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Friday, February 03, 2006

Navy Coastal Warfare Squadron 5 Joins the fleet

Reported here:
The squadron is the first of its kind since the Vietnam War, extending the reach of a Navy that has long dominated the deep-water oceans into the shallow coastal regions.

The squadron's job is to protect harbors and ships from terrorist attacks like the one that crippled the destroyer Cole in Yemen almost six years ago. While it can aid the Coast Guard in protecting U.S. ports including San Diego, most of the squadron's work will take place in overseas hot spots such as Korea, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

“We've had to expand to this battle space, because that's where the terrorists are,” said Rear Adm. Donald Bullard, commander of the newly created Naval Expeditionary Combat Command in Norfolk, Va., which oversees the squadron. “We need to interdict. We need to go find, fix and kill.”

Coastal warfare has been around since the Navy's earliest days, when ships guarded colonial harbors against the British during the Revolutionary War and defeated the Barbary pirates off the coast of Libya in the early 19th century.

But since small Swift Boats fought the Viet Cong in Vietnam's Mekong Delta nearly four decades ago, the Navy delegated its low-priority coastal work to reserve units. Al-Qaeda's attacks against the Cole in October 2000 and U.S. landmarks on Sept. 11, 2001, spurred the Navy to focus on coasts as well as the oceans.

“The global war on terror is in the harbor, the near-shore, the inland waterways,” Bullard said. “We need a dedicated force so we don't have things like the Cole.”

Once at full strength, the squadron's 325 sailors will go to war in a fleet of speedy 34-foot, aluminum-hull boats equipped with .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns and grenade launchers. The boats, each costing $500,000, can be loaded quickly aboard Air Force C-17 transport jets for quick transport to trouble spots...

...Recruiting sailors and officers to the unit has posed no problem, said 1st Lt. T. Wilkes Coleman of Tuscaloosa, Ala., the squadron's information technology officer.

“It's completely different than being on a ship,” said Coleman, 28. “We're about as point-of-the-spear as you can get.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnny Fleming had served 14 months in Bahrain before transferring to Squadron 5 last year.

“I got to choose. I wanted to do something different,” said Fleming, 26, of Salem, Mass.

Neither he nor his buddies had heard about coastal warfare. His friends kidded him about the switch.
Not a new concept, as noted, and one most recently filled by the Navy Reserve Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Units and their affilated boat groups...see, for example, Naval Coastal Warfare Group 2 and this on the NCW Squadron mission. And a recent deployment.

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