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Training and Education

Educating the Next Generation

Preparing New Coastal Riverines for Combat

When considering American naval warfare, you might think back to images of the Revolutionary War when wooden-hulled ships fired volleys broadside at each other until one yielded or faced certain sinking.


You might remember World War II-era battleships with guns that could hurl projectiles with speed and accuracy at foes miles away. Or maybe the modern-day aircraft carrier that provides the mobility and flexibility to engage enemy forces around the world at a moment's notice.

Most people, however, probably do not think of Sailors who operate in coastal regions and inland waterways. Historically called “brown-water” Sailors, they're now known as the Coastal Riverine Force (CRF).

The Coastal Riverine Force operates in harbors, rivers, bays, across the littorals and ashore, providing support whenever and wherever the Navy needs it. But before these Sailors step foot on a patrol boat, they must complete a thorough and rigorous training curriculum at the Center for Security Forces (CENSECFOR) learning site on board Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“The students go through a pipeline for basic navigation, advanced navigation and coxswain training,” said Chief Engineman Shawn Williamson, a patrol boat instructor at the learning site. “We have a one-week course for basic navigation where students learn things like plotting time, speed and distance on a chart. In the advanced navigation course, they take what they learned in basic and apply it to an electronic system. Then for the coxswain course, the students are both driving and navigating patrol boats.”

Sailors begin waterway navigation training without the use of digital mapping and GPS technology. Williamson emphasized a need to prepare for any situation, including those in which more modern tools may not be available.

Ben Walker, another boat instructor, highlighted how the staff takes a “crawl, walk, run” approach with students when discussing their progression through the basic and advanced navigation courses. He said students build an educational foundation that starts with plotting and navigating shorter, less difficult over-water routes, and culminates with longer transits over more open water to prepare them for any environment they could encounter.

“The training is extremely difficult,” Walker said, “[but] the challenges the students have are overcome by our experience. I've been an instructor since 2004, and the more open and receptive the student is, the easier it is for them to learn and quickly pick up on the material. What I want the students to take away from the training is a solid foundation in navigation and small boat handling, and I feel we do that extremely well.”

Moose patrol boats, designed to mimic CRF patrol boats, are used to teach open ocean, over-the-horizon (OTH) navigation, in varying sea states and under various dynamic conditions, both day and night. Training also involves classroom and lab instruction in the areas of safety fundamentals and boat operations, including man overboard procedures, launch and recovery, and emergency casualty control.

“The 36-foot Moose patrol boat is an ideal training platform; very stable and safe,” said Jeff Tall, CENSECFOR expeditionary warfare program manager. “Its aluminum symmetrical catamaran hull is a New Zealand design for rescue in heavy surf.” Moose boats have walk-around, enclosed cabins with cuddies; engine-driven heating, ventilation and air conditioning; GPS; depth sounders; three .50-caliber stanchions and more.
“These are great classes,” said Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Austin Newman, a student in the advanced navigation and coxswain courses. “They are the basis of what we operate on. You can't just go to your squadron and expect to get trained in-house because they're usually busy with more training and deployment work-up cycles. If we don't have these, then we can't operate, and that means failing the mission and everyone around us.”

Patrol boat operations only make up half of the training at CENSECFOR Learning Site Camp Lejeune, however. Sailors also must complete advanced firearms exercises with classroom instruction and spend multiple live-fire days on the shooting range. They're expected to have a working knowledge of both the M9 service pistol and M4 service rifle prior to beginning the course, and weapons training consists of a single day of coursework and eight days in the field.

“At Center for Security Forces Learning Site Camp Lejeune, we train coastal riverine commands in advanced combat shooting,” said Chief Machinist's Mate Jason Whitt, a range instructor at the learning site. “When the students first get here, they're sometimes a little rough at consistently hitting their mark, but by the end, they've worked thoroughly with both the pistol and rifle, and are operating at a category-three level as expert marksmen.”

Whitt added that Sailors who go through the course have time to familiarize themselves with shooting targets at varying distances, with and without obstacles forcing them to fire from the standing, kneeling and prone positions.

Once they're proficient in those areas, the students' stationary skills are put to the test. By introducing tactical movements and shooting and reloading on the go, they get what instructors described as “a more real, true-to-life” idea of what a combat situation could look like. The same goes for night operations — another aspect of training to teach the Sailors how to engage targets while using night-vision goggles.

“No matter the mission, we do our best to prepare for it here,” Whitt said. “We are very thorough. When our students leave, they're operating effectively and efficiently, ready for the challenges they will face when in a hostile combat environment.”

The goal is simple: to provide the most practical and effective training possible, so instructors can rest assured knowing that the Sailors they've taught know how to handle themselves and their equipment in a manner fitting of the name “coastal riverine.”