The U.S. Coast Guard &
Operation Iraqi Freedom
The following illustrated article covering the Coast Guard's participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom was first published in the May-June 2003 (Vol. L, No. 3) issue of the Coast Guard Reservist Magazine.
Ed’s note: YN1 Heavey is serving with PSU 313 in the Middle East. Here is a report he sent back to the States on May 1, 2003.
Anyone remember "Waterworld," the Kevin Costner movie? Well, I have been to where “dry land is a myth.” I’ve been there and back.
HS1 Ben R. Mulkey, of PSU 313 writes a letter to his wife Jennifer on the Mina al Bakr oil terminal in the North Arabian Gulf off the coast of Iraq. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
The primary mission of the Coast Guard Port Security Units (PSU 311 of San Pedro, Calif. and PSU 313 of Tacoma, Wash.) has been revealed in the popular press, so I can now speak openly. “Members of PSU 311 and 313 relieved U.S. Marines of responsibility for security on two gas and oil platforms in the Northern Persian Gulf. The Marines had held both platforms after U.S. Navy SEALS took them from the Iraqi regime.” (From a USCG press release.) The PSU mission is to hold these two economic lifelines of Iraq’s oil industry; the Gas and Oil Platforms (GOPLATS) known as Mina Al Bakr Oil Terminal (MABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT). In the first few days after the Coast Guard took over, the Iraqi soldiers who were guarding the units were still aboard as Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs).
A Coast Guardsman from PSU 313 walks the catwalk at the Mina al Bakr oil terminal. PSUs are maintaining secrutiy on oil terminals. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
The Coasties have established defensive positions at strategic points on the 1,200 yard-long platforms. Looking like an erector set construction project of some behemoth child, each platform is several smaller platform sections joined together with four- to six-foot wide catwalks. The deck on KAAOT is about 20 feet off the water and MABOT starts about 40 feet up. KAAOT gets pretty wet during the periodic storms and heavy seas that sweep through the area.MABOT starts at the South with a helicopter landing pad, that is followed by: a catwalk, oil transfer platform (can serve one tanker ship on each side) catwalk, generator platform, catwalk, another oil transfer platform also capable of serving two ships at a time, catwalk, laboratory platform, catwalk and finally on the north end, “The Condo.”
Saddam’s Regime “Upside Down”
The Condo is a four story steel-framed and steel-floored building with offices, living quarters and group rooms. High atop the living and working quarters is a huge portrait of Saddam — no doubt to “inspire” the workers. The portrait is still there, however a slight modification was made. As the EPWs were being led away to board the ships that returned them to Iraq, they walked several hundred feet out of the Condo, and were told to turn and look back. Several of them gasped, several more laughed. Saddam’s portrait now hangs upside down, as a pictorial reminder of what has been done to his regime.
Not even considering that the EPWs were held in some of the rooms for several days, the facility was filthy beyond description. Though they were responsible for bringing in millions of dollars of income for their country, the Iraqi workers were often left without food and provisions. When captured, the soldiers had been fishing for their food. The food stuffs left in the storage areas by the workers were infested with cockroaches and other vermin. Out on the platforms, when workers had to relieve themselves, there were no facilities, so they stopped wherever they were and did what they had to do.
KAAOT has a huge rat infestation. “Huge” modifies both rat and infestation. For sport, some members of the crew have gotten a hold of pellet guns. They put on their night vision goggles (NVGs) and go hunting rats. One fellow already has 30 kills. The machinery on KAAOT is in such a state of disrepair they cannot pump water or start the generators. The living area on KAAOT has been abandoned to the rats, and the crew lives in tents out in the oil pumping areas. Several crew members are sleeping inside large, unused pieces of the pipeline. Raised a couple feet off the deck, the pipes are free from rats and bugs. With a pad or two, the 48-inch wide pipes could be comfortable.
