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    Coast Guard on the Gulf: Protecting Iraq's Oil Platforms from Modern Day Pirates

    Coast Guard on the Gulf: Protecting Iraq's Oil Platforms from Modern Day Pi

    Photo By Sgt. Christopher Jones | KUWAIT NAVAL BASE, Kuwait (26 August 2006) ---Coast Guardsmen leave on a patrol boat...... read more read more

    There are only a few remnants of home aboard the Coast Guard cutter Adak. The captain's coin references the ship's former stomping grounds in New York City with a large apple; the flag on the front deck carries 50 stars; and then there is the name – Adak – taken from the small island off the coast of Alaska.

    The Adak has been on Arabian waters since 2003, and ever since the beginning of the war in Iraq, Coast Guardsmen in the region have played a significant role in both the security and financial stability of Iraq, said Lt. Michael Cintron, Adak commander.

    The 20-person crew of the Adak is part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, which aims to protect Iraq's two oil platforms on the Persian Gulf, and also to stop weapons smuggling and other types of dangerous trafficking into Iraq through rivers and tributaries.

    The Coast Guard patrolmen are based in Bahrain, but there is also a small detachment of Coast Guardmen at Kuwait Naval Base, working in conjunction with Third Army, who assist the patrol teams by helping supply fuel and tools, as well as to provide mechanical assistance on the boat.

    "As a Coastie, to be able to go overseas is a once in a lifetime experience," said Seaman Edward Sychra, a deck crewman on the Adak.

    Altogether, ten patrol boats are involved in the mission.
    Amid the sweltering heat at the KNB in the early afternoon Aug. 8, Adak crewmembers made final preparations on their cutter the night before setting off to the platforms.

    Petty Officer 2nd Class Kendall Cook cleans out the engine room, where heat bounces off the metal and humidity drips from his face as if he's just taken a shower. It's a far cry from his previous assignment in the cool, windy city of Astoria, Ore.

    On the lower deck, in the weapons room, Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Mobiglia, native of Windor Locks, Conn., does an ammunition check.

    The next morning, Cintron sets the Adak on course for the oil platforms, expecting to arrive before noon.

    "The job we do [in the Gulf] is similar to what we do in the U.S.," said Cintron, "but here it's much more dynamic and challenging, because we're spending twice as much time at sea and there's that inherent risk every time you leave the dock."

    That risk can perhaps be explained best by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Edward R. Lawrence, the operations officer for the Adak, who previously deployed to the Gulf in 2004. That April, Lawrence was aboard the cutter Wrangell, patrolling the perimeter of the platforms, when the only other cutter on patrol, the Firebolt, was struck by insurgents, killing three sailors and one Coast Guardsmen.

    After the incident, the number of boats on patrol was doubled, and the Coast Guard looked at the mission in an entirely different light.

    "Before [the incident], we thought we weren't in any real danger," said Lawrence. "We thought, 'we're not in Baghdad, so we're safe.' Afterward, we realized we are not safe, not untouchable. It changed everything. It became real."

    According to Lawrence, the incident could have been even worse. It was later found that six boats, each with terrorists aboard, were involved in the plot. But after the first explosion, the other five turned and left the scene.

    "If they had performed it the way they planned it, there could have been a ton of damage," said Lawrence. "We got lucky."

    By late morning, the Adak arrives at the Al Basra Oil Terminal.
    The U.S. patrol vessels work in sectors, patrolling the perimeter of the platforms. Everything that comes near the platforms, from the smallest fishing boat to the largest ship, is searched inside and out by small pre-designated groups called boarding teams.

    Each Coast Guard cutter is equipped with an 18 foot "small boat." Boarding teams use the small boat to ride out to the boats to be searched, while guards stand watch from the cutter, surveying the boardings from a distance.

    For the crew of Adak, Aug. 9 turns out to be a very slow day. Not one boat comes into – or even near – their sector. The crew hopes for the next day to be just as slow.

    But operations don't stop at night. A guard stands watch on the tower of the 110-foot Adak 24-hours a day, looking for anything besides the moon's reflection on five-foot waves.

    "It's constant," said Mobiglia. "It's what I signed up for."
    The name of the boat is covered up. The cargo is completely hidden. And the crew takes too long responding to the Coast Guard's orders to stop.

    "I'm definitely taking my M-4 on this one," says Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Mobiglia, a gunner's mate with the Coast Guard cutter Adak.

    On the Persian Gulf, the Coast Guard is taking every sign into consideration, and for this suspicious cargo ship, the crew of the Adak is on high alert.

    A boarding team is established among Adak crewmembers. They will search the vessel up and down, left and right, inside and out – they will even bury themselves in a mountain of tires.

    It's Aug. 11, and the Adak has been on the Gulf for three days. The first day: not a single vessel on the radar. Day two: only one boat comes near the Adak, a small supply ship which regularly passes through. But today will be busy.

    The Adak is part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, designed to protect Iraq's oil platforms on the Gulf as well as to stop weapons smuggling into Iraq through the Al Arab River, which flows near the city of Basra.

    It's now 3 p.m., and Coast Guard Lt. Michael Cintron, Adak commander, is gathering information about the ship before sending his Coast Guardsmen to search it. He eventually learns that the ship's name is Amir, and he believes it took off from the United Arab Emirates and is planning to drop off cargo in Basra. Nobody on board has seen this ship before.

    "We hardly ever see new boats," says Cintron. "This is unusual."
    Meanwhile, crewmembers begin throwing on body armor, life jackets, helmets, kneepads – and taking either a rifle or a handgun. Another group takes an 18-foot speedboat, which the crew calls "the Manhattan," and lowers it on the water beside the cutter. The search team, consisting of six members, climbs in the Manhattan and heads straight for the ship.

    The boarding is quick. They fly up a shaky ladder, secure the vessel and begin the search. Fifty meters away, the rest of the crew on the Adak surveys the action, providing an outside security force.

    One group searches the bottom deck of the Amir, while another explores the top deck. Water, boxes of fruit, tires – lots of tires. As the team inspects the top deck, they find there is one room on the bottom level that is only accessible by digging through a massive heap of tires on the top deck.

    So Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Holm and Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Barclay begin throwing tire upon tire, eventually finding a small door at the bottom. Underneath is a pitch black basement, only three feet high. Holm crawls through a darkness like that of an ocean floor, but after 30 minutes, finds nothing but grease and dirt.

    On many ships the Coast Guard runs into, like the Amir, there is a hidden room accessible only by digging, pulling, crawling or climbing, says Cintron. But every room, every space, must be searched.

    In the end, the Amir turns out to be clear. Everyone aboard has an updated Passport, and the cargo is all legal. The boarding team, after several hours, returns to the Adak.

    Patrol Forces Southwest Asia was established in 2003. So many Coast Guardsmen volunteer for the job that some are turned down, says Cintron. The crew of the Adak have different reasons for why they volunteered.

    Seaman Edward Sychra, a deck crewman on the Adak, volunteered for this assignment after spending the previous two years with the Honor Guard in Alexandria, Va. He said it has been a 180 degree turnaround, from ceremonies to boardings.
    "I went from basically representing the job of the U.S. military to
    being the U.S. military," says Sychra.

    Others find satisfaction knowing they are directly contributing to the war effort.

    "I believe in what the Coast Guard is doing out here," says Lt. Sarah Hayes, executive officer. "I feel like this is our generation's turn to do something. Our parents had theirs, our grandparents had theirs, and this is ours."

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 08.28.2006
    Date Posted: 08.28.2006 14:23
    Story ID: 7573
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