits, almost like a living organism.”
For the Soldiers who serve on the ship, it becomes more than a place of duty.
“When underway, the crew not only works aboard, but they live, eat and rest there too,” Proffitt said. “It is essentially home to the Soldiers for the duration of their assignment. You can go weeks at a time without personal contact with the outside world or even see land. The fact that someone can connect to a vessel on a personal level brings a depth of understanding and interest that you usually only get from the mariners that sail them.”
Even though it is not in use, it could be manned and ready for action in a matter of days. The Champagne-Marne was commissioned more than 50 years ago and is one of only two remaining 100-foot tugboats still used by the Army. The vessel played a part in preventing Iraqi sabotage, participating in operations which required complex and integrated joint operations with Special Operations, Navy, Coast Guard, and Army forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Story by Spc. Michael Adams
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