KAAOT is only six miles from Iran. For the first few weeks , the Iranians sent out patrol boats to keep an eye on the Americans. A few times, PSU 311 has fired flares, warning the Iranians to keep their distance.
“Over the Hill” Gang
Back on MABOT, the Tacoma, Wash., based crew of PSU 313 brings a wealth of technical experience especially in welding, plumbing and electrical work. The “over the hill gang” of Coastie reservists brings the combined knowledge of homeowners to bear on a difficult industrial situation. They get the electricity running, and the water flowing. They figure out how to run the de-salinization plant, making their own fresh water. They get the water heaters working, the refrigerators running and the air conditioners cooling. Using several hundred gallons of Clorox, they scrub floors, walls and ceilings. All this in their “spare” time, when they are not manning gun emplacements and conducting security patrols.
A Coast Guardsman from PSU 313 sleeps on a cot outside at Mina al Bakr oil terminal. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
The Persian Gulf turns out to be a rougher body of water than planners had thought. A storm in the first days rips away the barge which served as a water level docking platform. The PSU’s 25-foot patrol boats will be smashed to pieces if they tie up to the steel support poles which rise up from the sea floor, so they become useless to the mission. Supplies are brought in once a week via Army landing craft. The Navy and Coast Guard alternate with larger ships to patrol the six miles between the two platforms and encourage the Iranian and Iraqi fishermen to stay away from the platforms.
Periodically, a coalition ship will send a small boat over and two or three crew will transport back to the big ship for a day of liberty on a frigate or destroyer. The crew’s favorites are the British ships.After several weeks of clean-up, MABOT actually becomes a semi-pleasant place to live. But cockroaches are still an ever present companion. Most folks sleep with the lights on to keep them in hiding. They say that if you turn off the lights, wait five minutes and turn them back on, you will be greeted by a herd of cockroaches standing on their hind legs, tattoos on their arms reading “Born to Breed,” holding coffee cups, saying “Yo, buddy, what’s for dinner?”
I went out with the supply ship on a Friday in late April. It was seven hours by water from our port in Kuwait. All the supplies brought off the ship have to be passed hand over hand and up four flights of stairs (ladders as they say in the nautical world). Mail, luggage, spare parts, communications gear, Girl Scout Cookies by the case load, food, drinking water; it all must go up, up, up, one person at a time.
When all the gear is brought aboard and stowed, the supply ship leaves for KAAOT and spends the night there, before returning in the morning to complete the round trip. Even in the midst of “war,” the paperwork has to flow. I am bringing out papers which have to be signed by the crew members so they can receive certain payments. I set up a table in the dining hall and meet the crew as they come through to eat in the evening. While MREs are sometimes necessary, most of the time the food is cooked and warm. The unit cook is a reservist who normally works as a corrections officer. Many years ago, he spent four years on Coast Guard active duty as a cook on a cutter. He knows his way around a small kitchen and can feed a crew of 30 on two burners and an oven. Dinner is a fabulous baked chicken (teriyaki or hot and spicy), cheesy potatoes and fresh salad.
Members of PSU 313 take a brief break on the Mina al Bakr oil terminal in the North Arabian Gulf off the coast of Iraq. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
Breakfast the next morning is omelets made to order with orange juice and coffee. Divine!
We Are Saving Lives
RADM Mary O’Donnell, the Coast Guard Pacific Area’s ranking reservist, will be coming for a visit and they have prepared a room especially for her. Probably the cleanest room on the platform, it even has a flushable toilet. That’s a true luxury out here in Waterworld.
