By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Robyn Gerstenslager, Naval Special Warfare Group 4 Public Affairs
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) -- Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) from Special Boat Team 22 (SBT-22) completed Dec. 15 a two-week coxswain training on Mississippi's Pearl River.
Coxswain training is the first of numerous steps along the way for a special boat operator to earn his boat captain qualification. In order to earn the title of boat captain a special boat operator must go through a rigorous training pipeline, which begins with coxswain training.
"This training is a small, short step of many big, long steps to becoming a boat captain," said Special Boat Operator 1st Class Brad Rumbaugh (SWCC/PJ), a boat captain with SBT-22. "This is a hop and a skip compared to the marathon ahead."
The SWCC currently receiving the coxswain training were selected because of their proven ability to lead Sailors, and capacity to read and react to stressful situations in an effective manner. They have also completed at least one deployment.
Coxswain training familiarizes the new drivers with the ins and outs of the boat and how it reacts to different situations on the water. Special boat operators assigned to SBT-22 operate and maintain the Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R).
"They are learning how it reacts with the throttle accelerating, and how the buckets control the boat's movement," said Rumbaugh. "They are also learning what it feels like when the boat hits a wake and how to mitigate that impact to make it nice and smooth. They need to be able to navigate the rivers in a smooth line."
The driver must be able to keep a smooth course to provide a level platform for his gunners, and the safety of his crew.
The boat drivers not only need to maintain control of their boat, but must also be aware of the other boats in formation. By driving in formation they learn how the other drivers react to different situations and what they need to do to adjust because of the other drivers' responses.
To gain a better understanding of the other drivers' habits they practice high-speed formations, tight-placement formations and starting and stopping together. They learn to navigate in small spaces along the twists and turns of the Pearl River at high speeds.
The Pearl River is ideal for this training because it is littered with fallen trees which are partially hidden underwater. The trees create somewhat of a series of slaloms for the boat drivers to maneuver through thereby learning how the boat reacts to quick turns. The unpredictable nature of the river trains the SWCC to stay alert and to react quickly.
"It's common for there to be up to four drivers, and four boats, on the water at a time, but they are operating as just one unit," said Rumbaugh. "All the boats need to be able to drive as one team; if one guy messes up, it's hard to correct it all the way through the formation."
Special Boat Operator 2nd Class Troy Norrell, who is currently going through the coxswain training, agreed that learning to drive with other boats is a challenge.
"The biggest thing that I've learned is how my actions on the water affect the whole unit," said Norrell. "If one or two boats gets herky-jerky the others are going to have to over-correct for that."
In addition to driving his boat properly and adjusting to the reactions of the other drivers, a SWCC behind the wheel is in charge of his crew and the operations of the boat. He must continuously check for proper engine readings, water depth and grid locations.
"They are constantly multitasking," said Rumbaugh. "There is no point when these guys aren't doing a million different things, while at the same time taking the boats to the edge so they learn where the limitations are."
The first week of coxswain training is conducted during the day to give the new boat drivers an opportunity to get familiar with the nuances of the boats before the second week of training, which is done at night.
"Amateurs train until they get it right," said Norrell of the intensive training. "Professionals train until they can't get it wrong."
SBT-22 is the U.S. Special Operations Command's premier riverine command, focusing on insertion and extraction of SEALs and other special operations forces in special operations around the world.
For more news from Naval Special Warfare Group 4, visit www.navy.mil/local/nswg4.