Riverines Stand Ready to Roll on Iraq's Waterways
By Army 1st Lt. Chris Dunphy
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Sept. 22, 2009 – The Navy’s Riverine Squadron 2, a Vietnam-era security patrol brought back after 9/11, is securing Iraq’s waterways here and giving its sailors unique opportunities.
“The training we receive is unlike anything else we do in the Navy,” Navy Cmdr. Ty Britt said. “It’s physically demanding as well as mentally challenging, requiring us to learn small unit tactics and apply them on the water.”
Britt, of Mississippi, commands Riverine Squadron 2 under 17th Fires Brigade tactical control. Known as the “brown-water” Navy because of its association with coastal waters, the squadron has three detachments based in Multinational Division South.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Harold M. Crockett, assistant public affairs officer for the squadron’s headquarters and one-time squadron bow gunner, is based here where detachments 2 and 3 are responsible for patrolling the inland waterways of Basra province, to include the Shatt al Arab and Qarmat Ali rivers.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native echoes Britt’s statement regarding the squadron’s sometimes demanding schedule.
Crockett remembers past deployments with the squadron, working 18 hours or more daily. Such hours are mission-dependent and not the case now in Iraq, he said, but that doesn’t mean his Riverines are any less prepared to accomplish the most demanding task.
“It’s very different from the rest of the Navy,” Crockett said. “We require a lot more. There’s no time to baby-sit anyone. When we’re ready to roll on a mission, there’s time for a pre-combat check and we go. Riverines are expected to have the experience and the motivation to excel and stand on their own, and they do. We deliver.”
Not used since the Vietnam War, the squadron resumed official operations after 9/11 to assist with ongoing coastal operations throughout the world. Serving under the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, the Norfolk, Va.-based Riverine Squadron 2 is on its second deployment to Iraq since its formation in 2007.
In securing the waterways of Iraq, and in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, squadron forces conduct combined operations with the Iraqi forces, training them in operations, intelligence and surveillance.
Being relatively new to Basra, Britt said, his squadron is still in the beginning phases of establishing working relationships with Iraq’s coastal border guard, river police and army. Tasked with conducting both day and night operations, Britt said their current operating schedule remains flexible.
“We try to base our patrols on . . . times that our Iraqi partners feel suit the training and mission objectives they’re looking for,” he said.
When patrolling, Riverines need fine-tuned interpersonal skills when called upon to interact with local civilians, whether through boat-to-boat searches or during their routine shoreline foot patrols, Britt said. Each detachment also has a quick-reaction security team prepared to set out in patrol boats at a moment’s notice to provide land-based operations including security, extractions and searches for weapons caches.
“It is our job to interact with the locals to let them know why we are there,” Britt said, “to stop dangerous, illegal activities.”
During joint patrols with their Iraqi counterparts, a Riverine’s main job is to provide overwatch, Britt said. In circumstances when joint patrols are not required, such as in base defense, independent patrols can be conducted.
By conducting combined patrols and training with Iraqi forces, the squadron is increasing Iraqi capabilities to interdict waterborne smuggling of weapons, deny violent extremist networks the use of the provincial waterways and promote Iraqi rule of law.
The squadron’s sailors appreciate the chance to train alongside the Iraqis.
“It’s really interesting to work with another culture and getting to know their customs and values,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Tim M. Bower, of Hawaii. “Working with them is an experience that I’ve enjoyed.”
Although his squadron has not faced any serious incidents during their deployment, Britt said the Riverines remain steadfast in their training and are mentally prepared for any scenario.
“We constantly look to anticipate and train for worst-case scenarios,” he said, “whether it is an [improvised explosive device] attack as we move to our boat launch site, or a complex attack from the shoreline.”
Perhaps it’s the variety and never-ending “what if” scenarios of their training that motivates sailors to request the duty in the first place – the opportunity for quick, decisive decision-making, as well as the camaraderie of team work.
“I like the brotherhood I have here,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason N. Ellis, of Texas. “The people I work and serve with are family to me and I will do anything for them.”
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Justin A. Slager, operations leading petty officer for Detachment 1, monitors the Khawr az Zubayr River. The Colorado native agreed the job requires teamwork, but also an ability to adapt independently to ever-changing situations.
“It’s a challenging atmosphere we work in,” he said, “with the out-of-the-box mentality and need to adapt to any situation that comes your way. But that is a definite leadership-building tool.”
Britt said the retention rate across the Riverine force remains high – more than 90 percent – which he attributes to the small-unit relationships sailors develop within each detachment and boat crew.
Overall, Britt said he and the squadron’s officers and petty officers view their time in the squadron as a once-in-a-lifetime experience in their Navy careers, and strongly appreciate the chance to lead a strong-willed squadron of sailors, all motivated toward a single objective in securing Iraq’s waters.
“Their dedication and enthusiasm is truly remarkable,” Britt said. “These sailors only know how to tackle every mission and task with a ‘can-do’ attitude. ”
(Army 1st Lt. Chris Dunphy serves with the Multinational Division South’s 17th Fires Brigade public affairs office.)
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