The Tactical Operations Crew (TOC) at SBU-13 1990
Phil G. Garn
San Pedro Harbor was hazily quiet at two in the morning, but not completely still. The cabin cruiser, Crazy Baby, idled forward gradually creeping along side an out bound coastal tanker steaming toward the outer harbor. Inside the old pleasure boat, a swimmer pair fixed the anti-tampering devices to the limpet mines then finished donning their re-breathers, drawing the first draughts of rubber flavored air. As the tanker crawled by the Coast Guard Station at Reservation Point, the grubby crew men of its little shadow helped the divers slip quietly off the stern to disappear into the dark green harbor with barely a ripple and no tell tale bubbles. Crazy Baby kept pace with her outbound screen as a second cabin cruiser, Dauntless, five minutes behind, shadowed along with an outbound party boat, speakers still droning old rock tunes in the thick marine air and disco lights flashing bright ,though the revelers aboard had lost most of their steam. Dauntless used the flagging party boat as Crazy Baby had used the tanker to screen her from the patrolling watch at the Coast Guard Station guarding the two big cutters moored pier side. She dropped her frogmen as quietly as her lead motoring out into the outer harbor.
In less than an hour, the two cabin cruisers had slowly circled around to the extraction point on the other side of the Coast Guard station where they received a brief light signal from the swimmer pairs. Each boat slowly idled in for the pick up. Crazy Baby hardly shifted into neutral as the crew helped pull the camouflaged swimmers from the water, spiriting them below decks. The cruisers slowly motored away gradually disappearing into non-descript berths of large civilian marinas. The operatives moored the cabin cruisers among hundreds of other pleasure boats and walked off in their sloppy civvies carrying away their high tech com-gear and other military equipment in big bright Coleman coolers to their comrades waiting in a Ford Econoline and a Chevy Blazer, just some guys coming back from a fishing trip. They drove away from the marina into Long Beach well before dawn.
Neither taken from a contemporary thriller nor plucked from headlines of a recent Al Qaeda attack, this was an exercise conducted by the Special Boat Unit (SBU) 13 and 12 Tactical Operations Crews (TOC) in August of 1990 against civilian and military targets in Long Beach and San Pedro. The only fictional aspect depicted above was the swimmers fixing anti tampering devices to the limpets, as the mines were inert training devices. In less than two days after the limpeteer attack on the Coast Guard Cutters at Reservation Point, this MARDEZ operation which had already included successful tactical waterborne and land infiltrations, contacting friendly agents, employing civilian craft to conduct harbor reconnaissance was canceled before more training missions were attempted as the all active and reserve Special Warfare men received an emergency call to return to the Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) in Coronado. Back in the compounds at NAB, Special Boat Squadron One (SBR-1), SBU-12 and SBU-13 scrambled to prepare to deploy their active components to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield which later became Desert Storm. While the exercise was only partially complete, the SBU-13 Reserves again validated several Special Forces concepts. This piece attempts to explain from my point of view why and how the Tactical Operations Crew (TOC) evolved from the Special Operations Crew (SOC) concept in the 1980's and what was accomplished by the command and men with an emphasis on the Reserve side of the house at SBU-13.
For centuries, navies and military forces around the world have used civilian small craft to accomplish a wide variety of clandestine military missions from agent and special forces infiltration/ex filtration to re supply and casualty evacuation to intelligence gathering to mine laying to patrol and interdiction. One of the most spectacular raids of World War II (2) was carried out from a former Japanese fishing boat that sailed from Australia thousands of miles behind the lines to conduct a canoe born limpeteer attack in Singapore Harbor and return after destroying a number of ships with out a loss. The British also supported numerous commando attacks as well as guerrilla re-supply missions and gathered intelligence in Aegean with a large flotilla of schooners or claques (3) as well as some motor launches and PT type boats. Nor has America been a stranger to these practices, from the pre-Revolutionary War period (3) to the 21st Century, American naval forces have successfully employed everything from birch bark canoes to sailing junks (4) to support military objectives and gather intelligence. However despite this long history of success, there is an inherent resistance to the un-conventional in the US military with a precipitous peace time decline in capabilities followed by a mad scramble and repeated re-invention of the wheel in war time.
