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September 19, 2005

Getting to the Fight, part 4.

More from Blake... "Somewhere in Kuwait"

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Since I canít write about ongoing logistics operations for operational security reasons, I thought Iíd take some time to say a few nice things about the members of a sister service who did an awful lot of work under lousy conditions to enable the 101st to deploy in a timely manner. More specifically, Iím talking about the United States Coast Guard.

Everybody knows about the newsworthy and impressive things the Coasties do: helicopters hoisting hurricane victims from the roofs of their flooded houses in New Orleans; motor lifeboats busting through waves taller than they are to rescue sailors in peril at sea; armed cutters intercepting drug runners, and all that sort of thing. And I have to admit that there are some things that the Coasties do that fill this former paratroop sergeant with fear and loathing. For example, the Coast Guard put their Motor Lifeboat and Surfman training facility right at the Columbia River bar, the place with the worst wave and surf action in North America. Someone who can handle a motor lifeboat in those conditions deserves my respect, assuming I can keep from puking on his/her shoes just from thinking about what lifeboat crews have to put up with.

But there are also jobs the Coasties do which are far less glamorous than that stuff, but are absolutely essential to what I do. When we were loading the ships for Iraq earlier this year, the Coast Guard Port Security Detachment and Marine Safety Detachment assigned to the port we were using were an essential part of the process. These guys donít often get a lot of press, but they are really important players as far as Iím concerned.

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The Port Security guys do get neat toys to play with. The attached picture shows one of them. Itís a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, (or RHIB in military acronym-speak,) which can be fitted with pedestal mounts for machine guns fore and aft. The Coasties call it a Rapid Response Boat (or something like that,) and ďrapidĒ is the word. The ones at the port we were using were fitted with twin 225 hp outboards, and I saw a couple go zipping past the pier we were working at that were doing about 30 knots. Thereís another picture around here somewhere of one of these babies at speed headed up the St. Johnís River toward the big Dames Point Bridge.

The thing is, as long as we had a ship alongside the pier either loading or unloading military cargo, the local Port Security Det had two armed RHIBís on station near the ship to provide 24-hour security on the water side. Day or night, rain or shine, the Coasties were there. Iíve pulled my share of guard duty before, and I know it canít be anyoneís favorite task. But these guys did it anyway, and did it well.

Just as important is the work of the Marine Safety Detachment, because they help us make sure that the boat is loaded safely, and that all of the numerous and varied kinds of hazardous materials that an Army brigade habitually takes in its supplies when it moves (literally everything from acetylene to warfarin,) is properly prepared and stowed (according to a set of VERY complex rules,) so that the risks to the vessels transporting the brigade are minimized. The detachment we worked with this time even sent people up to Fort Campbell while we were loading out to help ensure that we didnít have incompatible materials stowed in our shipping containers, and that all of the requisite paperwork was properly filled out. And all of this before we ever loaded the first flatcar. And then they worked with the Army port battalion and the shipís crew to plan the stowage of all of this stuff on the ships, they rechecked our vehicles and containers at the port to make certain they hadnít missed any problems of preparation on their first pass, and then they checked the stuff as it got stowed to make sure the stow plan was followed. This was by far the easiest outload that any of us can remember, and the men and women from the Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Marine Safety Detachment played a large part in our success.

Thanks, guys.

Ya done good.

Amen, brother.

Proud Coast Guard Dad Larry K would like to point you to this album of Coasties doing unglamorous work (i.e., running around in little boats vice Big Flying Contraptions that so catch the eye of camera-carriers) in the Katrina rescue and recovery efforts.

Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be reached by clicking the respective numbers.