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‘Blessing of the Fleet’ ceremony begins revetment season

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District held a “Blessing of the Fleet” ceremony Wednesday to mark the deployment of the district’s Mat Sinking Unit and the start of revetment season.

The ceremony was held at the Vicksburg District Harbor, and included blessings from USACE Chaplain Col. Bradford Baumann, the Rev. Sam Godfrey of Christ Episcopal Church and the Rev. Carl Young, a crewmember on the Mat Sinking Unit. Members of the Memphis District revetment team and representatives of the Mississippi Valley Division also attended.

Vicksburg District commander Col. Robert Hilliard and chief of operations Julie Vignes spoke at the ceremony, emphasizing the importance of the unit’s work.

The unit has embarked on “yet another challenging yet vital season dedicated to delivering safe and reliable navigation up and down the Mighty Mississippi,” said Hilliard.

“To the crew members departing today, we owe you our thanks and our gratitude. I wish you safety, and I wish you a successful season.”

The Mat Sinking Unit crew places articulated concrete mats, also called revetments, along the Mississippi River to protect flood control works, prevent riverbank erosion and provide navigable waterways for commercial transportation. The unit’s work spans the jurisdictions of the Memphis, Vicksburg and New Orleans districts and covers more than 1,500 river miles.

District technical experts anticipate the unit will lay approximately 256,000 mats this season and complete its mission in late February. During last year’s revetment season, which lasted from late July to early January, the unit placed more than 230,000 mats.

Unparalleled across the world, the Mat Sinking Unit is a feat of skilled labor and technological innovation.

A mat sinking barge, a mat supply barge, quarter barges, spar barges, gantry cranes, bulldozers and motor vessels are among the equipment used by the unit to help maintain the Mississippi River’s stabilization and navigation.

During revetment season, the unit acts as a floating city, providing lodging and dining for its nearly 300 crewmembers. The crew works 10-hour shifts and 12-consecutive-day work periods to execute the mission.