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NECC Introduces Next Level VBSS Capability

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070912-44
Release Date: 9/12/2007 8:41:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Jennifer Crenshaw, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (NNS) -- On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, active duty and reserve Sailors with the various commands of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) continued their training exercise at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Cheatham Annex, Va.

The training is a part of an integrated active and reserve exercise called COMET, or Command and Control, Operational, Maritime, Expeditionary Training.

NECC units belonging to Naval Coastal Warfare Group 2 exercised a Level 3 visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), which uses helicopter insertion to land Sailors on the decks of non-compliant ships.

There are four VBSS threat levels. One and 2 are low threat situations, while a VBSS Level 3 involves non-compliance after an official request to inspect a ship in sovereign waters. Level 4 would involve overt armed resistance.

With the NECC commander, Rear Adm. Don Bullard, observing, the 24-man team fast-roped from the helicopter hovering 60 feet above the deck of the non-compliant ship.

“Once we land, we press on the master and the crew of the ship that we mean business,” said Cmdr. Jim Loper, the commanding officer of Mobile Security Squadron 2. “While we’re on board we search the ship for its seaworthiness and security.”

Following the security check, the teams account for and interview 100 percent of the ship’s crew and begin searching the ship for smuggled goods, which can include illegal weapons, narcotics or victims of human trafficking.

It’s a methodical and orderly search of every compartment and container on the ship. The searches can last from a few hours to a few days depending on the type and size of the ship they are boarding.

The Sailors involved are as varied as the missions they go on. Some are marksmen; some have explosive ordnance disposal skills.

“We have several specifically trained personnel with us in order to tackle any situation that we may face,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Kenneth Pratt.

It takes more than just special skills to be able to complete this type of mission. According to Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Nathan Connor, it takes a lot of stamina and determination, and luckily, NECC commands have the Sailors that are ready and willing to step up to the challenge.

“We’re an energetic group, and we keep that intensity with us throughout the entire search,” said Connor. “There are only 24 of us on the team, so we’re like a close-knit family.”

This level of VBSS, using the helicopters for insertion and the training that goes with it is a new capability for NECC, and as the Navy continues to move forward with its expeditionary force presence, it will be folded into the concept of adaptive force packaging.

“Although the threats of another Cole bombing or 9/11 attack aren’t going away, we are now better prepared to combat these threats, both at home and abroad,” said Bullard. “The advances in technology and the lessons we learn from every mission keep our nation’s Navy expeditionary forces among the best in the world.”

The ability to perform VBSS help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

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