ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. – Twenty-seven sailors, including three women, graduated from riverine training when they completed the Cape Fear Final Skills Assessment, Sept. 17.
The assessment, for students attending both the Riverine Security Team Member (RSTM) and Riverine Crewman (RCC) courses, was administered by the Center for Security Forces Learning Site (CENSECFOR LS) Camp Lejeune, and the women now qualify for some of the first Navy billets opened when then-Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta ordered the removal of gender-based barriers to service in January.
When Panetta announced the rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, he ordered all military services to submit detailed plans for enabling women to serve in ground combat roles and other roles that had not been available to them, such as Navy submarines. He directed the completion of this process by 2016.
Women joining small craft units with the Coastal Riverine Force (CORIVFOR) is the first of five decision points that will reflect this change and is beating the secretary’s deadline by more than two years, maintaining standards and preserving unit readiness and cohesion while integrating women starting next month.
Master-at-Arms Seaman Audrey Warren, RSTM graduate, said that she wants to experience everything the Navy has to offer and the lifting of the restriction is allowing her to do that.
“Our command was happy to send us,” Warren said. “They said, ‘Go!’”
All the students graduated two classes before beginning RCC and RSTM at Camp Lejeune in August and concluding those courses during the assessment.
They first attended the Expeditionary Combat Skills course in Gulfport, Miss., comprising a month of rifle and pistol marksmanship and combat shooting, basic combat first aid and other skills needed to perform high-risk operations in a safe, proficient and professional manner.
Then they built on these skills with an emphasis on combat mindset during the Riverine Combat Skills course at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The students come from diverse ratings like quartermaster, aviation ordnanceman and information systems technician, but all of them had the foundation to tackle this last step of riverine training at the start of these courses, according to Mike Bullard, CENSECFOR LS Lejeune training officer.
“Both classes we have here right now have done a lot of classroom preparation, a lot of field time at Camp Lejeune, and what we do here is sort of bring all that together and test the individual skills they’ve learned in more of a riverine environment,” said Bullard, a retired master gunnery sergeant who served in the infantry for 24 years. “[Both classes have] had the opportunity to shoot at an extensive variety of ranges at Lejeune. The RSTM students have done a lot of patrolling, land navigation and cache sweeps, learning their specific jobs. They’ve learned all the radios, both what is specific to the boats and for the RSTM, what they’ll be using on the ground. Now it’s all being tied together here on the Cape Fear River.”
Quartermaster 1st Class (SW/AW) Fernando Ortiz, RCC graduate, said that he had to tap into all the knowledge and training he’d had up until now to do well during training.
“It’s nothing like anything in the Navy,” Ortiz said. “There’s so much involved. There’s communications, engines you gotta know. Weapons, navigation, how to drive. There’s so much tied into it. Yeah, I’m a quartermaster, but I’m also doing a gunner’s mate’s job. I’m also doing a boatswain’s mate’s job, an engineer, an [electronic technician's] job. There’s so much tied into being a riverine that you have to know.”
This assessment was the first opportunity for the RCC students to pilot the Riverine Assault Boat (RAB) and Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB) as a crew in a littoral environment, as well as for them to integrate with the RSTM students.
Living in tents in an expeditionary camp near the water made the conditions more challenging for the students than the classroom environment they’d been working in at Camp Lejeune, according to Bullard.
“I don’t think they’ve ever been exposed to anything like this,” Bullard said. “The weather up here has been hot. They’re out there for long periods of time. They’re gonna get tired, they’re gonna get wet, they’re gonna get hungry. They’re in an expeditionary environment, and that’s gonna carry over into everything that they do here.”
Master-at-Arms Seaman Brianna Tran, RSTM graduate, said the irregular schedule, with day and night operations, was the most challenging part of the course for her.
“Definitely the lack of sleep,” Tran said. “Just staying in the game, keeping your head in the game. You gotta be on your toes at all times. You can’t take that break in the middle of it.”
Bullard said while the integration of women into this training is new for everyone involved, the only thing the instructors are concerned with is whether they are meeting the standard, which must be gender neutral by law.
“That’s all we really care about, and thus far, they are,” Bullard said. “They’re doing everything that’s been asked of them. They’re giving 100 percent effort and we can’t ask for anything more.”
Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Angela Evans, RSTM graduate, said she and her fellow women in the class haven’t had any problems integrating with the men since they are all doing the same work.
“The guys have all been accepting,” Evans said. “They expect us to perform at the same level as they do, and we do.”
The RCC students performed RAB and RPB operations such as inserts, extracts and visit, board, search and seizure during day and night for the first several days of the assessment, while the RSTM students continued their land-based operations.
The two classes integrated for the first time in the final four days to perform the same kind of littoral missions they’ll do as part of CORIVFOR. For Tran and the other RSTM students, this was their first chance to step off the RPB while operating with a riverine boat crew in a real-world environment.
“It was very slippery, to be real about it, but also, it brought the whole mission together to be out there with RCC and seeing what they do,” Tran said. “Integrating together made all the training come together and you can realize what you’re doing while you’re doing it and how things play out. That’s what it did for me.”
For Ortiz, completing RCC and RSTM reinforced what CORIVFOR is all about to him: teamwork.
“Everybody works hard. We work together, regardless of rank, color or sex,” Ortiz said. “We keep each other motivated. If anybody’s falling behind or feels like they’re having a bad day, we come together as a team and help each other out.”
CORIVFOR is composed of 2,500 active and about 2,000 Reserve sailors capable of conducting 24-hour operations. These sailors perform core maritime expeditionary security missions in the green and brown waters, bridging the gap between traditional Navy blue water operations and land-based forces, providing port and harbor security for vital waterways and protection of high value assets and maritime infrastructure.
Warren said she encourages other women to try and join CORIVFOR, but to make sure they are ready for the challenging training.
“It’s gonna smoke check you,” Warren said. “It’ll make you actually see for sure if you really want to do this when you go through this school. But if you want to do it, I say do it.”
Tran, Evans and Warren, along with the previous women to complete the RTC, are now qualified for billets with CORIVFOR in small craft units alongside their male shipmates.
For more news from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/necc/.