CAMP NATHAN SMITH, Afghanistan — When most people think of the Coast Guard, they think of search and rescue, drug interdiction and guarding the coastal waters of the U.S.; however, the Coast Guard has an active program in Iraq and Afghanistan to help the Army transport hazardous materials safely via sea.
The Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment, part of the Patrol Forces Southwest Asia assists soldiers with container inspections and advises them on how to properly secure and document HAZMAT stored inside.
“We realize that Soldiers have other jobs while they’re here besides shipping HAZMAT,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen DeMorat, a member of the RAID team. “It takes a lot of the load off their shoulders for us to come in and say ‘this is how you do it.’”
If hazardous cargo is not stored in a sturdy container, it could collapse under the weight of others stacked on top of it with a possibly deadly outcome.
“They have a long way to go, so we try and make sure that the containers are structurally sound and that the HAZMAT is segregated properly in accordance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Alfred Jurison, a member of the RAID team.
The proper segregation of HAZMAT items is important because if the packaging were to break open and the HAZMAT spilled together, it could lead to an emergency onboard the ship. For instance, if lithium batteries become submerged in water, they could explode, causing a fire in a container, which could spread to others.
The RAID team, attached to the 831st Deployment and Distribution Support Battalion, based at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, takes segregation seriously.
“It’s like accidentally mixing chemicals that you may find in your home,” said DeMorat. “Alone they are harmless, but once mixed together they could be dangerous.”
The containers not only travel by sea, but also by road, something the RAID teams keep in mind when they are helping the Army secure their HAZMAT.
“They’re going from here, [Afghanistan] put on a boat, and brought to America somewhere, and that same container is going to be on the back of an 18-wheeler,” said DeMorat. “If that container’s not structurally sound or there’s something wrong with the key elements of it, it could mean a civilian U.S. death that could have been prevented.”
The contrast of what could go wrong — as compared to what should go right, weighs heavy on the Coast Guardsmen of the RAID teams. Deployed soldiers experience this regularly when they don their personal protective equipment to go outside the wire; it’s all about minimizing risk.
All RAID team members undergo intensive container inspection training where they see photos of how a single container collapsed at the bottom of a stack, causing millions of dollars worth of damage. The goal of their training is to mitigate the risk of a collapse from happening again.
The Coast Guard has a rigorous screening process to fill the various RAID teams around the world, composed of only 27 Coast Guardsmen. They look for a certain attitude, one that can go the extra mile and do more with less.
“I’ve had jobs where I knew what I was doing was significant in the big picture, but I feel more involved with this one, it’s a reason to get up in the morning when you feel like you’re doing something important,” said DeMorat.
Editor’s Note: If you would like assistance shipping HAZMAT via sea for your redeployment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call DSN 318-430-4971 no matter where you’re deployed.