Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brown Water Riverine Sailors Cruise through JTFEX

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Barrie Barber,
U.S. Fleet Forces Command Navy Reserve Public Affairs

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. (NNS) -- Riverine Squadron 1 Sailors honed their littoral warfighting skills along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina during Joint Task Force Exercise 8-04 (JTFEX 08-4) "Operation Brimstone" July 21-28.

The unit trained on the waterway near Elizabethtown in the kind of tactics it has used in past deployments and will use on future ones, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Egan, RIVRON 1 executive officer.

The brown water expeditionary unit performs missions such as maritime interdiction operations and waterborne guard posts, among other tasks. Due to the nature of the unit's battlespace, these Sailors often interact with host nation populations.

"It's a rather unconventional force compared to big Navy, which is where most of my Sailors came from," Egan said.

The Navy revived the sea service's riverine mission in recent years for the first time since the Vietnam War. Last year, Navy Riverine squadrons deployed to the Euphrates River in Iraq with the primary task to guard the Haditha Dam.

"We're basically protecting high-value infrastructure."

The revival has caught the interest of foreign navies, Egan added, as well as Sailors who like being close to the action on the ground.

"I love the small unit," said Gunner's Mate 1st Class William Caviness, a River Patrol Boat (RPB) crew member. "It's something that nobody else in the Navy really gets the opportunity to do."

Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Williams gave up an assignment to a surface ship to become a Riverine Sailor on a riverine assault boat (RAB).

"It's met every expectation," he said after a trip through the densely forested, dark water of the Cape Fear River area, "something different every day versus the same old, same old."

The squadron, based at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., operates three primary high-speed craft with multiple weapon mounts. They include: The 39-foot long RPB with up to five crewmen; the 33-foot-long RAB with seven crewmen; and the highly maneuverable and experimental 49-foot-long riverine command boat (RCB-X) that controls the operation of smaller patrol craft.

"The bottom line is the boats are fast, and they have a lot of firepower," Egan said.

The four-crew member RCB-X, for example, has 1,700 horsepower, whereas the RPB and RAB have approximately 600 horsepower. The new boat operated near the Wilmington, N.C., area along the Cape Fear River during the exercise.

"It's exceeded my expectations for such a big craft," said Lt. Cmdr. John Stahley, as he manned a machine gun aboard the boat. "She's really maneuverable, powerful, fast."

Riding at full speed is akin to flying in a jet fighter. The boat rockets through waves and tight turns with an occasional "thump, thump" as the cigar-shaped hull slams through the rolling waters.

"It's a really good, stable platform to drive," said Engineman 1st Class Jeremy Mayfield, an RCB-X crewman. "It seems like the Cadillac of boats."

The versatile craft, which has a bow door and ramp, can beach on shore.

Likewise, the Riverine boats promote teamwork among its small crew, Sailors said.

"The camaraderie you can't find anywhere," said Information Technician 2nd Class Ken Maher, an RPB bow gunner and communications technician. "You have their back and they have yours."

And in a related story about River 1:

U.S. Navy Riverine Squadron 1 Sailors teamed with U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters above the Cape Fear River in North Carolina to spot hidden dangers during Joint Task Force Exercise 08-4 (JTFEX) Operation Brimstone July 21-28.

The airborne assist gave Sailors, who also worked in tandem with Navy F-18 Hornets, the ability to see what a pilot sees in real time with backpack-sized communication equipment, said Lt. John Seiter, assistant officer in charge of Detachment 1.

"Now you can see from kilometers, miles away what's going on. With this system, we can be removed from the target area and still prosecute it."

The technology gives patrol boats an edge when a river bend or dense foliage could hold a hidden danger, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Egan, executive officer of Riverine Squadron 1.

"When you're on these rivers, you have no idea what might be ahead."

Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Bret Hand, a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC), talked with aviators in Hornets and Apaches during JTFEX while watching on a computer screen what the pilots were seeing above the boat crew.

"I can see exactly what the aircraft is seeing at the time to necessarily confirm and point out the targets. We're definitely breaking the barriers with that."

A JTAC can also call in naval gunfire or land-based artillery along with air power for close air-support, he said.

The Sailors have also trained with U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft.

The Riverine Sailors, based at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., are among more than 500 service members who are part of a Naval Expeditionary Combat Task Group during the exercise which takes place off the southeastern coast of the United States. The exercise marks the first time Navy Expeditionary Combat Command forces are participating in an East Coast-based JTFEX working for an Navy expeditionary combat task group commander.