Posted on: Monday, December 12, 2005
Navy shifts focus to security, terrorism
By William Cole
FORD ISLAND — In Hangar 54, built in 1935, the Navy is training for a changing mission.
Ships and their crews will be less focused on the ocean blue and more involved in the coastal waterways where boats, people, commerce — and threats of smuggling and terrorism — are concentrated.
Master at Arms Chief Timothy Hall, course manager at the Anti-Terrorism and Navy Security Forces training center at Ford Island, briefs a class of sailors. The center is one of three in the United States
To be better prepared, Operations Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Fanning last week led a group of about a half-dozen camouflage-clad, black-helmeted sailors down a mock ship's corridor in the hangar, training for what's expected to be greater interaction with foreign ships and their shores.
Entering a room at the end, Fanning spun left, sighting down his M-4 carbine, while another sailor covered the room to the right.
Navy personnel learning anti-terrorism tactics target an enemy in a simulated ship — really containers in a hangar — during an exercise at the Anti-Terrorism and Navy Security Forces center on Ford Island.
Pop! Pop! Two orange marking "sim" rounds hit the chest of a cardboard cutout of a man holding a pistol.
The rest of the team quickly filed into the room, taking up defensive positions, and then raced up a metal stairway, ready to repeat the room-clearing process.
"It's pretty much an adrenalin rush when you have role players in there (shooting back)," said a sweating Fanning, 28, from Tulsa, Okla. "These sim rounds — they kind of hurt when you get hit with them."
Some course exercises are held in 16 shipping containers that make up a "ship-in-a-box" connected by hallways and staircases. For ship-boarding training — a skill that is tested later on inactive ships in Pearl Harbor — other containers are stacked three-high.
Visit, Board, Search and Seizure is the final training course in the development of a Navywide capability to search suspect vessels for weapons, drugs or terrorists.
"In the past, SEALs and the Marines used to conduct this on a regular basis along with the Coast Guard," said Master Chief Charles Brown. "The Marines are busy right now. Can't use 'em. The SEALs are busy right now."
The class is booked 48 out of 52 weeks this fiscal year, and two of the weeks off are at Christmas, when there is no training.
Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who took over as chief of naval operations in July, envisions a U.S. Navy that will operate as a "brown water" and "green water" force in rivers and along coasts in addition to its traditional big-ship, blue-water role.
"A lot of that is closer to shore, whether it's in the rivers of certain countries that we would be involved to assist in, or whether it's in the shallows near land," said Mullen, who spoke to reporters after making an "all hands" visit last week with sailors at Pearl Harbor.
"We're in a long war. It's a global war on terror, (and) the Navy is incredibly relevant in that," he said. "We're changing mission sets for the future to get at that."
Three squadrons are being developed to operate "brown water" river boats in a throwback to Vietnam. And new "littoral combat ships," the first of which will be based in San Diego in early 2007, will be shorter than a frigate and designed to counter mines, diesel submarines and surface craft in coastal regions.
The end of the Cold War reduced the likelihood of major combat operations at sea, and U.S. Navy frigates now routinely work with the Coast Guard on drug interdiction missions in the Eastern Pacific.
"We cannot sit out in the deep blue, waiting for the enemy to come to us. He will not. We must go to him," Mullen said in August.
The search-and-seizure teams are tapped to board suspicious vessels that may be trafficking drugs or harboring terrorists. Big-deck ships, such as aircraft carriers, have Marines and specialized boarding capability.
The search-and-seizure course began in Chesapeake, Va., and is also offered at the Centers for Anti-Terrorism and Navy Security Forces at Ford Island, in Mayport, Fla., and in San Diego.
"It's a huge focus, a huge shift and a manpower-intense requirement," said Brown, the senior enlisted adviser at the center. "We're taking ship personnel for this, not added personnel, and we're taking them off the ships two to three months for the schools."
During a spring and summer deployment to the Persian Gulf, the cruiser USS Antietam conducted hundreds of the search-and-seizure operations. One day, teams checked 37 fishing dhows.
"What we are doing is literally visiting the local fishermen to create a connection between these mariners and the coalition," commanding officer Capt. E.J. Quinn said last summer.
The SWAT-like course on Ford Island is taught by ex-Marines, sailors and Honolulu police, and the FBI, Marines and Army have used the facility.
On Day 2 of a recent training session, one team was hesitant going through a maze of plywood rooms as instructors watched from a catwalk above.
"Talk to each other, guys. Talk to each other," instructor Travis Haley yelled. The group was not allowed to reveal which ship they are on for security reasons.
"Right now, they're fairly green. After three weeks, they'll be like a machine," said Senior Chief Barry Bloxom, the center's safety officer.
Each of the sailors fires 1,500 live and Simunition marking rounds in the course. The plastic-tipped paint rounds, fired from actual weapons, travel 450 feet per second, enough to break exposed skin at close range and creating a degree of realism that's hard to duplicate with regular paintball rounds or blanks. Masks and goggles are worn for safety.
At the end of the course, sailors put what they've learned in the hangar into practice by boarding an inactive ship in the harbor from a rigid-hulled inflatable boat.
"Once you are put in a stressful situation, (the training) is more useful," said Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Timothy Rischawy, 25, from New Jersey.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Houck, 39, from Santa Rita, Guam, taught the course from 2000 to 2003, and now is re-taking it. The tactics now are more physical with more weapons handling, he said. He added that search-and-seizure also has changed a lot from the 1990s.
"Back then, we were mostly worried about oil smuggling," he said. "Now it's completely different. We're worried about people smuggling and transnational terrorism."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About time that Navy ships had their own, highly trained boarding parties instead of relying on Marines, Coast Guardsmen, or SpecWar.
We've come full circle to 1812.
It'd be nice if they still had Dick Marcinko and the boys around to train them. Why do I think SOS Temps INC is getting some FAT private contracting money to train them?