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Navy Riverine Units Make Kit Compromises

In case you didn't see it, we posted a new story this morning at Military.com that describes how the Navy's Riverine squadrons are shifting from Iraq to new missions across the globe.

It's the final week of pre-deployment training for the Yorktown, Va.-based Detachment 2, Riverine Squadron 3, and for the first time in its five-year existence, Sailors and their leaders are unsure what the future holds. Established in 2006 to fight insurgents and train security forces along Iraq's Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the Navy's Riverine squadrons are now searching for missions.

According to the Riverines' overall commander, the near constant deployments to Iraq were great for establishing the "brown water" force within the Navy's increasingly diverse portfolio, but the downside was few commanders outside the Iraq mission understood what the unique force could bring to the fight.

"For the last five years, the Riverines were fully invested in what was going on in Iraq," said Capt. Chris Halton, commodore of the Norfolk-based Riverine Group 1. "That left very little capacity to do other missions in other [operations areas]."

"We are still building awareness and understanding of what the capabilities of the Riverines are in other AORs," he added.

Roger that...I can see how these guys could be used for training missions around the world no problem -- they just need to find the funds.

But one of the concerns not addressed in the Milcom story that I'll touch on here is the issue of kit. These guys were pretty bummed out about some of their gear items -- most importantly their body armor. They were forced to wear the Eagle Maritime CIRAS body armor vest with accessories -- including throat, neck and groin protectors. Not a bad armor system, but it seemed to most that given their mission, a plate carrier would have been more appropriate.

But commander's aren't being arbitrary about it.

"Some of them do not like the amount of body armor we require them to wear," Halton told Kit Up!. "I've looked personally very closely at the amount of equipment each Sailor is wearing. And in my eyes it's a trade off. Every time I lower the amount of body armor they're wearing it's a trade off of can I look someone's father or mother in the eye and say 'your son or daughter was severely injured or killed because they weren't wearing this particular piece of body armor that I knew was available. And I made a conscious decision not to make them wear that because it was better for the mission. In in most cases it has been 'no, I cannot justify that.' "
Their weapons were straight up M4s with full length barrels -- which none complained about but seemed to me to be a bit large for boat ops. They had the old school BDUs and weren't allowed to wear combat shirts or any variations of the uniform -- which proved pretty hot and miserable in the 100+ heat of Fort Knox (and probably Basra too).

They did have new "high side trim" ballistic helmets that replaced the awful combat vehicle crew helmets they previously wore and the Sailors were given a lot of leeway to customize their kit for color and weight distribution. We saw some cool MacGyver innovations, including duck decoy counter weights and bungie chord retention systems for their weapons.

Some of the Sailors complained that it seemed that their gear issue reflected the conventional mindset of the Blue Water Navy rather than the more innovative and forward thinking special warfare community. The Riverines are stuck in the middle on this issue, with many of their instructor cadre, tactics and missions deriving very closely from the SWCC community while still falling under Fleet hierarchy.

But Commodore Halton explained the decisions are a balancing act.

We spend a lot of time looking at the gear we issue to our folks. That's an area my folks and I look at frequently -- I mean 'frequently' as in every week. We recently started issuing a new type of helmet. It provides protection, but it's got a slightly different cut above the ear so it works better with that particular headset that we use. So, we are listening to what our sailors are telling us. ... The bottom line is there are some limitations and we have to standardize the whole force. I'm never going to go to a group and ask how is your equipment and everyone is going to go 'we love it.' There are a number of personal preferences people have, however we go with what we believe to be the best equipment at a cost effective rate. If I'm going to be the sole purchaser of something, then I better have a damned good reason why I'm spending taxpayer dollars that way.
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