New Navy Squadron Will Focus On Protecting Harbors From Terrorism


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280PLUS
February 6, 2006, 02:30 PM
San Diego Union-Tribune
February 3, 2006

New Navy Squadron Will Focus On Protecting Harbors From Terrorism

By Steve Liewer, Staff Writer

Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Hartey hoisted the blue-and-white, fishtail flag up the mast until it whipped in the breeze just below the Stars and Stripes.

“Man the squad and bring 'er to life!” barked Cmdr. Joseph Bell, commanding officer of the new Naval Coastal Warfare Squadron 5.

“Aye aye, sir!” the squadron's 275 sailors shouted in unison. Clad in green camouflage, they then jogged across part of the Imperial Beach Outlying Landing Field yesterday and gathered around their 10 new boats.

With that bit of maritime ceremony, the Navy opened what it believes will be a critical chapter in its long history. The squadron is the first of its kind since the Vietnam War, extending the reach of a Navy that has long dominated the deep-water oceans into the shallow coastal regions.

The squadron's job is to protect harbors and ships from terrorist attacks like the one that crippled the destroyer Cole in Yemen almost six years ago. While it can aid the Coast Guard in protecting U.S. ports including San Diego, most of the squadron's work will take place in overseas hot spots such as Korea, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

“We've had to expand to this battle space, because that's where the terrorists are,” said Rear Adm. Donald Bullard, commander of the newly created Naval Expeditionary Combat Command in Norfolk, Va., which oversees the squadron. “We need to interdict. We need to go find, fix and kill.”

Coastal warfare has been around since the Navy's earliest days, when ships guarded colonial harbors against the British during the Revolutionary War and defeated the Barbary pirates off the coast of Libya in the early 19th century.

But since small Swift Boats fought the Viet Cong in Vietnam's Mekong Delta nearly four decades ago, the Navy delegated its low-priority coastal work to reserve units. Al-Qaeda's attacks against the Cole in October 2000 and U.S. landmarks on Sept. 11, 2001, spurred the Navy to focus on coasts as well as the oceans.

“The global war on terror is in the harbor, the near-shore, the inland waterways,” Bullard said. “We need a dedicated force so we don't have things like the Cole.”

Once at full strength, the squadron's 325 sailors will go to war in a fleet of speedy 34-foot, aluminum-hull boats equipped with .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns and grenade launchers. The boats, each costing $500,000, can be loaded quickly aboard Air Force C-17 transport jets for quick transport to trouble spots.

Navy officials quietly started organizing the squadron in September 2004 on the lightly used landing strip near the Tijuana River. Almost no one, even within the Navy, knew about the unit.

Chief Petty Officer Napoleon Bryant of Baxley, Ga., was the unit's first member. Bryant said he handpicked each of the sailors, looking for those with the physical and mental toughness to stand up to long patrols in small boats on rough seas.

The squadron's members have spent two to three hours each day doing physical training, including seven-mile runs up the beach to Coronado.

“We want to make sure they can stand the heat,” said Bryant, 37.

Recruiting sailors and officers to the unit has posed no problem, said 1st Lt. T. Wilkes Coleman of Tuscaloosa, Ala., the squadron's information technology officer.

“It's completely different than being on a ship,” said Coleman, 28. “We're about as point-of-the-spear as you can get.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnny Fleming had served 14months in Bahrain before transferring to Squadron 5 last year.

“I got to choose. I wanted to do something different,” said Fleming, 26, of Salem, Mass.

Neither he nor his buddies had heard about coastal warfare. His friends kidded him about the switch.

“They told me I was going to underwater basket-weaving,” Fleming said.

In the Navy, status often goes hand-in-hand with serving on a ship or aircraft that's the biggest and the fastest. But being on the cutting edge counts for something as well, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Theron Smith of Fort Worth, Texas.

“We're an even bigger deal,” said Smith, 32. “We provide security for those big ships. The Cole proved it's the little things that get you.”

The Navy's new focus on coastal warfare is necessary and welcome, said Norman Polmar, an independent naval analyst and author of numerous books on the naval service.

“It's certainly a step in the right direction,” he said. “We have to be able to fight in both places: on the high seas and in the littoral waterways.”

The current chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Mullen, and his predecessor, Adm. Vern Clark, have been strong boosters of coastal warfare, Polmar said. But traditionally, he added, the art of fighting close to shore gets short shrift when Navy funding gets tight.

“Three or four years from now, will the next CNO feel the same way?” he said. “You always get rid of the small stuff first.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Thain
February 7, 2006, 10:43 AM
Umm... Not to dump on the Navy, but isn't port security the Coast Guard's job?

Sounds to me like a slight case of "We Need New Toys!" policy making... The USCG has done a top-rate job protecting our Navy in the Gulf since the invasion began. Why does the Navy need to do the same job?

GunnySkox
February 7, 2006, 11:56 AM
“They told me I was going to underwater basket-weaving,” Fleming said.

I'm offended, that's my Major right now!

:fire:

~GnSx

WT
February 7, 2006, 12:11 PM
Thain - in a way I agree with you. However, our local Coast Guard outfit has been sent to protect the Iraqi coast, not the US coast. Our local CG station looks like a ghost town.

That said, the CG is doing a fantastic job over there. I can't heap enough praise on the Coast Guardsmen, Marines and Soldiers fighting in Iraq and A-Stan.

But ..... I would much rather have our 'Coasties' back home, protecting our ports.

I would like to see our Coasties get some of these $500,000 boats. What little equipment they have here are RHIB's. If a RHIB takes a hit, it becomes unseaworthy real quick.

The CG are the real professionals when it comes to small boat handling. They need the equipment and additional manpower very badly.

280PLUS
February 7, 2006, 12:50 PM
Last I heard there was going to be a melding of the 2 forces. Coasties and Navy on the same ships, sharing equipment, info. Things like that.

Old Dog
February 7, 2006, 01:41 PM
Thain asks Not to dump on the Navy, but isn't port security the Coast Guard's job?

While it can aid the Coast Guard in protecting U.S. ports including San Diego, most of the squadron's work will take place in overseas hot spots such as Korea, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

Sounds to me like a slight case of "We Need New Toys!" policy making..Not in the slightest. The Navy has been changing its philosophy on war-fighting significantly over the past couple of decades. As the blue-water threats have diminished, the emphasis on small, light craft capable of effective littoral (brown-water) warfare has increased.

TallPine
February 7, 2006, 03:34 PM
I don't understand ... I thought the Iraq invasion was supposed to end all terrorism ...? :confused:

:p

Coronach
February 7, 2006, 08:47 PM
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