The post Vietnam era was no different than any other period in our history. After honing skills in battle and building an huge array of small craft-some of which were quite effective, the US Navy downsized dramatically, cutting coastal and riverine forces to the bone [For more detail about the Boat Units during the period between Vietnam and Desert Storm, see the author's: “Sparks in the Wilderness” (5)]. During this period, the Navy focused on a major conventional/nuclear Eurocentric conflict where the nuclear submarine and anti submarine warfare were primary, carrier aviation was secondary, amphibious capability was behind that, and coastal/riverine forces were at the bottom along with naval gun fire support. At that time, Naval Special Warfare was itself a bastard child and only the desire to have organic boat support kept Naval small combatant skill alive, in effect the bastard's bastard. If conventional small craft were the bastard's bastards, then even the even more exotic use of naval crews manning civilian craft for military missions received even less support, despite centuries of evidence to the contrary. However, being Naval Special Warfare, commanders knew a greater variety of clandestine missions had to be considered. Therefore Special Operations Crews (SOC's) were established in the Special Boat Units In 1981.
The SOC crew was supposed to be able to man and sail "indigenous" craft to support clandestine missions. This was in units where over 50% of the assets were used to support infiltration and ex-filtration behind on hostile shores or clandestine beach reconnaissance prior to sea bore assaults. The most common conception for the SOC was infiltrating and exfiltrating a SEAL squad using some sort of native craft for a near shore raiding mission. How this craft was obtained was never clear, and there was not a lot of formal thought beyond supporting a traditional waterborne infiltration/ex filtration of a SEAL, Marine Recon or Green Beret raiding team. Within each command, commanders identified sub units for SOC missions. For active units such as SBU-12 which supported a forward deployed detachment (Det) in Subic Bay and Seafox Crews which were deployed with Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG's), the SOC's were typically a subsection of the Subic Det where the best coxswains, navigators, gunners mates, engineers and electronic techs were pre-selected and designated SOC's; while for the ARG Det which consisted of a three man crew for the deployed Sea Fox, these three were it. For reserve units such as SBU-13, personnel were again designated from the most experienced crew men in the unit. For more on SOC in SBU-13 see Jim Gray's excellent article on SOC (6).
Demise of the Reserve SOC at SBU-13
Shortly after the SBU-13 SOC successfully deployed to Korea, completed a number of training missions and it seemed like the concept was just getting up on step, the rug was pulled out from under the SOC at SBU-13 for a variety of interrelated reasons. The primary was lack of understanding from both active and reserve command components. A paucity of qualified Officers and Petty Officers in Charge (OIC's and POIC's) to man the command's conventional boats, 65 foot Sea Specter Mk III's, (PB's), PCF's (Swift Boats) and Seafoxes (Special Warfare Craft Light) was another significant contributing factor.
After the Vietnam War, there was a tremendous turnover of both active duty officer and enlisted personnel in the Boat Units (unlike the SEAL community, combatant crewmen [now Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen [SWCC's] were not yet closed looped) which caused a cyclical drought of experience. Funding was also cyclical, typically boom but mostly bust, which also worsened things along with white elephants like the Special Warfare Craft Medium (SWCM also know as the "Sea Viking" or derisively as the "Sea Brick" which never reached the SBU and ended her days as a target hulk at the cost of millions.) Many SEAL officers had no prior Boat Unit experience other than as passengers, and many Surface Line officers had no prior Special Warfare experience. In this unit, junior officers and even petty officers were not only in command of their own craft but running difficult sensitive missions which were quite different than the highly structured orderly drill of the fleet. This was a big concept for many to get their heads around. Likewise, the boats were far more complex than the re breathers, small arms and parachutes that SEAL's were used to and the surface fleet had a much different mentality than the Teams. Just as CO's and XO's learned the missions and trusted the crews, they were rotated to new assignments, likewise the active duty components of POIC's and engineers (they key personnel that you needed to keep the boats underway during the working week to support a variety of Special Warfare training missions as well as for the reservists during drill weekends) could be decimated in a matter of months as key men were rotated out to the fleet. It also took a long time for the new actives to trust the reserves. The feeling was if these reservists were such good sailors why did they leave active duty and how could they possibly have any sort of "real" experience.
