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Young Marines shoulder huge responsibility on Iraqi waters

22 May 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Lance Cpl. William J. Horton, with Small Craft Company, calls being a boat captain "a pretty big responsibility."

But that might be an understatement.

"A boat captain is in charge of everything that happens on his boat," said the 24-year-old of Knoxville, Tenn. "You're responsible for the lives of the crew, the weapons systems and the boat itself."

The company is currently operating in support of 1st Marine Division in Iraq's Al Anbar Province.

With less than two years of Marine Corps experience, Horton is just one of 10 junior enlisted Marines who have been placed in the boat captain billet.

"We have very few noncommissioned officers in the company, so it's up to the lance corporals and below to be the leaders," said 1st Lt. Art G. Decotiis, 2nd Platoon Commander.

Normally, corporals or sergeants would be boat captains, in charge of Small Craft Company's Rigid Raiding Crafts, Riverine Assault Crafts and Zodiacs. However, many of the more experienced Marines recently left the company because they've reached their end of active service dates or were assigned to different units.

"We usually get our Marines from other infantry units like from the Marine Expeditionary Units so they're familiar with what we do," Decotiis added. "But lately they've coming to us straight from... the School of Infantry."

Once the Marines check into the company, they are trained in waterborne combat tactics, such as patrolling and navigation.

They then serve as members of boat crews to learn the intricacies of boat operations.
Pvt. Phillip B. Cowan, of Ruckersville, Va., has been with the company for less than two years and is a coxswain. He hopes to one day become a boat captain.

"I think it's really cool that the lance corporals and below are in charge of the boats," Cowan explained. "When I first got to the unit, corporals and sergeants were boat captains. When a lot of them left, a lot of responsibility fell on us to get things done."

He said it wasn't difficult to adjust to non-NCOs being put in charge.

But problems do arise occasionally.

"Sometimes I feel like I don't have enough experience and training to do this job," Horton said. "That's why I really rely on our NCOs. They know all there is to know about the boats, and they teach us all we need to know. They help me out a lot."

Before being selected for the job of boat captain, Marines attend the boat captains' course in order to prepare for the billet.

According to Sgt. Aaron A. Smith, section leader from Kerrville, Texas, it's not unusual for non-NCOs to shoulder so much responsibility.

"Being a boat captain is just like being a fire team leader in an infantry company," he said. "A lot of senior lance corporals are put in these positions if they have the experience needed."

Smith also added he couldn't be prouder of the company's Marines.

"They've done an excellent job stepping up to the plate and getting the job done," he explained. "Anything I ask of them, they get done. They know their boat knowledge.
There's nothing these guys can't do."