AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
Sailors from Riverine Squadron 1, Regimental Combat Team 5 hosted an inspection of small-river craft Dec. 16 by Staff Maj. Gen. Abdullah Mohammed Badir, commanding general of the 7th Iraqi Army Division.
The Iraqi Security forces are taking possession of Mark 1 River Utility Crafts for use as patrol boats and training vessels in yet another step that is bringing the Iraqi forces closer to self-sufficiency.
The Riverines will continue to train the Iraqi Security Forces in river defense operations and techniques so that the latter’s combat capabilities can expand.
“They need to have self-sustainability in order to keep up their force,” said Cmdr. Gary Leigh, 47, commanding officer of Riverine Squadron 1, from London. “They need to be able to conduct their own maintenance on equipment and conduct procurement of parts and equipment to sustain their force and be able to enforce their laws.”
Riverine Squadron 1, based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., has been in western al Anbar province, Iraq, since mid-November, patrolling the Euphrates River to help maintain security on the inland waterway that courses through many of the province’s most populous towns. While security is one of the squadron’s responsibilities, its mission has changed a bit since its last deployment in 2007.
“We’re doing some things similar to earlier deployments, like providing security on the waterways,” Leigh said. “And it’s also different, in that now we’re also training Iraqi inland waterway security forces. It’s a much bigger training piece this time around.”
The Riverines have a receptive audience in the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army troops that will be the recipients of the Navy know-how.
“I believe in reaching 100 percent proficiency with the boats, but it will take time for our troops to learn,” said Maj. Gen. Abdullah, commanding general of the Iraqi Army 7th Division, through an interpreter. “But I am sure of my soldiers. I am confident they will reach that level.”
The Riverines have high confidence in their abilities as teachers as well.
“These guys have been able to do anything we’ve asked of them,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Kyle Reagan, 44, command master chief petty officer for Riverine Squadron 1, from Charleston, S.C., of his sailors. “We’ve got sailors doing all sorts of jobs – enginemen, equipment operators and communicators. I’m confident they have the training and expertise to do a good job training the Iraqi forces.”
“Here there is better training because we can see the boats being used by the qualified people in the Navy,” Maj. Gen. Abdullah said. “It’s a better advantage for us than going outside the country for training.”
Disciplined water-borne troops are integral to securing major landmarks along the Euphrates River, according to Maj. Gen. Abdullah.
“It is most important for us to use the boats to protect Haditha Dam on the front and the back,” Maj. Gen. Abdullah said. “I’d also like to implement plans to train our commando battalion to use river patrol boats and implement riverine operations in the future.”
Serving as good trainers to the Iraqi troops and police is important to the sailors with Riverine Squadron 1, but they also want to build the kind of partnership with the Iraqi forces that fosters cooperation between the two countries.
“Having a partnership with them helps stability in the region, and we want to see a partnership built on trust and mutual respect,” Leigh said.
“Right now, they’re on their own boats and we’re training them, and later we’ll be standing back and watching their progress,” Leigh continued. “The sooner we’re able to turn it over to the Iraqis, the better for them.”
And so the days of self-sufficiency for the Iraqi riverine forces are approaching more and more.
“I think the more we work with each other, I see they’ve been more capable and effective daily,” Leigh added. “They’re an impressive force. They are professional and willing to cooperate and operate with us.”