The primary missions of clandestine infiltration and extraction behind enemy lines, well ahead of the fleet or the Marines, and the skills and mindset to accomplish these type of Special Warfare missions were foreign enough along with the "special craft" the Navy provided. That one would have to conduct these complex missions with a leaky bonka boat, trawler, junk, or a sail boat was even more incomprehensible to many. If god forbid, it came to that, the attached SEAL element would certainly do the dirty work of ship/boat takeover. It was hard enough just to man the missions with the command's Seafox and PB crews much less spare anyone to crew non- existent indigenous craft.
Finally, there was also quite a bit of jealously. The men (officer and enlisted) who typically were the most successful in the boat units tended to be enthusiastic, risk takers who embraced the unconventional and pushed the envelope. To the established fleet type (active and reserve), this ran completely contrary to the deep water doctrine and far outside their comfort zones especially in peace time where the parade ground, PMS (preventive maintenance system) and administrative inspection were more important than true combat readiness. Not only did the achievers successfully complete their missions but routinely excelled even when major systems went down, such as ordinance, electronics or engines. However, they also tended to flaunt their successes, which added to their aura, but made the timid and unfamiliar even more uncomfortable and resistant. The push back was if you want to be a "wild Indian" go to BUD/S and become a SEAL. And so the SOC was suppressed for about 6 years.
Return from the Gulf and Rebirth as Tactical Operations Crew
Battle was the impetus for the resurrection of SOC. As the majority of the Navy prepared for a Tom Clancey-esque showdown with the Soviets and Warsaw Pact (7), a small portion of the Squadron's active and reserve men were in the Persian Gulf in series of hostile actions during Operation Earnest Will 1987-1989. Not only were active and reserve personnel from the Boat Units deployed, but the SBR-1 Commodore, Commander Gary Stubblefield, a SEAL combat veteran from Vietnam, was in the thick of it with his men. They experienced first hand the Iranian's using commercial civilian boats conducting clandestine mine laying, the Iran Ajar, small boat attacks and surreptitious intelligence gathering from converted dhows. In addition to re-igniting a martial spirit, they brought back usable battle trophies like the IRGB (Iranian Gun Boat) and Boghammer (Swedish speed boat) as well as placing the captured Soviet bloc AA guns from the IRGB in the compound as a monument. In addition to the Commodore at Squadron, other experienced actives were appointed to leadership roles at SBU-13, LCDR Judge Coniff (who had done a tour at SBU-12) as CO and Ops Officer Lieutenant Tom DeNio. In addition to the experience on the active duty side, reserve Gulf vets, like then Senior Chief Jim Gray (also a Vietnam Vet boatguy and ‘the go to guy” then at NSWGroup 1), GMG2 Brian Eschbaugh and EN1 Robin "Mac" McKinney infused everyone with enthusiasm and recent battle experience. There was also finally a depth of reserve OIC's and POICs then Lt's Bob Koerber, Chuck Marks and Steve Andy who would all become future CO's of the reserve component as well as hard chargers like Lieutenants Jason Kessell, Bill Gray, Mark Bauer and then QM-2 Tom Folkesson (Now a chief and perhaps the “Senior Corsair” Reservist at Special Boat Team-12) and the incomparable Lt. Steve Walter. It was time to bring back the SOC, but the Commodore wise enough not to open old wounds dubbing this new group the Tactical Operations Crew (TOC).
