Special Coast Guard Unit Patrols Waters Around Gitmo
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, June 26, 2002 "Coming Up!" the Coast Guardsman yells, to warn his crew. He's about to push the throttle on his 25-foot Boston whaler's twin 175-horsepower outboard engines.
The warning gives the crew time to brace and keep from being thrown overboard when the powerful engines kick in.
Chief Petty Officer Charles C. Kirby was demonstrating the power of the boat Port Security Unit 307 uses to patrol waters around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in support Joint Task Force 160. The JTF is a multiservice command in charge of detention operations here of more than 560 captured enemy combatants.
The Coast Guard unit, which arrived here in early June, is based in St. Petersburg, Fla. The unit, mostly reservists, served in Boston immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon last year, said its commander, Capt. Paul H. Crissy.
These Coast Guardsmen are specialists in port security and harbor defense. "We provide a surveillance and interdiction capability to monitor activities on the water," Crissy said. "If something appears to be out of the ordinary, we investigate it and take appropriate action. However, the only activity we've had here is routine commerce that goes through Guantanamo Bay to the commercial port on the other side of the naval facility. We shadow those vessels to monitor what they're doing and keep an eye on recreational boaters."
Crissy said his primary concerns are to ensure the unit does its job correctly and to keep his crews motivated and focused instead of worrying about things that may be going on at home with their families. "We work hard to ensure that support mechanisms are in place so the last thing crews have to worry about is whether their paychecks arrived on time, or their families are getting medical care, or other things that we often take for granted when we are at home," he said.
Guantanamo is an isolated naval base, but there are a lot of things to do to keep busy during off duty times. "Some of the guys have gone diving, sailing, hiking, mountain biking, and they have cook outs and go to the outdoor movies," Crissy said.
Port security units have taken advantage of the other services' programs for a lot of basic training, he said. "For example," Crissy said, "we use the Air Force's Phoenix Readiness Training Program to learn how to secure an airfield, primarily in foreign countries, and to maintain force protection while establishing the security operations. An airport and a seaport are pretty much the same thing."
In addition to the traditional skills of lifesaving, environmental protection and law enforcement that all Coast Guard members learn, port security unit members receive specialized combat skills and weapon training. With the motto, "Anywhere Anytime Fast," PSUs are self-sustained outfits that can deploy within 96 hours and establish operations within 24 hours with a staff of 140 reservists and five active duty personnel.
The units are organized to provide for command and control, waterborne security, shore security and logistics support.
"We're self-sustaining with five cooks; administrative staff; gunner's mates; machinery technicians to maintain the boats and repair the engines; boatswain's mates; telecom specialists; electrician; storekeepers; and port security members. But, we've had tremendous support everywhere at Gitmo. For example, although we bring our own food specialists, who are capable of establishing a galley," Crissy noted, "we're working with the naval base hospital galley supplementing their capabilities. It works well for both of us."
He said the unit also has "foot soldiers" to help maintain security around their facility. "It's patterned on the way the Air Force does its airfield security," he said.
PSUs may operate independently or with other naval coastal warfare units, including Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, patrol boats, Army military police, Navy harbor defense commands, mobile inshore and undersea warfare units, explosive ordnance disposal detachments, mobile diving and salvage units and inshore boat units.
Chief Kirby said the PSU patrol boat, called the Guardian, is outfitted with an M-60 machine gun on each wing and a .50-caliber machine gun on the bow. The unit has six of the fast, maneuverable boats of which two are on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Initially, we were stood up on Sept. 12, 2001, to head to New York. When we got there, they sent us to Boston," he noted. "The mission here is pretty much the same -- providing harbor security and security for high value assets, which falls in with our mission category.
"In addition, we set up a training program for the Navy master at arms for harbor defense. They're doing the same type work we're doing, so we're providing a weeklong training program for about 30 of their people," the chief said. "We cross-train them in what we do. Hopefully we can pick up some things from them, and we can show them something new, too.
"The Navy has a multitude of missions -- harbor security, environmental issues -- whereas we're straight on for security," Kirby noted. "We work hand-in-hand with the Navy on many situations on harbor defense, but we have different zones.
"The tough part of our mission is maintaining vigilance, because we may or may not have any activity during our tour here," he said. "So it's maintaining vigilance in case something does occur."
Kirby pointed out that night doesn't impair the unit's capability because the boats are equipped with radar and the three-member crews are trained in night operations. As to reports of terrorists trying to sneak ashore using diving equipment, he said the PSU works with Naval Reserve Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 208 from Miami, which detects that type of infiltration. The two units form the Joint Maritime Patrol Group that's responsible for law enforcement, search and rescue and guarding waters around Guantanamo from any kind of terrorist activities.
Petty Officer 1st class Scott K. Lucia's feelings about the PSU's mission in the war on terrorism typifies the feelings of the rest of the unit members. When he heard the unit was being assigned to Gitmo, "I was excited about having a chance to do something for my country," he said.