Army National Guard Soldiers training Coast Guard Reservists for deployment

By Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell

CAMP EDWARDS, Mass. – On Sept. 11, a Thursday and the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Coast Guard Reservists fired M240 machine guns, trained in convoy operations, and refined other skills they may one day need to combat another terrorist attack against American men and women.

The “Coasties,” members of Port Security Unit 301, are training for a deployment that they are expecting within the next two years as part of the Global War on Terrorism. Soldiers in the Massachusetts National Guard are showing them the Army’s ropes.

The two weeks of training going on during September’s middle weeks here is a classic case of how the American armed forces are working together these days to defend this country at home and abroad. The National Guard is training the Coast Guard. The Department of Defense is training the Department of Homeland Security.

Specifically, two Army Guard sergeants are training the Coast Guard unit’s 50 or so land security personnel in such things as land navigation, combat medical procedures and evacuations, convoy operations, and recognizing improvised explosive devices while the crews that man the unit’s six high-speed patrol boats – 25-foot Boston Whalers – are honing their skills at sea.

“This is the kind of joint training that will make this country stronger against those who would do us harm,” said Col. Francis McGinn, commander of the Massachusetts Army Guard Training Site at this sprawling military post of sand and scrub pine on upper Cape Cod.

PSU 301, commanded by Cmdr. Peter Conley of Georgia, is one of the Coast Guard’s reserve units specially trained to safeguard American military personnel and ships on shore and on the water in foreign ports and to combat the kind of attack that killed 17 Sailors aboard the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000.

The Coast Guard unit is based at Camp Edwards as is a Massachusetts Army Guard tactical training team. They are neighbors. This is the first time, however, that they are working so closely together.

“We are ready, and we have the confidence to go on station overseas because of this training,” said Conley early into the second week of classroom instruction and practical training in the field. “This partnership has enabled us to become better prepared for our deployment.”

“This the first time that we are employing the National Guard’s support to this extent,” said Lt. Cameron McCampbell, an active duty Coast Guard officer who is the logistics officer for PSU 301. “We are learning how the Army operates and what to expect if we deploy into a bigger unit,” he added.

Ordinarily, the Cape Cod unit trains under other Coast Guard personnel at the Marine Corps’s base in Camp Lejeune, S.C., explained Port Security Chief Matt McClintock of New Bedford, Mass., the senior enlisted member in unit’s Security Division.

“Being able to capitalize on this training center here is huge for us,” McClintock said. “This reinforces and builds on everything we do at Camp Lejeune.”

The Massachusetts Army Guard trainers include Staff Sgt. Jeff Cordeiro and Sgt. John Slager, both veterans of the war on terrorism. Cordeiro served in Kuwait with the Massachusetts Guard’s 379th Engineer Company in 2003. Slager was an active Army Soldier from Fort Bragg, N.C., who helped provide security for the Marines during the invasion of Iraq the same year.

Likewise, serving far from their New England and New York homes is not exactly new to members of PSU 301. The unit was commissioned in August 2005 and began a six-month deployment to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in December 2006.

Port security units must be prepared to deploy within four days if they are called to duty and to be fully operational within 24 hours at their new location, explained Lt. Dan Orchard, a unit spokesman. However, PSU 301 is taking full advantage of the time it has been given to prepare for its next scheduled deployment.

The Coast Guard unit moved into Tactical Training Base Kelley at Camp Edwards on Sept. 12, day seven of the training, to spend September’s second weekend living and training with members of the Massachusetts Army Guard’s 164th Transportation Battalion.

The tactical training base is a new, 10-acre compound of brown tents surrounded by a reinforced wall. It replicates a forward operations base in Afghanistan or Iraq, and it can accommodate 600 troops, said McGinn who was the garrison commander for Forward Operating Base Speicher in Iraq in 2005. The Camp Edwards training base is named for Massachusetts Army Guard Sgt. Michael Kelley who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 8, 2005.

The Army Guard trainers and Coast Guard students have given each other high marks.

“They’re really absorbing it all very well,” said Cordeiro. “When we get to the practical exercises, everything that they have learned in the classroom really comes together for them.”

“This training is excellent,” said Port Security 2nd Class Sean McCarthy, a former active Army Soldier who has undergone this training before. “I’m a bit rusty after being away from this for six years. But for a lot of these guys, this is a first.”

“The professionalism and wisdom of our Army National Guard instructors,” said Orchard, “is preparing us for an overseas operation like nothing else in this area could.”

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