A Dream Team
Aside from then Lt. Steve Walter, who was the "Bull Ensign" at SBU-12 when I arrived in 1984 and had the most Boat Unit experience of any Officer in the command at the time 1988-89, I had the most Spec War experience in the reserve ward room and had just come off a period as reserve Operations Officer at SBU-13, so was lucky enough to be selected as the OIC of the TOC. What was even more thrilling was my assigned crew, which showed the Squadrons' and Commands' commitment to the mission. Though I had a large number of superlative shipmates in both SBU-12 and SBU-13, these guys were beyond outstanding sailors. Additionally, they all had special capabilities that I think illustrate the added potential of the reserves.
GMG2 Brain Eschbaugh 9533 NEC OIC Qual was both the epitome of a "boat guy" and TOC crewman, not only did he have a lot of fleet experience but was a master at ordinance and waterman in his own right. On Civy street, he lived on a classic wooden cabin cruiser that he restored with his family, and ran a boat repair business which additionally was doing contract work for the Navy repairing SEAL and Marine Zodiac's. Brian also had volunteered for the Det in the Persian Gulf, but later would volunteer for other Dets and special projects including evaluating the RIB's (ridged inflatables) in Kodiak, Alaska and the HSB's (High Speed Boats). Cool and experienced in any situation with plenty of small arms and crew served weapons experience, he was far beyond outstanding.
EN-1 Robin "Mac” or “Rob" McKinney 9533 NEC OIC Qual was way beyond what you could ever expect for a chief engineer. Mac had a ton of experience in the fleet and in the boat unit, but in his civilian job he repaired all kinds of engines and equipment for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He was used to repairing a variety of broken machines quickly even with the most rudimentary tools and could improvise nearly anything on a dime in a flash. Like Brian he also had volunteered for a number of dets and special projects, as well as being an accomplished scuba diver, sky diver and crack shot. Mac also had quite a library of PT and Spec war books and learned a lot on his own. We had also operated together for several years in the boats.
HM-1 Dale "Doc" Kyle. 9533 NEC had served as a corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam and was also a real doc in civilian life not only 9 to 5 Monday to Friday but also volunteering on humanitarian projects in backward places like rural Mexico. There was no question he would keep you alive. He had been underway in SBU-13 for years on a variety of ops to boot. If there was any potential for injury he and HMC Jim "Doc" Greenough (an old SOC crewman) had been all that stood between us and the grim reaper. As adventurous and enthusiastic as any of us, Doc was the most mature and steadying influence. His suggestions often made operations run more safely, ruffling the least amount of official feathers.
QM-2 Tom Folkesson 9533 NEC OIC Qual was a first rate navigator and like Brian had lived on a sail boat. He had years of experience in the boat unit and had been on several ACDUTRA's (reserve training missions) with me including up to the sloughs of Sacramento River Delta kicking SBU-11's. Tom like Mac and Rob would become Chief's in their respective rates and would do a number of special projects at the unit then and now in the Special Boat Team (I believe at the time of this writing, March 2008, he is the senior Corsair at SBT-12.) It is hard to describe Tom because he was just such an easy going natural with great good humor and just fit right in.
MM-2 Steve "Smitty" Smith 9533 NEC could literally make anything. He was a master machinist and in his civilian life worked for a ship yard. I cannot believe the number of hours he put in at the ship yard on a variety of projects. For relaxation he shot skeet and trap. His natural sense of humor always kept things light, and he could talk his way into and back out of anything.
MM-2 Marty Chiri 9533 NEC was a solid teammate and the most skeptical of all of us. If he could be persuaded, it was going to work.
Lt. Bart Taylor was one of those Surface Line officers who took to Special Warfare like a fish to water. He was an enthusiastic rag hauler (sail boater). With his recent fleet and active duty experience he was up on the latest terminology and programs of the day.
