Quick and maneuverable, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard patrol boats have become an integral part of maritime security operations (MSO) in the Persian Gulf.
As part of Commander, Task Group (CTG) 158.1, the patrol boats are conducting MSO, which help set the conditions for security and stability in the North Persian Gulf and protect Iraq's sea-based infrastructure to help provide the Iraqi people the opportunity for self-determination.
U.S. Navy 170-foot Cyclone-class Coastal Patrol (PC) ships and Coast Guard 110-foot Island-class patrol boats (PB) can reach their destinations faster and navigate in and out of shallower waters than larger Navy ships.
PCs typically remain forward deployed for long periods of time in the Persian Gulf, while their crews are swapped out every six months. The crew swap initiative increases the Navy's forward presence by providing an extra 90 days of on-station time per vessel - time the patrol boats use to maximize protection of the Iraqi oil terminals in the Northern Persian Gulf.
“All of us [PCs] are assigned sectors to help patrol the oil platforms,” explained Lt. Robert Halfhill, commanding officer of PC Crew Juliet, the crew currently embarked on USS Whirlwind (PC 11). “The majority of our work is the oil platform patrols.”
With a smaller boat, however, comes a smaller crew. Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Curtis Woodward said this frequently equates to extra responsibility and increased rating flexibility for the Sailors assigned to PCs in the North Persian Gulf.
“On board a PC, you're what's considered a hybrid Sailor,” said Woodward. “You do jobs out of your rate all the time.”
“I'm performing quartermaster duties, but I'm also the command's leading coxswain, which would normally be a boatswain's mate's duty,” added Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Joshua Wheeler. “Being in this command gives us the opportunity to get cross-trained in areas we wouldn't normally be trained in. It's been a very interesting experience for me, and I feel very fortunate.”
Among the even smaller crews of the Coast Guard PBs, the years of maritime boarding experience is a vital asset in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
“Pretty much all of us in the States are boarding team members and boarding officers,” said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class William Kelly, a Coast Guardsman attached to U.S. Coast Guard white patrol boat Maui (WPB 1304). “We're trained to do these types of operations back in the States, so it carries over to our mission here.”
Like Whirlwind, Maui routinely patrols the sectors associated with the Al Basra and Khawr Al Amaya oil terminals, Iraq's most valuable economic assets. But they also visit fishing dhows in the area in an effort to build relationships between the local fishermen and coalition forces.
“We do interaction patrols (IPAT), where we [visit] fishing dhows,” said Kelly. “We want them to know that we're in the area, and if they need help, they can give us a call.”
The crews of Whirlwind and Maui have regular interactions with the coalition forces that make up CTG 158.1, exchanging information and utilizing each other's rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) to transport personnel and cargo from PCs to ships, or vice versa. They have also made significant strides with Iraqi Navy patrol craft operating in the Persian Gulf.
“The Iraqis are part [of the coalition efforts], so it's important that we work together,” Halfhill explained.
To this end, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard frequently train with the Iraqi navy, accompanying them on boardings, IPATs and helping them to improve their skills and maintain oil platform security.
By Journalist 2nd Class Cassandra Thompson, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs