PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- Whether searching a dhow in the Persian Gulf for hidden weapons, or boarding and inspecting a suspected pirate mothership off the coast of Somalia, visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) teams are playing an important part in the Navy's 21st century Maritime Strategy.
Managed by the Center for Security Forces (CENSECFOR) in Norfolk, Va., formal VBSS training was created following the Gulf War in 1990 as a way to standardize and continue the Maritime Interception Operations introduced there as a result of UN resolutions.
"The course was designed to standardize what was previously done through on-the-job training and passdown," said Kurt Martin, anti-terrorism program manager for CENSECFOR. "We introduced the curriculum in 1998 and updated it in 2005 to reflect what the teams would be facing in the fleet."
Initial VBSS skills training is delivered by CENSECFOR at four locations: Chesapeake, Va., Mayport, Fla., San Diego and Pearl Harbor. The initial training continuum includes three courses lasting a total of eight weeks, with some team members receiving additional follow-on training. Skills taught in the VBSS courses include tactical movement and shooting, defensive tactics, repelling, searching and other team skills.
The center's training covers both VBSS Level I, which focuses on ships that comply with the instructions of the inspection team, and Level II, which addresses the tactics used to board vessels that are non-compliant. Level II ships have freeboard (the distance between the waterline and the main deck of the ship) of 25 feet or less above the water. Non-compliant vessels that have greater than 25 feet of freeboard, or that are actively opposing the boarding, are handled by teams of Special Operations Forces (SOF).
"Time and again on this deployment, the investment in training of my VBSS team has paid off," said Cmdr. Steve Murphy, commanding officer of USS Mahan (DDG 72), currently operating as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, a multinational task force conducting counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
"Whether in support of the counter-narcotics mission or our new, more aggressive approach to stopping piracy, extensive training and the teamwork and principles of risk management that it has instilled has resulted in safe mission accomplishment."
Although antipiracy operations are getting significant news coverage, Martin notes that VBSS teams are not specifically trained for an antipiracy mission.
"You won't find the term 'antipiracy' in any of the CENSECFOR VBSS training curriculum," added Martin.
"The fact that the ships depend on the VBSS teams is a by-product of the cohesive unit that forms, and their ability to deliver the team via rigid-hull inflatable boats, board vessels and, if necessary, defend themselves should the situation arise. VBSS teams are on Navy ships throughout the world 24/7, keeping the bad guys from smuggling everything from guns to cocaine."
"VBSS teams are an all-volunteer force, and generally consist of young, athletic Sailors that are gung-ho," said Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate (SW) Michael Edwards, training and readiness action officer for Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic. "It's an intense program that is challenging to complete, but the experience and results are worth it. The missions are interesting and varied; as a VBSS team member afloat, life is never dull."
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