These are the crewmen that you want: experienced, improvisers, enthusiastic, daring and level headed with an added maturity hard to find in peace time.
Missions, Doctrine ,Equipment and Techniques: Reinvention and Discovery
We started with the basic premise of conducting any traditional operation we would with our own craft (PB's and Sea Foxes at the time) such as clandestine infiltration/exfiltration and beach reconnaissance as well as less traditional missions such as mine laying, clandestine re-supply, civilian/military evacuation, fire support and intelligence gathering with craft ranging from skiffs to fair sized commercial fishing trawlers. We knew that anything larger than a small coastal freighter was going to be beyond our skill set and ability of 8 guys to maintain. Simply put, we needed to move shoot and communicate, but be highly mobile. We had turn what ever “indigenous craft” we got our hands on into an effective platform and keep it running for the entire mission.
Navigation: Tom was a first rate QM and had celestial down. Bart also had this and my old skills could be brought up to speed. Though like Brian and Mac, I had a very good sense of “Voodoo Navigation”, which is dead reckoning plus good sea sense. Despite this DR and accumulated experience, Tom was always keen for us to spell out precisely where we were going and the effects tides currents and other conditions would have along the entire track to the whole crew. We all knew the more local knowledge we had the better off we would be. We all also had been well indoctrinated into Spec War's mission planning, so the more info the better. Note below how we approached our operations in Long Beach Harbor doing physical recons months in advance in addition to the chart and table work.
I am going to describe three types of training evolutions which should help illustrate how the team operated formally and informally within the team, command, Squadron and out side the Squadron. The first is the classic sail training in San Diego Bay, the second is Close Quarter Combat (CQB) Training with Reserve Seal Team 1, 3, 5 and finally operation MARDEZ 90 in Long Beach.
In the days of turbocharged diesels, jet drives, counter rotating surface piercing props even for fishermen and pleasure boaters, the prospect of hoisting a sail and using the wind to sneak into or out of danger seems quite remote. And to the conventional deep water Naval man or commander, sail training seems like an excuse to goof off on the "G". However, there is little better way to experience how the forces of nature influence one at sea than sailing a small boat. On a sunny day in a small boat, mother nature is a lot more forgiving. Wind is critical to movement and tides and currents have a much more pronounced effect at the slower speed of sail. Sailing promotes awareness and develops physical and mental coordination. This experience gives one a feel for the water and a variety of conditions that translates well especially when running special operations at very slow speed, which is how most Spec War missions are run, not at Mach 5 (until things go very wrong). Handling even a single sail and tiller can be far more complex than a wheel and throttle. Of course there was also the romantic notion of having to pirate a sail boat, after losing one's own craft; though using a sail on a life raft or Zodiac was more likely.
Naturally one of the first evolutions we came up with was sail training. Our first outing was on the bay with pretty simple one man rigs like a Sunfish (Laser?) and a Hobbie Cat. Some of the crew were experts like Bart, Tom and Brian. With their patience and encouragement, they were able to get the rest of us back up to speed or at least able to sail out and tack back with out tipping over by the end of the day. We all had a much better idea of our own capabilities and were more confident. We also wanted do more. And yes, it was pretty fun. This is an example of what we were able to do completely on our own with our own personal private resources (8).
One of the most astonishing training exercises I was involved with in SPECWAR came about through "the old boy" network. One of my house mates in Coronado was then Lieutenant Duncan Smith who was a reserve at SEAL Team 1,3,5. Three of the guys at 1,3,5 (Ken Good, Dave Maynard and Mick Volpe) were instructors at the Navy's Shipboard Anti Terrorist School over at 32nd Street and came up with a proposal to train the SEAL reserves on the latest close quarter battle techniques (CQB) as well as practice ship boarding during an upcoming drill weekend. Duncan explained that his guys had a short course where they taught sailors and Marines how to organize an anti-terrorist unit for their command to be able to re-take their ship or command in the event of a terrorist takeover (this was in the late 1980's to 1990's). The course consisted of class room explanation of tactics, marksmanship at the range with standard weapons M-16's, M-14's shot guns and .45 pistols then a simulated exercise with paint ball guns on an old ship pier side at 32nd Street Naval Station. In 1990, paint ball guns were quite rudimentary and were not in wide spread use as training tools for the military or civilian law enforcement. Duncan cleared it with his chain for us to participate, and I got permission for my TOC to attend. That was how the deal was done with out a lot of paper work.
We all met at 32nd Street. While the SEAL squads started practicing ship boarding on the side of the old training ship using telescoping painter's polls, rope ladders and other techniques; we got condensed lessons on room clearing. Then the instructors walked us through clearing spaces, ladders and passageways inside and outside the old ship. We got better as we went along, rehearsing the basics moving through different sized passageways to rooms and machinery spaces. The keys were violence of action and deliberate coordinated movement. Dave and Ken told us that often one guy would be able to take out a room full of sailors or Marines armed to the teeth through violence of action and marksmanship alone.
Platoons began to follow us on the walk throughs and then it was time for the paint ball exercise. The objective was to start from the open rear deck and work your way forward clearing spaces and engage any terrorists you found along the way to secure the bridge. We got to go first, suited up with goggles and bolt action paint guns (which were pretty new at the time) then moved forward using the tactics we had just learned. Things seemed to be going OK, then bang! we started taking fire. Ken Good had one of those high speed semi-automatic guns and started picking us off one by one. Once you were hit, you went back to the start line to watch as the rest of your team continued with the exercise. I think Brian and Mac were the last two left getting theirs up near the bridge. Though we had not reached our objective and were smarting from the sting of the paint balls and their obvious stains, we were really excited and keen to try again. We thought the lessons Ken, Mick and Dave had taught us had been thoroughly reinforced.
The SEAL's who had been watching us, lined up for their turn with a little of that now we'll show you guys how its done swagger. The first squad lined up and moved out into the exercise making their way up an exterior ladder on the port side. Ken did not just pop out and take a couple of shots as he had with us then disappear behind cover. He moved smoothly and deliberately through the squad dispatching them completely in a matter of seconds. Everyone watching was stunned. The paint did not lie, clear splatters center of mass on every man, and Ken was unscathed. The second squad did not last much longer. Our jaws were on the deck, one guy had just completely wiped out two squads not in the confusion pipes of the engine room or tight confines of a tricky space either; also these were not just some young Marines or sailors who were thrown together for a training course but SEALs in assigned squads, a number of whom were combat vets from Vietnam. Needless to say we were all paying complete attention and everyone tightened up even more as the drills continued. (9)
MARDEZ CENCAL 90
The third example was a major CSBR-1 organized training evolution which included not only us (SBU-13 TOC) but elements of SBU-12, CSBR-1 and Seal Team squads as an orange force to test harbor defenses in Long Beach, MARDEZ SENCAL 90. The premise was a foreign country, very loosely based on a rabid version of Norieiga's Panama which was trying to de-stabilize the United States by smuggling large quantities of drugs and strike hard at law enforcement targets. We, Spec War, were pitted against the US Coast Guard, Navy including Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare (MIUW) group, DEA, US Customs, LAPD, Long Beach Sheriff's Department and Long Beach Harbor Patrol and brought considerable assets to the Exercise.10).
