News: The Coast Guard raids Afghanistan: a look at the RAID Team and what it does
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The crew of three Coast Guardsmen collect their tools, grab their coffee and head for the parking lot. Hammers, measuring tools, silicone, rivet set, spray paint and a drill are loaded in the back of their pickup as they start out for another day of inspections.
Once at the inspection sight, the U.S. Coast Guard Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment Team are greeted by a Marine sergeant dressed for the cold winter morning wearing head gear and gloves. He rattles off numbers and points in the direction of the cargo containers to be inspected, and the team of Petty Officer 1st Class Nelson Del Valle, Petty Officer 2nd Class Douglas Williams and Petty Officer 2nd Class Albertico Vargas moves out into the yard of large, steel containers. The RAID Team inspects shipping containers for hazardous materials and seaworthiness.
The team assesses an average of 300 U.S. government owned and leased containers a month. The large blue, grey and red metal boxes, faded by the sun and damaged by innumerable journeys overseas, must be physically and visually inspected to make sure they can complete the trip safely. The team reviews documents with the container and verifies that the hazardous material being declared is properly labeled, and the quantities being shipped are within the limitations.
The current team, embedded with the U.S. Army, is made up of two reservists and one active duty. “As a reservist, every member brings something to the table,” said Del Valle, who, as a civilian, is a police officer in Jefferson Township, N.J. He said he is originally a native of Los Angeles, Calif.
Williams, a fellow reservist, is also a corrections officer who works as a civilian in Suffolk County, N.Y. He is a native of Bay Shore, N.Y. Both he and Del Valle joined the Coast Guard reserves after 9/11.
“I have known Williams since he reported to our reserve unit approximately two years ago, “Del Valle said. The two have been friends ever since, meeting up with Vargas during pre-deployment training.
Vargas, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., is busy banging out a dent on the door of one of the containers with the sledge hammer. He keeps at it until the indentation is almost back to normal and the door can close without further difficulties. The team works their way around each container filing up the rows, and inspecting every corner, pointing out the rust, dents and holes.
“A container will travel in the host country, via truck, to the port then to the vessel in international and U.S. waters and then through the U.S. transportation system via railroad or highway,” Del Valle said. “If the container is not structurally safe, it is possible that it may cause damage to other containers. An incident like that might be of significance if they contain hazardous material.”
The three Coast Guardsmen are adept at working as a team. Del Valle takes an inspection tool he calls a “string with a magnet” and draws it to the edge of the rusted perimeter to take a measurement. Williams is busy logging the data on a clip board that has “no toxins” written across it. Del Valle reaches for another type of inspection ruler and the three work their way around the cargo box. Williams touches up a worn-out serial number with a white paint pen, and as they go down a check list, documenting their progress.
After Del Valle steps into a container to check for “light tightness,” Vargas closes and locks the door behind him. After a few minutes, Del Valle taps on the metal door letting his shipmate know he is ready to come out. Williams take notes during the assessment and the team discusses any problems. “A container may fail if there are any cracks, holes or tears in the structural components,” Del Valle said.
“The job is important because it helps the government save money and time when shipping cargo. The cost of (delayed or embargoed) cargo is approximately $5000 a day,” Del Valle said, adding that ensuring hazardous material is properly identified is vital during an emergency, a fire or a spill on board ship.
The Coast Guard Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment Team is distinct. The job was created in 2003 by the Department of Defense to ensure hazardous materials are properly prepared for shipment and re-entry into U.S. ports as part of the military redeployment process. One of the Coast Guard’s many responsibilities includes port security, so when a container comes through with the seal of approval from the Coast Guard, the cargo is less likely to get stopped.
The RAID Team is the most forward deployed Coast Guard unit in a combat zone. “Not many Coast Guardsman units know about our existence,” Del Valle said. “Being the most forward Coast Guard unit deployed is definitely unique, we get to see what a select few have done in the past, and it puts the Coast Guard on the map when we interact with the other branches of service of the military.”
“We are the only ones who can really say we were out here; all other Coast Guard units mainly get sent to Bahrain,” Vargas said.
Del Valle’s and Williams’ deployments to Afghanistan brought them closer together. “Our families can rest at ease knowing that we are out here together and we will not allow anything to happen to one another,” Del Valle said.
“Having him here definitely helps with my morale, I know I have someone to vent to and someone who understands what I might be going through. I feel he knows that I will be there for him as a friend and supervisor.”
“Getting troops home and their property safe without delays is our mission,” Del Valle said. “Having the opportunity to serve in the Middle East is a great pleasure especially on a mission that helps get true heroes home.”