HADITHAH DAM, Iraq --
For decades, Marines have protected and fought for the United States and her allies on the ground, utilizing stealth and skill to become known as one of the world’s most elite fighting forces. Now, the U.S. Navy is striving toward that goal in the Corps’ footsteps with their new riverine force.
The Navy officially stood up the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, responsible for fielding a new Riverine force in Iraq, Jan. 13, 2006, in Little Creek, Va. Sailors in the new command began training June 2006, in preparation for their upcoming deployment. Less than a year later, during March 2007, Riverine Squadron 1, Riverine Group 1, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, deployed to Iraq’s waterways in support of Regimental Combat Team 2, in Al Anbar Province.
The numerous islands, wadis (oases), inlets and coves throughout Iraq’s waterways posed a problem to the naval patrol unit, but they were prepared. The squadron has a Maritime Interdiction Operations Team attached to each of its three detachments as support for ground combat operations.
“Basically, our team covers anything within range of the boat’s crew-served weapons,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Garrick A. Bowles, the lead petty officer with the MIO team attached to Detachment 3. “Our purpose is to deny enemy access to the shoreline and islands, find and destroy caches, and search and sweep buildings near or on the coastline.”
To prepare for the deployment, the Navy sent all the sailors in the squadron to special schools to train in what would usually be considered infantry roles. Every riverine attended the Marine Corps School of Infantry East, in North Carolina. Boat captains and crewmen attended Special Missions Training Command, to learn more about the watercraft. Gunners went through the Marine machine gunners course, and select sailors even attended the Defense Language Institute for an Iraqi immersion course. Riverines assigned to MIO teams went through specialized training provided by a civilian security organization. In addition, most of the riverines also completed a combat lifesaver course.
“We’re proud to carry on the tradition of riverine warfare. The last time the Navy had this type of specialized unit, other than the Seals, was during Vietnam, but we’re hoping it sticks around for a while this time,” said Bowles, a Virginia Beach, Va., native.
When the riverines began operations along the Euphrates River, their huge level of success was a surprise even for those within the unit.
“Those guys found so much stuff it was incredible,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael E. Bennett, a boat captain with the detachment. “They got a lot of weapons, huge caches with anti-aircraft guns, arty shells and a lot of dangerous stuff.”
“This is going to sound unbelievable,” explained Bowles, “but we probably destroyed over a ton of weapons and ordinance, literally a ton. We searched over 150 clicks (about 94 miles) of islands and shoreline, all the way from the (Hadithah) dam to the Syrian border.”
As the first deployed Navy riverine unit since the Vietnam War, the squadron had the responsibility to not only accomplish the mission, but to also pave the way for future riverine forces.
“Although we got rid of weapons and did the usual ground combat thing, we also created (standard operating procedures) to help the guys who come along after we leave,” said Bowles, who is serving on his fifth deployment.
While conducting operations along the waterway, the sailors got the opportunity to interact with Iraqi civilians, something they weren’t used to doing while serving on a larger ship.
“It feels great to meet the locals and interact,” said Bennett, a Sequin, Texas, native. “We’re letting the civilians know we care about them. We received a lot of help from them, and its starting to give the country more hope. We made a network of friends and that enabled us to ensure the safety of the waterways, and help out other guys in the regiment. I feel like we’ve done an awesome job.”
The squadron is currently wrapping up operations and turning over their area of responsibility in preparation for returning home to Virginia Beach, Va.
For more information on riverines or their history visit www.mrfa.org or www.navy.com.