During our April 1990 drill weekend, Lt. Tom DeNio, our Op’s officer, gave us a heads up of possible participation in this exercise. Over the next two months Tom gave us more information and in July, I began liaison with Lt. Bret Kuykendall from SBR-1 Operations Department and received an informal tasking from our CO, LCDR Judge Coniff. We had further coordination meetings with Orange force continued on July 21 and 31. Finally in August, we got our formal tasking from Commander Coniff. Our formal objectives were as follows:
As soon as Tom DeNio told us what was in the wind, we began planning and looking at the operational area. In July, we did an onsite reconnaissance in civvies with video cameras of the Long Beach/San Pedro area from the shore (here again these were our personal video cameras). We got a first hand and fresh look at nearly everything and were able to match features up with the charts, which is what Al Qaeda would copy a decade later with chilling effect (11).
On August 1, 1990, we got our orders along with Lt. Sprat from SBU-12 and his TOC team. We divided up missions and assets. Then the next day we drew our gear which was exclusively communications and night vision equipment then began our final preparations and rehearsals which included a swimmer insert.
What we had planned for our SBU-13 TOC was to divide into two elements, a road team consisting of Bart Taylor, Doc Kyle, Steve Smith and Marty Chiri who would drive sterile vehicles (Clean civilian vehicles with our personal gear) through the San Clemente Check Point on Interstate 5, and the Water Team, Brain Eschbaugh, Mac McKinney, Tom Folkesson and me heading up to Dana Point by Sea Fox and inserting by water with our military gear. Again, this was right before Pelican cases came into wide spread use in Spec War, so everything was wrapped in layers of Hefty plastic bags and lots of 500 mile an hour tape (green duct tape) and a few items in Coleman coolers, easier to tow with fins.
At 1545, our road crew dropped us off at Pier 14, before swinging by admin. to pick up our travel checks and drive to our rendezvous at Dana Point. We got a late start at 1630 and were on our way for Dana Point by Sea Foxes. However, there was a small fire on one of the Sea Foxes, so we headed back to Pier 14. At 1900, our road crew was waiting at Dana Point while we were getting ready to get underway for the fuel pier at Point Loma. In the days before wide use of cell phones (which were as large as shoe boxes), there was no way to communicate instantaneously, so we left a message with the command calling from a land line at the fuel pier. So when our guys called in for a sit rep at the command, they knew they were going to have a long night. We finished refueling at 2155, then headed north.
The next morning at 0130, we flashed our signal light to our road crew at the secondary infiltration point in the harbor and got the correct reply. Cammied up, we went over the side with the gear, side stroking and kicking to the shore. We pooled up and sent our swimmer scout in on the final leg. He linked up with the road crew, then signaled us in. We signaled to our Sea Fox that we were "OK", then there were liberty turns for NAB. All I can remember was the water was bracing when we first went in and the parking lot was nearly empty, which was good as we stripped off our sopping cammies and threw everything into the back of the cars. In a flash, we were headed north to the safe house.
This was actually Mac's home. Emily, his wife, was as cordial and supportive as a better half can be when the boys roll in at 0330 and the kids never stirred or more importantly, woke us up. We hauled in the gear and sacked out all over the floors in the McKinney house, after setting a proper watch of course.
At 1000, we had reveille then turned to cleaning and preparing the equipment. Not surprisingly and fortunately for us, all the radios and night vision worked and there was not a drop of water damage. By 1200, we were on our way to our first rendezvous in the Wilmington area of Long Beach/San Pedro.
Promptly at 1400, we met with the crew of the Crazy Baby , a classic cabin cruiser, at the Wilmington Pier per our plan. I have got to say that you could not have asked for a better group of friendly agents than the US Coast Guard Auxiliary (CGA). Rather than foot noting their professionalism, patriotism or seamanship it needs to be said right up front that these men and women were the zenith. Their boats were well maintained, they had tremendous local knowledge and Maritime experience as well as enthusiasm and can do spirit. The bottom line was they were Americans who were completely trustworthy and ready to play the game. They were an outstanding group to work with and far beyond what you would expect to be provided by an outside agency or even your own choice. Never-the-less, we still had a plan to take control if things went wrong(12).
