CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Reserve Marines attached to the Ground Combat Element, Black Sea Rotational Force-11, got the unique opportunity to train in Visit, Board, Search and Seizure techniques from Marine instructors attached to Marine Corps Security Forces Regiment, Norfolk, Va., and work alongside U.S. Coast Guardsmen aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sea Otter, San Diego, Calif. The week-long, condensed course concluded March 26.
VBSS is training in maritime boarding actions and tactics to enforce international open-water laws, said Gunnery Sgt. Charles M. Evers, the training chief attached to the GCE, BSRF-11.
“We conduct them just about every time we’re out on patrol,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel H. Alexander, operations chief, USCGC Sea Otter. VBSS is designed to capture enemy vessels, combat terrorism, piracy, smuggling and conduct customs and safety inspections.
The Marines got the opportunity to board the USCGC Sea Otter, a Protector Class patrol boat assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego, San Diego, Calif., last weekend, as part of their practical application exercises.
“We got this training so we can advise foreign militaries on VBSS tactics,” said Evers. “For reserve infantry Marines, this is an opportunity they wouldn’t normally get because of operational tempo and the justification to get into those schools.”
“Even on the active duty side, this type of training for riflemen rarely exists,” said Sgt. Todd A. Brown, an active-duty Marine attached to the GCE, BSRF-11. The course was condensed to six training days, focusing on the most important aspects that the Marines will use to advise foreign militaries in VBSS, he added.
Marine instructors taught ship-boarding and clearing techniques, equipment setup, mission planning, hooking and climbing, rappelling with grappling hooks and ladders, key areas of a ship, and containing and maintaining personnel and vessel, said Evers, a Lewiston, Idaho, native.
These skills are absolutely vital if you’re going to be operating in a maritime environment and boarding vessels, dealing with people, checking safety equipment, and pursuing anti-terrorist activities, said Alexander.
The USCGC Sea Otter, an 87-foot patrol boat with a 12-man crew, is used for missions that include combating smuggling, illegal immigration, marine fishery regulations enforcement, and search and rescue support in the southwest maritime border between U.S. and Mexico, said Alexander.
U.S. Coastguardsmen provided the vessel, personnel, rigid-inflatable boat (RIB), more commonly known as a “Zodiac raft,” and support for the Marines’ practical application of their training, said Lance Cpl. James A. Scarborough, a Marine rifleman attached to the GCE, BSRF-11.
“I thought it was super generous that they came out and let us use their ship and opened up their whole day to us to help us train on their downtime,” said Scarborough. “I never worked with the Coast Guard before but they really know their jobs! We consider ourselves the elite in combat and it is the same for them on the ocean.” added the Montevallo, Ala., native.
Coast Guardsmen respond to VBSS scenarios domestically and internationally every time they are out on patrol, said Alexander. This includes educational boarding and inspection of safety equipment, checking operational compliance and regulations, and any vessel with illegal activity; the smuggling of drugs, immigrants, arms and ammunition, terrorism and insurgent activity, and transportation of weapons of mass destruction, among other threats, he added. “We don’t work with Marines a lot, this was a new experience for me,” said Alexander.
“You could tell for them it was a bit of a challenge because of the new vessel and environment but they had the basics of close-quarters combat down. It was a good experience,” added the Simi Valley, Calif., native.
“A lot of general Coast Guard training and missions are what VBSS is,” said Lance Cpl. Zachery L. Coleman. “They gave us a lot of tips and techniques we didn’t know as a Marine Corps VBSS team.”
The Marines with BSRF-11 are preparing to deploy to the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus region this year as part of a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force composed of almost 200 reserve Marines from all across the nation. Their unique mission is to promote regional stability, build partnerships with host nations and build the military training capacity of foreign armed forces with over twelve Eastern European nations. Select countries participating in security cooperation activities with BSRF-11 requested the VBSS training, said Brown, a native of Lubbock, Texas.
It is vital that Marines advise foreign militaries on VBSS to give them a foundation to build on for conducting their own counter-piracy operations and regulate narcotics transportation and activity in their home ports, said Brown. According to the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board, narcotics’ trafficking has increased in the Black Sea and Balkan regions in recent years, and increasingly larger quantities of narcotics including cocaine and heroin are being reported.
“The coast guard and Marine instructors did a good job of preparing me. I learned a lot and I feel I’ll be able to pass it down,” said Coleman. “It was a good experience for us as well,” said Alexander. “It went really smoothly and we were glad to be able to help the Marines and give them a platform for them to hone their skills.”
“[The Coast Guard] does VBSS more than we ever will, and they gave us insights on that,” said Evers. “The Marines took their training very seriously and still had fun with it. It’s going to help us out a lot when it comes to actually teaching these tactics to foreign militaries because they are on top of their business and very professional.”