Look Out Below

Story and photographs by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

COAST GUARD SECURITY TEAM CONDUCTS VERTICAL INSERTION
AND FULL CAPABILITY EXERCISE

GALVESTON, Texas – The helicopter crewman slides open the side door and attaches a 60-foot rope to the hoist and lets it fall to the ship’s deck about 40 feet below. The boarding team members, anxious about the uncertainties that lay ahead, check their weapons and start moving towards the open door. A vertical insertion onto a ship sounds simple: grab the rope, look down and let gravity do the rest. If it was only that easy.

The Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston conducted a vertical insertion recertification and full capability exercise onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Harry Claiborne in Galveston, Texas, on Thursday, March 1.

“Training is vital with all the mission types we do,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erik Leuenberger, commanding officer of MSST Galveston, the fourth unit of its kind commissioned into the Coast Guard in 2002. “We try to make it as real as we can for the crews, to give them a better idea of what could really happen.”

In addition to re-certifying the team members to conduct vertical insertions, the unit also exercised their full capabilities by sweeping and securing the ship once their boots safely hit the deck. The unit used modified weapons and engaged in fire-fights with role players firing paint-tipped bullets, called simulated ammunitions.

“There are about 50 places someone could hide inside a two-foot square area aboard a ship,” said Chief Petty Officer Troy Shull, of Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston. “Securing a ship is a completely different than securing a building. It’s in many ways more complex.”

Sending boarding teams by small boat has been a mainstay in the Coast Guard for more than 216 years. Since the creations of the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard’s MSSTs, that mission has gained more attention and a safer, quicker, more efficient way of putting teams aboard a ship became critical.

“The weather and rough seas can make a small boat transfer almost impossible,” said Leuenberger.

Boarding a vessel from a small boat is dependent on many factors. Uncertainties in the wave movements of the water make the actual transfer of personnel extremely dangerous. Also, if a vessel refuses to slow down so a Coast Guard boat can pull along side, a boarding by small boat simply can’t be done.

“Boarding by a helicopter is a lot faster than by a small boat,” said Shull. “Plus, I’d rather be shooting down (from a helicopter) than up from a boat.”

As port and maritime security continue to be major points of emphasis in the war on terror, teams capable of vertically inserting onto ships give the Coast Guard another tool.

“Anybody can get down the rope once, but can they do it safely and can they do it multiple times is the question,” said Leuenberger. “The mission relies our crew’s being in top physical condition.”

Coast Guard MSST’s are an integral part of Homeland Security’s layered strategy directed at protecting our ports and waterways. Whether by ground, sea or air, MSST Galveston is ready and prepared to conduct multiple missions such as law enforcement operations, underwater port security, canine explosive detection and general port and waterway security.

“Training exercises like this provide team members with the skills needed to complete these ever-changing, vital missions,” said Leuenberger.

A boarding team member from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston conducts a vertical insertion from an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during an exercise Thursday, March 1, 2007.

A boarding team member from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston conducts a vertical insertion from an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during an exercise.

Coast Guard boarding team members from Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston conduct a security patrol along the decks of the Coast Guard Cutter Harry Claiborne during an exercise on Thursday, March 1, 2007.

Coast Guard boarding team members from Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston conduct a security patrol along the decks of the Coast Guard Cutter Harry Claiborne during an exercise.

Two members of a boarding team from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston are hoisted up into an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter after conducting a vertical insertion exercise Thursday, March 1, 2007.

Two members of a boarding team from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston are hoisted up into an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter after conducting a vertical insertion exercise.

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