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Small Craft Company prepares for coming missions

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/24/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

HADITHAH DAM, Iraq(May 20, 2004) -- Sgt. Joseph E. Wright stood at the helm of his boat, drenched from the rare rains that sprinkle the western deserts of Iraq and the spray from the river. His boat skimmed and darted across the surface of the water, churning the water.

His mission this day was a drill. Tomorrow, it could be a combat raid. Either way, he's part of new and adaptive way to fight terrorism.

Marines with Small Craft Company's 1st Platoon, assigned to the 1st Marine Division, trained to get back to their riverine roots of conducting water-borne raids. The Marines are part of an innovative way to defeat terrorism along the Euphrates River, a tactic not widely used since Vietnam.

The exercises have become an essential part of Small Craft's routine. They are constantly updating and rewriting scenarios that they could encounter, for both water-borne and conventional infantry operations.

"Right now our ground-to-water operations ratio is about fifty-fifty," said Sgt. Joseph E. Wright, a boat captain from Standish, Maine. "But, we're slowly starting to do more water ops, which is what we're here for."

For the first several months the Marines of the unit participated in mostly ground operations, because they were the only security force in the area according to Sgt. Matthew Austin, a section leader from Gowanda, N.Y.

"It's a good thing, I think," Wright said. "A lot of these guys are straight from school, so they need to gain the ground experience as well."

The company, comprised of infantrymen, normally specializes in boat operations. However, during the fighting in Fallujah, they assumed a more traditional role of a rifle company. Now, with much of fighting settled, Small Craft Company Marines are getting their feet wet again.

The company's Marines trained for hunting and destroying pockets of anti-Iraqi fighters and weapons caches along the banks and islands dotting the Euphrates River.

"In the palm groves is where a lot of the attacks come from," Wright said. "We've had a lot of ground teams sweep the area and not find much, so we think they may be hiding weapons on the islands."

The mission is one for which the company is uniquely adapted. They use different types of boats, all with agile and powerful engines and shallow drafts to allow the Marines to quickly overwhelm objectives from the water.

"This is what we live for - getting out in the water showing what we can do," Austin said.

The company, which is the first and only of its kind since the Vietnam era, participated in deployments to the rivers of South America and routinely tread the waters of New River, at Camp Lejeune N.C., for exercises. But, now they're plying their trade in a combat zone, using techniques they've culled from during peace and adding their combat experiences.

"Our time here is helping shape our doctrine," said Staff Sgt. Eric J. Hodge, platoon sergeant from Jacksonville, N.C. Techniques have "been added to and subtracted from a bit since we've been out here. It should really benefit the others."

These water-soaked Marines know that they're writing their own chapter for those in the future who will study the way Marines fought here. The constant exercises, in combination with combat operations, they say reassure their part in the war on terrorism sails smoothly into the history books.

"It's exciting," Austin said. "We're making a new way."

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