September 2, 2004
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Patrolling the Gulf with Jersey-based
Story and photos
by PA2 Zachary A. Crawford
USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia Public Affiars
is committed to the cause. There is something to be said for
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
working aboard the platforms, local fishermen and Australian and French
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
"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."
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.
|Petty Officer 2d Class David Turner, takes a quick drink of water while onboard an oil tanker.
"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
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
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.
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© 2004. All opinions expressed in this
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