RADM Mary P. O’Donnell, USCGR, left, visits with members of PSU 309 in Kuwait. Photo by SCPO Tom Zaborski, PSU 309, USCGR
Among the comforts of home, the crew rigs a satellite TV antenna and they watch CNN and Fox. It is surreal to be there watching a CNN report about the readiness to begin exporting oil from Iraq. I am sitting on the very platform from where that oil will flow to the world, and the income will flow to the people of a free Iraq. The GOPLATS represent the economic future of the people of Iraq. Without these platforms, people will starve to death. Without these platforms, any chance of democracy will founder. Without these platforms, liberty will not take root in the birth place of civilization. People may still starve to death, democracy may fail to become a reality, and liberty may go another millennia before these people see the benefits of civilization. But it won’t be because the U.S. Coast Guard did not do its job. We are there and we will make sure these tools are handed over to the people of Iraq.
Many people have asked: “What is the United States Coast Guard doing in Iraq?”
The answer is simple. We are doing the same thing here we do at home. We are saving lives. Semper Paratus!
UMM QASR, Iraq — When the first humanitarian shipment arrived in the captured port of Umm Qasr, Iraq, it represented a pivotal point in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While combat operations are winding down in the north, an unprecedented humanitarian aid effort is underway which will be among the first steps in rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure and giving hope to a long-oppressed people. The Umm Qasr aid delivery is part of a huge, multi-national military and humanitarian effort, an effort in which the ships transiting the Khawr Abd Abdallah waterway from the Northern Arabian Gulf to the port will be protected by a relatively small armed force of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel from Naval Coastal Warfare Group One, home ported in San Diego, Calif.
Their waterborne security cordon is intentionally low-key.
Paul F. Floge of PSU 311 provides security with a .50-caliber machine gun on the Khawr al Amaya oil terminal off the coast of Iraq. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
Paul F. Floge of PSU 311 provides security with a .50-caliber machine gun on the Khawr al Amaya oil terminal off the coast of Iraq. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG“The ultimate test of whether we do our job is whether anyone involved in the operation will notice us,” said CAPT Allen Painter, who is in charge of the Navy’s anti-terrorism and force protection efforts in Kuwait and Iraq. “Our participation should be seamless to all except the terrorists or asymmetric forces who decide to find a softer target elsewhere.”
CAPT David Brown, the operation’s Force Security Officer is commanding the Naval Coastal Warfare forces in Iraq. He is responsible for both seaward and landward security. “The main challenge for us is to provide the force protection package we normally provide in an expeditionary warfare environment, without the advantages of having access to our usual supply and logistics support,” said Brown.
PSU 311 on patrol in the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq.
Typically, Naval Coastal Warfare units deploy to a low-to-medium threat area in a port or harbor that has already been secured and ready for continuous, sustained operations. The port of Umm Qasr was only recently taken by allied forces and the British, who are still working to get the port fully operational to support the large humanitarian sealift.
“Basically, Umm Qasr is a work in progress,” said Brown. From his command center, Brown and his staff oversee the efforts of the system of sensors and operators that keep the large ships safe as they make their final transit up the river into the port’s shipping channel, moor to a pier, conduct offloads and then transit back to sea.Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 114 from Kansas City, Mo. is operating with Naval Coastal Warfare Group One. Commanding Officer Scott Jerabek is the Seaward Security Officer. His sailors use a suite of sensors that provide radar, sonar, thermal and visual imaging of the seaward and immediate landward area. In addition to the high-tech sensors, Jerabek also uses armed lookouts to keep track of river traffic.
Coast Guard GM2 Randy K. Ven Swencey, of Monterey, Calif., repairs a .50 caliber machine gun in the Port Security 311 Armory in Umm Quasr, Iraq April 20. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
Coast Guard FS1 Fred N. Wilson, 34, of Winston Salem, NC., assigned to Port Security 311, works on the chow line in Umm Quasr, Iraq on Easter April 20. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
Ships are escorted into port and defended pier-side by U.S. Coast Guard PSU 311, home ported in Long Beach, Calif. and U.S. Navy Inshore Boat Unit 14 from St. Louis, Mo. The two boat units use small, fast, heavily-armed speedboats to conduct patrols against potential threats including swimmers, divers and bomb-laden suicide boats, such as those that attacked the USS Cole and French tanker M/V Linburg.
