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Coast Guard Cutter 'Adak' Protects Iraqi Lifelines
Coast Guard Cutter 'Adak' Protects Iraqi Lifelines

 

September 2, 2004

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Patrolling the Gulf with Jersey-based Boat
Story and photos by PA2 Zachary A. Crawford
USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia Public Affiars


"Everyone is committed to the cause. There is something to be said for that."

NORTHERN ARABIAN GULF-Members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak (WPB-1333) are doing their part to deter terrorism and protect Iraqi and coalition assets in the Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG).

The 21-member cutter based out of Sandy Hook, New Jersey has been performing this role in the Middle East for almost three years with various crews and now share this responsibility with five other Coast Guard patrol boats. Coincidently, this is the biggest group of Coast Guard 110-foot patrol boats to ever operate in the region.

The mission for the Adak and her counterparts is not only to protect the oil assets for the benefit of the Iraqi people and its government, but also to ensure safety and security among other coalition assets and civilians. Some of which include U.S. Marines and Sailors working aboard the platforms, local fishermen and Australian and French Naval vessels.

The commanding officer of the Adak, Lt. Joe Vealencis, from Oxford, Conn., has been in charge of his boat for several months now patrolling these waters.

"Our mission is to provide a vital function for the group in shallow waters, we are conducting boardings, stopping suspicious vessels approaching warning zones that surround crucial Iraqi infrastructure, inspecting cargo before they enter Iraqi ports. Its an important job," said Vealencis. "Someone once asked me what a typical day is like out here and I just told them we don't have an average day. One day we are providing platform security or chasing a tug who is not cleared and giving them a moment of pause to think about what they're doing."

One of the younger crewmen of the Adak explains a few of the difficulties working in such an environment.

"We are facing a few difficulties out here in the NAG that I've never encountered before now," said Judge. "We are essentially fighting against a faceless enemy who is definitely out there but is very hard to detect and pick out in a ever-growing mass of vessels and people."

Working in the waters off the coastlines of Iraq, Iran and Kuwait have also brought up another issue the Adak is battling.

"The language barrier has definitely put a hindrance on our ability to communicate and interact with the local population while underway patrolling the waters of the NAG," said Judge. "We have to find other ways to communicate by using hand signals and pre-recorded messages in Arabic projected through huge loudspeakers."

Some of the crewmembers also say that this type of operating environment is seen nowhere else in the world.

"Our job here is to defend these oil platforms. We have to remember anything can happen anytime. We are responsible for the safety of the crew," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Doug Heding, boatswain's mate on the Adak and Riverside, California native. "Some of the biggest differences between working out here than working back in the states are that we work a lot more here than we do back home. The 110-foot patrol boats have more underway hours here than a 378-foot cutter in the States."

Petty Officer 2d Class David Turner, takes a quick drink of water while onboard an oil tanker.
Although the hours may be long and trying, Vealencis says that is why it is so important to make this a job available only to those who want it.

"These guys could be stationed at a small boat station or the boat could be back in Sandy Hook, New Jersey and could be running on a regular patrol schedule and the crew would have life a lot easier," said Vealencis. "But everyone is committed to the cause. There is something to be said for that."

"Everyone onboard this ship is a volunteer. There is nothing in the world stronger than the heart of the volunteer. Volunteers have operated the Adak since 2002. Rather than getting new crews to PCS to Jersey, they solicit for volunteers to come here to Bahrain," said Vealencis. "Right away, a lot of the problems that you think would occur with an overseas deployment disappear because they have all volunteered for this job and are personally committed to the job they are doing and the mission."

As far as what Vealencis expects out of his crew, he says he's asking them for the same thing anyone would ask from their friends and co-workers.

"I expect them to do their best, give me 100 percent effort. In school we talked about command philosophy but I'm only 28, I don't philosophize about much, but I do however have expectations," said Vealencis. "My crew understands that we have to be committed to this mission and understand this boat is a an instrument of national security and we will not falter in our duties. My number one priority is the mission and second only to that is the safety and well being of my crew and this ship's safety. If I am called to put this patrol boat into action and have to put me and mine in harms way in order to complete an objective, that's what we have to do."

According to Vealencis, teamwork and family is important to all aspects of life no matter what kind of job you have and out here it is of the utmost importance.

"I expect them to act like a team and treat each other like a family because behind every Coastie, Marine, Soldier, Airman and Sailor is a family, either a wife, a father or mother, brother, or that obnoxiously proud uncle who hangs pictures all over the place and annoys the neighbors," said Vealencis. "Those are the people these guys are fighting for. The minute things go south back home, you will see your top performers sliding down gradually so we have to take care of each other as a family."

Some of the crewmembers refer to the Captain and one of the Chief Petty Officers as 'Dad,' which had brought up questions about how a man so young can be in charge of a wartime patrol boat.

"It's not easy, but it's not difficult, said Vealencis, at age 28, about his age compared to the rest of the crew. "It's all about expectation management. I step on board and they expect me to be their captain and I expect them to be my crew. As long as both are met, everyone's happy."



Coming from a headquarters unit in the Coast Guard where personnel was top priority, to coming to the Middle East where it's changed has been one of Vealencis' harder subjects to tackle.

"The hardest thing to realize between this job and my last one is that now my priorities have changed from the safety and well being of my ship and my crew to the completion of the mission," said Vealencis. "That's the hardest thing I've had to come to grips with since I've been here. If you can internalize that and move on, you'd be fine."

Many people locally and back in the United States have asked the ever burning question about when is this all going to end and when is the U.S. military presence going to pull out of the area.

"I believe its going to take some time for the Iraqi CDF build an infrastructure and develop capabilities and personnel to the point where they can perform this mission in the same capacity as the Coast Guard, Navy and coalition assets have been doing this whole time out here," said Vealencis. "We will continue to train them the best we can and I think slowly but surely the ICDF will take over. If you get a group of committed volunteers and train and outfit them properly, they can do this job. In the meantime all of these coalition sea service members are doing this mission."

The role of the Adak and the other U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats in the Middle East is a vital one. The patrol boats and the U.S. Navy's four Coastal Patrol Crafts make up a force, which patrols the waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf and surrounding areas to help protect Iraqi territorial waters, and offshore oil platforms, which are vital assets for the economy of the Iraqi people. The cutters are also tasked with maritime interdiction operations, conducting boardings at sea aboard cargo and passenger vessels.

For more photos, see the accompanying photo essay Aboard USCG 'Adak' in Northern Arabian Gulf.

[Have an opinion on this column? Sound Off on the Coast Guard discussion forum!]

2004. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

 
 



 



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