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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic
by Spc. Aimee Felix
28 February 2005
SHUAYBAH PORT, Kuwait --
Oct. 12, 2000, the USS Cole was on its way to the Arabian Gulf when it stopped for fuel in Yemen. A small inflatable boat carrying two suicide bombers and enough explosives to rip a hole through the destroyer pulled up beside the ship and detonated. What would have been just a short fuel stop cost the lives of 17 Sailors while nearly 40 others were seriously injured.
The Navy reacted quickly to the attack on its troops by deploying its Inshore Boat Units, rapidly deployable units that usually have six armed patrol boats manned by four Sailors each.
The units were created in 1996, but weren't deployed until after the Cole disaster, said Cmdr. Calvin Tanck, commanding officer of IBU 24, one of two such units stationed in Kuwait.
Here, their main responsibility is to prevent another devastating terrorist attack by protecting and escorting military ships moving through theater.
While the Sailors of IBU 22 and 24 -- who are in charge of guarding U.S. and coalition ships coming through Kuwait's main seaport of debarkation -- generally deal with little more than fishermen and jet skiers, these Naval Reservists remain vigilant and ready to stop the enemy.
"No ship comes in or out of here without being shadowed by one of our patrol teams," said Tanck.
During the surge, the SPOD receives up to three military ships a day carrying an average total of 6,000 pieces of military equipment, said Maj. Alfonso Holt, port plans officer with the 143rd Transportation Command.
And IBU 22 and 24 are in charge of protecting it all for at least two miles until the ships arrive in international waters, said Tanck.
Between the two, IBU 22 and IBU 24 have a total 12 patrol boats and more than 150 Sailors who work 12 hours on and 12 hours off -- up from 11 hours on and 22 hours off in the lull between surges.
During their shifts, Sailors are restricted to their patrol boats at sea for eight hours, requiring them to use the onboard bathroom and even get their food delivered to them by Sailors who aren't on patrol, said Tanck.
Each patrol boat has a four-man crew consisting of a boat captain, an engineer and two crewmen, i.e., gunners. Aside from their responsibilities while on patrol, IBU Sailors have other duties like giving or getting professional development training, cleaning weapons or conducting maintenance on their boats.
These responsibilities are carried out during their 12 hours off.
While the hours are demanding, IBU 22 boat captain Petty Officer 2nd Class Edward Douglas said the variety in this job is a refreshing change of pace from what he does as a civilian -- he's an accountant. "I don't have to think about profit/loss shares here," he said.
Douglas" next Sailor in command, IBU 22 engineer Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Hann, is responsible for making sure the boat is running well, which is fitting since back home in Rock Island, Ill., he runs a diesel shop that works on boats, and he owns a boat himself.
When he's not on his 12-hour patrol shift, he'll likely be fixing one of the IBU 22 patrol boats.
The Sailors on Douglas" crew all get along so well that when asked what their favorite part of the job was, all their answers had one thing in common: each other.
"These guys are all great people to work with," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Cox, one of the gunners in Douglas" crew. He added that they make up a bit for his least favorite part of the job, which is being homesick.
This is Cox's first deployment, and it happened just when the IBU deployments were extended from about six months to about eight months.
"Being away from family sucks, but they know we're here for a reason," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Al Ablog, the other gunner on Douglas" crew.
One of Douglas" least favorite parts of the job is radioing in a trespassing boat to his higher headquarters because 'the folks up in the tower ask a lot of questions all at once, and they want answers immediately." Douglas has to answer these questions while at the same time ensuring his crew members are handling the situation, he said.
"If it takes too long to get rid of it, everyone gets all [nervous]. That's kind of stressful," said Douglas.
If a boat comes in sight, and it isn't part of the Kuwaiti port authority or any other authorized port dweller, it's ruled a trespasser, and the patrol team is responsible for getting rid of it.
Although they have gone as far as firing warning shots to get rid of unauthorized boats, it rarely goes that far, said Tanck.
Ablog said that while he misses home, he's happy to be playing a role in making the world safer.
Protecting the U.S. and coalition ships traveling through the 20th largest port in the world, IBU 22 has been in Kuwait since November 2004 and IBU 24, which is now on its fourth deployment since its creation, has been here since August 2004.
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