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Riverine Unit Patrols Euphrates

1 Feb 2008 | 1st Lt. Lawton King

You can never step in the same river twice.

 The Euphrates River once sluiced through a verdant paradise inhabited by Adam and Eve. Now it flows through an arid desert inhabited by fisherman, and in some cases, insurgents.

 “There’s still bad guys out there doing bad things,” said Cmdr. Glen Leverette, commanding officer of Riverine Squadron 2. “I’m calling the river a seam that the insurgents were exploiting.”

 The sailors assigned to the squadron, or Riverines, patrol the Euphrates and its islands to deter insurgent activity and to recover buried caches.

 “[In the past], they would seek haven on the river… or move across it,” said Leverette, a Naval Academy graduate from Jacksonville, Fla.

 But the Riverines, following in the steps of their predecessors, established a waterborne presence that identifies suspicious movement and curtails interrupts insurgent lines of communication.

 “I think it lets (the insurgents) know; hey we’re here, and we’re going to be here,” said Chief Petty Officer John Schools, a 36-year-old boat captain from Houlton, Maine. “And if we find you, it’s going to be a bad day.”

 The Riverines also serve as a quick react force to neighboring land units in the event reinforcements are needed.

 “We’re a maneuver element very much like a Marine Corps infantry unit,” said Lt. Jeff Werby, the 31-year-old commanding officer of Riverine Detachment 3 and a native of Virginia Beach. “We’ve worked with everybody.”

 Riverine Squadron 2 is the latest incarnation of an American naval tradition that dates back to the Civil War when the Confederate River Defense Fleet and its Union counterpart played integral roles in battles that helped shape the outcome of the war.

 Naval Forces again ventured upstream with distinction in the Vietnam War that resulted in the universal acclaim of the swift boats and their versatile crews.

 Erected in May 2006 in Little Creek, Va., RIVRON 2 underwent a gauntlet of training evolutions to prepare them for the amphibious operations executed by riverine forces in Iraq.

 Officers and enlisted alike completed the School of Infantry course at Camp Lejuene, N.C., as well as the machine-gunner’s course.

 “I think the Marine training was the best we could have had,” said Leverette. “It gives us instant credibility.”

 Now, after months of training packages, their riverborne flotilla runs daily patrols throughout the reaches of the Euphrates in support of Regimental Combat Team 5.

 On a recent expedition through Lake Qadisiyah, a manmade reservoir created by the damming of the Euphrates several kilometers above Haditha, Riverine Detachment 3 inserted several of its Riverines to reconnoiter a small fishing camp that appeared to have materialized out of the barren rock.

 “We came out here about four months ago and it was a lot greener,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Smith, a 36-year-old intelligence specialist from Oak Park, Mich.

 The Riverines peppered the fishermen with questions regarding recent happenings in the local area and joked about soccer.

 “They’re hard-working people trying to make ends meet,” Werby said.

 When the Riverines requested identification, the fisherman quickly produced official cards and could not conceal their satisfaction.

 “They all seem proud of their badges,” Werby said.

 No sooner had they inspected the area than the Riverines boarded their patrol boats and resumed their patrol on the lake, which they refer to as Lake Quesadilla in jest.

 Not long after their timely departure, something in the water

 seduced the Riverines’ attention: a fishing boat propelled not by an outboard motor, but by manual paddles.

 The Riverines, who are responsible for enforcing certain fishing regulations legislated by the Iraqi government, quickly noticed the anomaly and pulled alongside the vessel to investigate.

 The two occupants, it was discovered, previously forfeited the use of their motor after they violated a fishing ban.

 The Riverines offered the fisherman some bottled water and then sped away towards a horizon that eventually yielded the Haditha Dam, a massive structure seemingly borrowed from the set of a James Bond film.

 Landing on the “North Shore,” the crew members returned to their command post and initiated a debrief to review the information gathered during the operation and to critique the unit’s performance.

 More apparent than their penchant for self-criticism, though, was the camaraderie that permeates the detachment and manifests itself in the ubiquitous smiles.

 “We have a real good relationship with each other,” said Schools. “It’s a pretty good gig.”

 Werby, who formerly supervised a detention facility in Northern Iraq, agreed.

 “These guys really care a lot about what we’re doing.”

 Outside the river’s waters continued to meander towards Haditha, and Riverines prepared for yet another mission.