Navy’s revived riverine squadron to patrol dam
HADITHA, Iraq — Few things are as humbling as making history, said 21-year-old Fireman Apprentice Jeff Theissing.
Yet, little more than a year into his U.S. Navy career, the hull technician is among the first to make up the Navy’s “brown water” forces following a three-decade void.
“I can’t believe I got lucky enough to do this,” he said while taking a cigarette break atop the mammoth Haditha Dam, overlooking the Euphrates River.
Theissing is one of 230 sailors who make up the Navy’s newly formed Riverine Squadron One, which officially took control Thursday from U.S. Marines of the protection of the Haditha Dam and patrol missions on the surrounding waterways.
The eight-month preparations for the water-based squadron could have been taken from training manuals for Marine and Army units — sailors attended infantry courses to learn to counter ambushes, mortar fire and insurgent attacks, said Lt. Cmdr. Douglas Flannery, the squadron’s operations officer.
They also learned to work the Small Unit Riverine Crafts, or SURCs, and had lessons in maritime interception operations. Some even attended a monthlong Arabic language course.
They trained at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., and at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Our primary mission is to have a waterborne presence to stop the insurgents from transporting weapons and explosives across and down the river,” Flannery said.
The Euphrates is a source of sustenance and means of travel for Iraqis, but for years has been used by insurgents to ferry arms from rural areas to cities such as Ramadi, Haditha and Baghdad.
The dam itself provides critical power to most of Anbar province and has received constant protection by U.S. forces since the outset of the Iraq war in 2003.
About a year ago, the Navy began plans to train sailors to resume river patrols after letting its riverine force become dormant after the Vietnam War. Ultimately, the Navy plans to have three riverine squadrons.
“Out here, we’re doing operations and missions, not the behind-the-scenes kind of job,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Shofner, 23, a gunner’s mate.
“I feel like I’m serving my country in a direct way,” said Shofner, who previously worked at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.
RIVONE, as it’s commonly called, has three detachments, a headquarters element and “human exploitation team” that will focus on intelligence gathering, Flannery said. They also brought unmanned aerial vehicles to help patrol from the air, Flannery said. “That way, we can better see what’s ahead of us and what’s behind us.”
Mostly, they’ll take over equipment from the Marine Corps’ Dam Security Units.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Rick Necamp, 24, said he expected his living conditions to be much worse and was pleasantly surprised to learn he’d be living not just at the dam, but in it.
The dam has a gym, chow hall, social rooms and a soon-to-be-online Internet cafe.
“I thought I’d be sleeping in the sand,” Necamp said, “and when they said ‘Here’s your rack,’ I was pretty happy.”