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VBSS More Than Boardings

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070530-15
Release Date: 5/30/2007 12:27:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ron Reeves, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

USS PREBLE, At Sea (NNS) -- The sun stared down on the North Persian Gulf as Sailors from USS Preble’s (DDG) visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team embarked a pair of rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) preparing to depart Preble May 29.

Once released to the open sea, they headed toward a group of mid-sized local fishing boats called dhows. A fisherman driving one of the dhows suddenly steered in their direction and began to approach. Waving his hands enthusiastically, he smiled as if he’d known them for years.

The Sailors and fishermen conversed back and forth via translator, during which time the VBSS team handed bottles of water and medical packs to the men aboard the dhow. After a short while, the Sailors and fishermen said goodbye and parted ways.

For the VBSS team aboard Preble, this scenario is not uncommon, as they spend most of their days conducting interaction patrols (IPATS) with local vessels.

“Our primary mission is to develop a rapport with mariners in the area,” said Ensign Tom Hennessey, VBSS officer in charge. “We want to build relationships with as many locals as possible. That way, they can help us by reporting anything suspicious.”

IPATS are an element of maritime operations conducted in Iraqi territorial waters so that commercial shipping and fishing can occur safely in the region.

To achieve this goal, VBSS teams depart Preble almost daily, aiming to generate support and awareness amongst vessels sailing in the region of the coalition’s efforts to ensure a safe and secure maritime environment.

The water and supplies VBSS teams hand out have contact information on them, so locals can report any suspicious behavior in the area.

During the conversations, VBSS team members ask simple who, what, where, why and when questions. If nothing appears out of the ordinary, the Sailors move on to the next vessel.

“The more we interact with the locals, the more comfortable they’ll get,” said Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class Jeff Shaver, a VBSS team member. “It’s great to see people pull alongside our boat talking and smiling. I think they know we’re here to help.”

Preble’s VBSS team is broken into two six-man crews. Each crew has three boat crew members, totaling nine Sailors per RHIB. Though Preble’s VBSS teams also conduct boardings, their focus has been IPATS and security sweeps. Sweeps are conducted to inspect vessels heading to and from Iraqi oil platforms to pick up oil.

For Preble, it takes a lot of teamwork to ensure VBSS teams are ready to go.

“VBSS is a total shipboard evolution,” said Hennessey. “From the supply guys holding a hot meal for us, to the gunner’s mates maintaining our weapons and [helicopters] giving air support. There is a lot that goes into getting those 18 people on a boat.”

The teamwork from Sailors aboard Preble and their VBSS teams add one more piece to the larger puzzle of maritime operations. With every interaction, these Sailors are doing their part to set the conditions for security and stability in the North Persian Gulf and protect Iraqi’s sea-based infrastructure, helping provide the Iraqi people the opportunity for self-determination.

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