NEAR KARMAH, Iraq -- The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit may have disembarked its ships to deploy to Iraq, but the Navy is still playing a vital role in the unit’s success.
Navy Riverine Squadron One, a compact, water-borne unit from Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, has been the “tip of the trident” supporting counterinsurgency operations in Al Anbar province since May 5, and is now assisting the 13th MEU.
Conducting operations based off of MEU intelligence products, the RIVRON is constantly patrolling the murky waters and canals of Lake Thar Thar in search of insurgent activities and opening lines of communications within the community. The RIVRON also takes the responsibilities of a boat raid company, which the MEU realigned to accommodate a forecasted mission in the desert. Seeing the Riverines in action gives the feel of a Hollywood special operations flick – complete with mud, rifles, jet boats and a rough-and-tumble cast.
Understanding the Riverines is simple. Take a sailor from a weapons specialty, put him through Marine Corps School of Infantry, machine gunners course, a few civilian security courses and a boat school. Fly him to a war zone and place him directly into the fight. You now have a Riverine.
“These guys are Sailors who have been converted,” said Lt. Michael Taylor, RIVRON-1, Maritime Interdiction Team commander. “They’re Riverines now, and they’re proud of that.
As the MIT commander, Taylor is responsible for much of the “ground aspect” of the Riverine doctrine. Though he denies suggestions RIVRON-1 is a ground force, Taylor said Riverines are a very important piece in the War on Terrorism.
“Since the beginning of time, waterways have been an excellent way to transport items,” said the Syracuse, N.Y. native, “but we’re here to deny that use to Anti-Iraqi forces and open the waterways for legitimate business.”
The Riverines are doing just that. In the last week alone they have successfully located and detained three individuals suspected of Improvised Explosive Device operations.
“We’re motivated to be here, and every time we find a weapons cache or an IED, it’s exciting,” said Taylor. “The three guys we (detained) were suspects in an incident which killed six Marines, and when we caught them our motivation just skyrocketed.”
The motivation and success do not come without hard work. For each mission, Riverines are responsible for tactical planning, intelligence analysis and transportation – which includes the upkeep of four Small Unit Riverine Craft boats, powered by twin jet inboard motors. Like Marine rifle companies, the responsibility weighs heavily in the hands of small-unit leaders.
Petty Officer 1st Class Rudy Lopez, team leading Petty Officer, said although there are many moving parts to each mission, the Riverines feel the importance of their role each day.
“In a way, we’re allowing the Marines to focus on their mission elsewhere,” he said, “and we put the Navy back into the fight … we’re doing a job that hasn’t been done since Vietnam.”
Lopez and RIVRON-1 have the satisfaction of knowing they are the first such unit in the fight here, as squadrons Two and Three are currently being organized. For many of the Riverines, the special duty was a chance to break the “Blue-water Navy” cliché. As a 10-year veteran of the Navy, Lopez was pulled from a shore duty to become a Riverine. He’s seen the war in Iraq from nearly all perspectives, but said being on the ground – facing the same dangers as Soldiers and Marines - is truly special.
“It’s scary sometimes, but it’s also a great feeling going out there,” he said. “We gotta look out for IEDs, mines … sometimes we pull up and shore and the guys have AK-47s. It’s not like we’re on a ship, surrounded by a big gray hull.”
The Squadron, which carries less than 50 Riverines, has a proportionate mission. Counterinsurgency operations involve few clues, vague leads, broad search areas (nearly 200 square kilometers on Lake Thar Thar alone) and seemingly few returns. Although there are infrequent “jackpot” finds, it is clear that the tide of success ebbs and flows.
“There’s not a big war out here,” said Lopez, “we’re just looking for small groups of guys who are being jerks.”
For more information about the Fighting 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visit the unit’s Web site athttp://www.usmc.mil/13thMEU.