Riverine Command Boats: but wait, there’s more!

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The Navy uses a wide variety of ships and aircraft to patrol the Arabian Gulf and keep its sea lanes open for transit. Here in 5th Fleet, we use aircraft carriers, destroyers, F-18s and P-3s just to name a few. One of the lesser known (aside from PCs, MCMs and WPBs previously mentioned) and highly important assets may be the Riverine Command Boats, or RCBs

8142230984_243e47e1ee_hAs an all-weather, day- and night-capable platform, the RCB is primarily used for force protection during infrastructure protection operations. The RCB and its crews are also fully trained and qualified in Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure support, insertion and extraction of ground forces, coastal and riparian fire support or assault, combat search and rescue, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of national and joint maritime security operations.

8142202143_13f1231db6_hRCBs are the only asset in the region that combines the right mix of firepower, armor, and maneuverability to be effective in high-threat force protection operations. Sailors that crew the water-jet propelled RCB are able to bring any one of five crew-served weapons mounts to bare in execution of the force protection mission in the blink of an eye. At night, RCB crews use forward looking infrared radar (FLIR) system and a plethora of night optic devices to execute their mission with no reduction in capability.

The advanced training and capabilities of both RCBs and their crews make them the most suitable candidate for force protection in any high-threat environment.

– 1 MC

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A Somber Note: USS Firebolt (PC 10) on April 24

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Losing Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Soldiers in combat action is difficult, though an inherent risk of being a member of the armed forces. Military members around the world find themselves in non-traditional roles, broadening thier horizons, and serving their country honorably and with distinction.

Picture4The reason I bring up USS Firebolt, other than being a 5th Fleet asset, is that nine years ago yesterday, two Sailors and one Coast Guardsman lost their lives defending an oil terminal from suicide bombers. That’s right, a Coast Guardsman. It was the first death in combat for the U.S. Coast Guard since the Vietnam War. Yes, they served there too and played a vital role in coastal security, and later fire support for the U.S. Navy.

7001014013_f91661bb27_hThe Coast Guard and the Navy have a history of working together, from counter-drug operations to coastal security, and in 5th Fleet island class cutters and patrol coastal ships routinely train and operate in tandem. In the case of Firebolt in 2004, and several other ships then and today, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen serve on ships together.

Yesterday, Sailors from Task Force 55 and Coast Guardsmen from U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia gathered at the USS FIrebolt memorial aboard Naval Support Activity Bahrain to honor the service and sacrifices of Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Michael Pernaselli, U.S. Navy; Signalman 2nd Class Christopher Watts, U.S. Navy; and Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, U.S. Coast Guard.

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At sea, the current crew of the Firebolt assembled on the forecastle to remember and salute those members of the sea-going services that were lost while serving honorably in the defense of National and regional interests.

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During the ceremony at sea, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas E. Cunningham III, commanding officer of Firebolt,  said to his crew: 

“The bravest of all men join into sea going services . In the spring of 2004, three of these great men were aboard USS Firebolt. Today we honor the memories of these three men who gave their lives in the defense of others.”

To the ladies and gentlemen who have given their lives in defense of our country and others:

Thank You

– Fleet LT

Shallow Drafts, White Ships — U.S. Coast Guard in the 5th Fleet AOR

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The United States Coast Guard patrols America’s waterways to keep them safe and secure. They repel drug traffickers, they provide vital search and rescue operations, and they even provide environmental protection for one of America’s most valuable resources. So why are there USCG cutters in Bahrain?

120110-G-ZZ999-004The Coast Guard employs Island Class WPB cutters, which are highly maneuverable and, with a smaller draft, can patrol in the shallow waters found in the Arabian Gulf. These ships also maintain their ability to stay long periods at sea since they can be replenished while underway. There are similarities in the capabilities of the WPBs and the Navy’s Coastal Patrol ships, however, the crew and legal jurisdiction really separate the two and creates the need for the Coast Guard in Bahrain.

7001014013_f91661bb27_hAs a member of Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is able to enforce United States laws and treaties that Department of Defense services are unable to due to domestic and international laws.  However, when operating as a member of the armed forces, the Coast Guard can fall under the Department of Navy and obtain the same authority and jurisdiction that U.S. Navy vessels have as well.

Having the USCG in Bahrain gives us another card to play in keeping the sea lanes open and safe for travel.

-1 MC

Warrior Transition Program

Individual augmentees (IA) serving in the Middle East operate in a stressful, constantly deployed environment. IAs recieve gear and training before they get to the field and put that training into practice. At the end of thier tour, Sailors are eager to return home to their friends and family, but a small training and decompression period is beneficial before returning home and putting that into practice.

This program is called the Warrior transition program, and today we have a guest on the show to discuss the program in more detail. He is the Commander of Task Force Individual Augmentee, and the Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Rear Adm. Kevin Scott. Take it away Sir.

-Fleet LT

scott blogThanks LT, It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to share with others, what our Sailors do to support the mission in the Middle East, and especially those who have been augmented to support forces ashore.

We have more than 1,800 IA Sailors who are currently serving downrange in Afghanistan and throughout the CENTCOM AOR. I want to share with you an update regarding our focus of re-integrating these warriors back to the fleet.

8252015347_ceea6a3fb1_hAs a vital precursor to their return to Navy duties, each IA Sailor spends about five days at the Navy Warrior Transition Program (WTP) as they complete their deployment. WTP was previously located at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, but has since moved operations to Sembach, Germany, near Ramstein AFB, back in December 2012. I recently made the trip to Germany to observe the progress made since their move and to welcome a group of redeploying IA Sailors back to the Navy.

523492_261573253979679_1902351213_nTravel out of theater for these redeployers can be challenging, especially during the winter months. The weariness of travel, with stops in Kandahar or Bagram, Afghanistan, and then Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and finally Germany, was evident as I greeted the Sailors coming off the plane in Ramstein. However, their moods clearly lifted after arriving at WTP and seeing the new facilities.

567624_586648218030246_1257389539_oWTP offers the right kind of decompression our redeploying Sailors need. Having spent $11 million to refurbish old Army barracks and offices, the Navy has ensured the facilities are first-rate. At this point, the dusty tents of Kuwait are but a distant memory. Berthing is normally two per room with two rooms sharing a head. The facilities provide lots of space to relax, and the natural beauty of the surrounding country side is both breathtaking and rejuvenating.

179046_251176498352688_417644892_nI cordially invite our Navy leadership to make a visit to WTP in Germany. Less than a 30 minute drive from Ramstein AFB in the town of Sembach, a small investment of time there pays large dividends to yourself and, most importantly, shows your appreciation of our returning warrior’s service. Below is a link to our CTF-IA website and the WTP Facebook page where you can find contact information for my staff and the WTP. Please consider scheduling a visit if you a travelling through the area.

-Rear Adm. Kevin Scott

Putting the MCM into IMCMEX

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You may think that with all of the other threats out there, why would fighting mines be a priority? You may have images of World War II ships cruising the high seas and laying mines in hopes an enemy vessel will sail close enough to sink it to the depths.

Mines are not a thing of the past. They’re a cheap, problematic, dangerous, and increasingly smart weapon for violent extremists interested in closing sea lanes or making ocean transit a dangerous game.

8011515967_2457f6baea_cEnter the Navy’s Mine Countermeasures ships, or MCMs. These small, fiberglass and wood-hulled ships, with their crews of less than 90, combat those stealthy mines with both high tech gadgets, and old school know-how. They are able to detect, classify, and remotely detonate the mines safely, and keep the seas open.

The six MCM ships home ported at NSA Bahrain routinely patrol the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to ensure safe passage for ships of all nations. Their crews are well-trained and always on the lookout for waiting mines. Working with properly equipped heavy-lift helicopters (SH-53), MCM ships are a formidable force in the active defense of theater shipping from mines and waterborne improvised explosive devices.

8015034291_db8f2a12f5_cAircraft carriers and amphibious ships that patrol the gulf may get all the fanfare, but without the MCMs clearing the waterways, they would not be able to safely navigate sea lanes and carry out their missions in a time of crisis.

MCMs are the cog that will keep the well-oiled machine that is the 5th Fleet running smoothly if international sea lanes are threatened.

-1 MC

IMCMEX: Patrol Coastal Ships

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Did you know that the US Navy employs coastal patrol coastal (PC) ships, many of which are forward deployed to the Kingdom of Bahrain? In fact, there are five Cyclone class PCs in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) and they perform important tasks in the littorals of the Arabian Gulf. The small ships are extremely well suited to operating in the warm, shallow, busy gulf waters due to their maneuverability and shallow draft.

Picture4As Vice Admiral Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces, said in a related story (Link Here), “[PCs] are capable of many missions, but what they are best suited for is infrastructure protection and maritime security in the region. There is no other platform, I am certain, that could do the job better.”

In addition to infrastructure protection, PCs maneuverability is ideal to combat various nimble small craft in the Gulf region that may be used by violent extremists to threaten or harm shipping, which, in turn, would have economic and political impacts throughout the region.

111001-N-VN693-288-660x462It takes more than big ships with big guns and aircraft to ensure the safety of the maritime environment—it takes an organized team to carry out a variety of missions. PCs are a part of that team and their mission includes infrastructure protection and maritime security operations.

Coastal Patrol Ships: Small, Maneuverable, Vital.

– Fleet LT

IMCMEX: Maritime Infrastructure

Threats in the maritime environment can be varied in both technology and approach, and this year’s IMCMEX is designed to address multiple elements of maritime security. These elements of security have been grouped into three categories for the exercise: Maritime Infrastructure Protection, Maritime Security Operations, and Mine Countermeasures.

I’ve prefaced these areas before, and are covered in more detail at the IMCMEX 13 website, but I’d like to take a moment to address the importance of adding maritime infrastructure as a focus for this exercise.

130402-N-ZZ999-576Navies are accustomed to being watchful for threats at sea and, due to past pirate activity, so have merchant companies and crews. It is just as vital that we train to protect our harbors and facilities, as without them our goods, services and personnel cannot get to sea.

Ports like Mina Salman and Khalifa Bin Salman are important for regional commerce as well as staging facilities for local and international navies to protect national and international interests.

8314083004_43f1f7ff26_cExplosive ordnance disposal divers, patrol coastal ships, inshore boats, mine countermeasure ships, multiple aircraft, and port security teams work in concert to ensure shipping in ports and harbors are safe both in the water and ashore.

Security in the maritime environment is a multi-step process that can be challenging at the best of times, and the units we will focus on in future posts help ensure that our maritime infrastructure–both ports of departure and arrival–are capable of fulfilling commercial, national and international needs.

-Fleet LT