Also supporting Naval Coastal Warfare Group One is Explosive Ordnance Mobile Unit Two, Detachments 20 and 22 from Little Creek, Va. EOD is responsible for ensuring that piers, ships and waterways are clear of mines, bombs, grenades and any other device that may imperil a ship or personnel operating in the port.
DC3 Bryce A. Douglas and MK3 Louis H. Ciccoli, both of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 311, move barrels in Umm Quasr, Iraq April 20 as Iraqi teenagers pass by. Photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto, USCG
After the attack on the USS Cole, Naval Coastal Warfare Group One units were called in to protect several ports and harbors in the Middle East, and multiple units were deployed immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Some of those same units involved in Operation Noble Eagle are presently serving in ports throughout the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Naval Coastal Warfare Group One is based in San Diego. Units currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom are under the direction of Commander, Task Force 51. They are: Harbor Defense Command Unit (HDCU) 114, Long Beach, Calif.; Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit (MIUWU) 114, Kansas City, Mo.; MIUWU 109, Fort Worth, Texas; MIUWU106, San Diego, Calif.; Inshore Boat Unit (IBU) 11, Everett, Wash.; IBU 13, Portland, Ore.; IBU 14, St. Louis, Mo.; IBU 15, Corpus Christi, Texas; IBU 16, Long Beach, Calif.; IBU 17, San Diego, Calif.; USCG PSU 311, Long Beach, Calif.; USCG PSU 313, Tacoma, Wash.; USCG PSU 309, Port Clinton, Ohio; EOD Mobile Unit Two, Detachments 20 and 22, Little Creek, Va.
BMC Ted Cooley holds the distinction of being the oldest Coastie deployed overseas for Iraqi Freedom. He began his career in San Diego with the Navy in 1959. After a long separation, he joined Coast Guard Reserve in 1981. Over the years, he has served as a drilling reservist in Los Angeles/Long Beach, San Diego, Reserve Unit National Strike Force Exercise Support in Salt Lake City, and Station Lake Tahoe before transferring to PSU 311 in 1999.
The last 20 months have been busy for Cooley and Coast Guard Port Security Units with deployments to major U.S. ports, Kuwait, Bahrain and now Iraq. The chief returned home to retire on May 15, 2003, at the age of 62 with 26 years of service.
BMC Cooley has many fond memories of his time in the Coast Guard, but above all he appreciates the people who he credits with having the greatest personal influence on him: BMCS Larry Woolsey, QMCM Neil Holmdahl, CWO Tony Fikac, MCPOCG Rick Trent and Reserve Force Master Chief George Ingraham.
— By MCPO Tom Cowan, USCGR
By LT Tony Russell, USCG
here to access this portion of the
USCG Reservist Magazine article on OIF
PSU 305 Returns Home!
FORT EUSTIS, Va. — These guys should be in the commuter hall of fame.
By the time they touched down at Langley Air Force Base in the waning moments of May 6, the 100-odd members of Virginia-based Port Security Unit 305 had endured a 15-hour ride home from work.
“ ‘We’re finally home’ is probably what I was thinking,” said PS1 Tim Pais, a firefighter in Fairfax County when he’s not wearing Coast Guard camouflage. “It was a very long flight with many different stops. It was like, ‘Hey, we’re finally here.’ ”
The unit left Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — for its third deployment in 20 months, this one in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Earlier, PSU 305 was deployed to New York Harbor just hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and later spent five months providing security at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Members of Port Security Unit 305 returned to the United States May 7, after being deployed to U.S. European Command as part of the Global War on terrorism. USCG photo by PA3 Donnie Brzuska.
Its latest deployment took members to Rota, Spain, where they provided training to Navy security specialists while awaiting a possible deployment to Turkey — an order that never came.
