News: Florida National Guard Soldier Takes on Joint-Service Security Mission at Gulf Port
Story by Natalie Cole
CAMP PATRIOT, Kuwait - “I didn’t think I’d see water.” This is what 1st Lt. Shawn Britton said he expected when he joined the Army National Guard after completing officer training at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.
Now, Britton is deployed to Kuwait with Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery Regiment, which is part of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Britton and his fellow Seminole Soldiers are working with the Coast Guard and Navy at one of the busiest deep-water sea ports in the Gulf.
The mission of the 2/116 is to serve as the port Security Force, referred to as SECFOR. The Soldiers and Sailors escort incoming and outgoing cargo shipments, secure the port’s gates, and provide over-all management and training of joint-service personnel. The security mission is an example of some of the unexpected duties National Guard Soldiers perform in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.
Britton and his peers operate in some of the hottest, most humid temperatures in the world – in June, July, August and September the average temperature is well above 100 degrees. “We’ve had a lot of people come off weight control,” he said with a smile when describing what it is like to work in the sweltering climate. “It has beat up our guys, but they’ve understood the importance of the mission and they’ve just got it done.”
The port, known as the Sea Port of Debarkation, is a critical travel hub for U.S. military equipment moving into and out of the Middle East. In fact, the majority of the equipment that has been hauled out of Iraq in support of the drawdown has come through the port, said Capt. Nicholas R. Green, who is commander of B Battery, 2/116. With the hustle and bustle of moving parts and personnel, Green said platoon leaders like Britton have to stay focused to keep things running smoothly.
“We’re a combined task force here, so the lieutenant who’s on shift, who’s the OIC [officer in charge] for that period of time, is actually in control of all of our Army folks plus an attachment from the Navy and Coast Guard. So, they’re not only managing our stuff but they’re also managing SECFOR for the Navy and Coast Guard that are tasked to us working on the gates,” said Green, from Cape Coral, Fla. Other duties for officers include ensuring troops have scheduled time to eat and all the supplies they need for their missions. Sometimes work at the port requires distributing resources such as batteries for radios, ice for coolers and water; these details are what keep troops sharp and focused on their jobs.
Britton said he likes that the SECFOR mission pushes him and his peers outside of their box. “It’s an interesting environment in the fact that you got Army personnel – for us specifically we’re 13 Bravos, we’re field artillery – [and] we’re working gates. These guys are working hand-in-hand with the Coast Guard guys who are usually used to being on a boat or doing port security, so it’s different,” he said.
Britton added that joint-service is not just a catchy title for members of the Armed Services who work in the same location. Instead, the soldiers and sailors make up a fully integrated team that works toward a common goal. “As far as the integration goes, we’re at the same points together, so you come up to a point and you’ll see … a Coast Guard, Navy and then an Army guy,” he said.
Although the troops at the port are working in an unexpected role, they have been well-prepared for the SECFOR mission, and they have ongoing training integrated into their shifts, including anti-terrorism measures and battle drills. The Seminole soldiers also give joint-service training such as HUMVEE driving courses for sailors who have not operated the Army-specific vehicles in their past missions, Britton said.
Britton was awarded the Coast guard Achievement Medal in mid-August for his collaboration with the Coast Guard. He said he has enjoyed learning the other services’ ways of doing things, and that when doing his mission, he has done so with the “understanding there’s a right way of getting a job accomplished. And that you should make sure that your subordinates and [you] get the job done the right way, not the easiest way,” he said. “I learned a lot to rely on my guys and give them every opportunity to accomplish that task.”
When the deployment ends, Britton will return to his civilian work as an elementary school teacher for Florida’s Polk County Schools. “I’m just excited [about] getting back to the U.S. and getting back on track with teaching.” He added that he is also “looking forward to spending time with [my] parents and dogs.”