When members marched off the bus outside the gym at their Fort Eustis home early May 7, many had been awake for more than 26 hours. But that didn’t dim the celebration for family members who packed the bleachers, listening to a brief address by RADM Duncan C. Smith III, LANTAREA’s Deputy Area Commander for Mobilization and Reserve Affairs.
PS3 Alex Austin greets his 3-year-old son, Izik, in the Ft. Eustis gym after his return from a deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. USCG photo by PA2 John Masson, USCGR
“It’s hard to complain about a war that went quicker than expected, and with fewer casualties,” said CDR Robert Grabb, PSU 305’s Commanding Officer. “But it’s nice to be back here. We were prepared for a six-month deployment. When we left, we fully expected not to return until September or October. To get back and look forward to having the whole summer pleased everyone.”
— By PA2 John Masson, USCGR, LANTAREA Public Affairs
PSU 305 stands in formation in the Fort Eustis gym after their return from a deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. RADM Duncan Smith, USCGR, welcomed the unit upon arrival May 7. USCG photo courtesy MCPO George P. Ingraham, Reserve Force Master Chief.
Iraqi War Briefs
Adak takes Iraqi POWs
NORTHERN PERSIAN GULF — Three Iraqi sailors were captured in the Northern Gulf, the first Prisoners of War (POWs) taken by the U.S. Coast Guard. The 24-member crew of the CGC Adak plucked the Iraqi sailors from the sea March 21. The Iraqis jumped overboard as their patrol boat was destroyed by coalition forces operating in the Gulf. The three Iraqi sailors were the only known survivors of the attack. The POWs were taken aboard the Adak and later transferred to an undisclosed location. The crew aboard the Adak are part of the 650-strong contingent of Coast Guard personnel who were deployed to the region to support Operating Enduring Freedom.
Coast Guard safeguards captured oil platforms
PERSIAN GULF — Members of Coast Guard PSU 311 and 313 relieved U.S. Marines March 22 of responsibility for security on two gas and oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. In addition to the PSUs, Coast Guard men and women are serving on four 110-foot patrol boats, a 378-foot high-endurance cutter, a 225-foot buoy tender, as well as in two law enforcement detachments and operational elements of the Department of Defense. PSU 311 and PSU 313 patrolled U.S. waters with their armed 25-foot boats along with other Coast Guard assets immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. PSU 311 deployed to the Persian Gulf from October 2001 to April 2002 to provide force protection for U.S. and allied warships.
Coast Guard locates Iraqi weapons cache
PERSIAN GULF — Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 205, homeported in Portsmouth, Va., and embarked on board the USS Chinook, located and secured a large Iraqi military equipment and weapons cache hidden in coastal caves in Southern Iraq April 7. Among the weapons found were small arms, grenades, rocket launchers, missiles, explosive devices, gas masks, uniforms and ammunition. The weapons will be destroyed by explosives ordnance handling personnel.
Coast Guard, Navy escort Arab aid shipment to Iraq
PERSIAN GULF — The Coast Guard Cutter Wrangell and the Navy vessel USS Firebolt, with embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 406, escorted the first commercially transported humanitarian aid shipment into the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr April 11. The M/V Manar, owned by Manar Marine Services of the United Arab Emirates, delivered almost 700 tons of humanitarian aid including food, water, first aid and transport vehicles. This aid shipment was supplied and coordinated by the UAE Red Crescent Society. This is the fourth aid shipment to arrive in Umm Qasr since the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The first three shipments were transported on British and Spanish naval vessels. Coalition warships including the Coast Guard’s 110-ft Patrol Boats Wrangell, Adak and Aquidneck, and the Navy’s 170-ft Patrol Craft Chinook and Firebolt, with Coast Guard LEDETs 205 and 406, have escorted each shipment to ensure its safe arrival. Specific operations being conducted by Coast Guard forces include maritime interdiction operations, humanitarian aid shipment escorts, port and coastal security and oil terminal security.