Within 15 minutes, Alpha Team (Garn, McKinney, Folkesson and Smith) was loaded, and we began planning our first operation briefing with our CGA crew. However just after we left the dock, we realized Bravo crew had Mac's gear. So it was back to the pier to RV (rendezvous) with Bravo. At 1910, we were under way and headed out through Angels' Gate clearing the breakwater at 1945.
Between 2000 to 2040, we began some gentile evasive maneuvers to shake a boat we thought was following us. These were just subtle changes in course and speed not a panicked dash or pronounced high speed zig-zagging. As it turned out it was our SBU-12 brothers following us in the Dauntless. We transited out to Point 1A to rendezvous with the ASDV (13) and were on station promptly at 2100. We then radioed and learned that the ASDV was well behind schedule and were told to return at 2330. Fifteen minutes shy of this rendezvous, Commander Coniff radioed us and told us to head south to
meet the ASDV at Seal Beach some miles to the south. We changed course and met with the ASDV a quarter after midnight, got our swimmer pairs and their gear, then headed back to Long Beach.
At 0215 we maneuvered slowly into position between an outbound tanker which we used to screen our insertion. Ten minutes later, we dropped the swimmer pair from the stern at about 5 knots near the Southern point of the US Coast Guard station and continued to motor up the channel out into the harbor. The Dauntless started her run at 0240 screened by a party boat (as related above) dropping her pair five minutes later, then signaling the observers by shining a spot light directly into their faces. We slowly motored to the extraction point an laid up until about 0315, when we gently herded a crew boat away which was cutting across the swimmer recovery operation. (We needed to protect our swimmers but also did not want to call attention to what we were really doing.) Alpha team completed recovery of our swimmer pair by 0330. Five minutes later, we transferred LTjg Sebenaler and his swim buddy then called our Bravo team to meet us back at the dock. We were pierside at 0355 and attempted to call Commander Coniff, but had no success. At 0420 we left the dock and headed to the new safe house (hotel) giving a blow by blow description to our Bravo guys detailing how things had gone. We formally debriefed about 1500 and checked in with Commander Coniff testing our communications but found neither our VHF or HF radios were able to communicate between safe houses (Hyatt and Holiday Inn). We debriefed the skipper over beers at a restaurant getting into the Spec War way back machine along the way (14).
On August 6, we checked in with Commander Coniff and SBU-12 TOC. Then left to rendezvous with PAR-X-ALLANCE for Bravo crew’s first mission at 1135. While they were getting underway, we got to tour 42 and 82 foot Coast Guard Cutters and get a look at a 110 footer, which we had attacked the previous day.
Bravo was underway at 1145 and began reconnoitering the MIUW site which stuck out like a sore thumb with military vehicles, giant tents and a tall radar mast in plain sight with no attempt at camouflage. The crew on PAR-X-ALLANCE also got a good look at the Coast Guard Sea Rider (RIB) and 82 ft Cutter stationed at the harbor's entrance noting positions and routines. They evaded inspection by slowly heading to the bait barge and let the Coasties go on by. At 1530 the USCG Point Evans stopped the PAR-X-ALLANCE who was identified by the White Forces (referee) in her distinctive Coast Guard uniform and white hat (which she declined to remove ). Bravo got a pass as the Coasties could not find any of their equipment (had we had quite a bit and weapons would have been no problem, if had we had them). Bravo continued with their reconnaissance spotting a Sheriff's boat near the oil islands (oil platforms modified to look like tropical islands).
That evening, Bravo rendezvoused with a 22 foot Bayliner owned by PAR-XALLANCE's skipper CGA Captain Smith in Huntington Harbor at 1830.They continued their reconnaissance locating two Harbor Police boats then evaded boarding by a 42' cutter deftly cutting behind a tanker at 1930. Again these maneuvers were slow and subtle not crazy Hollywood mad dashes. Bravo continued to chart CG and Harbor Police assets and patrols then briefed Commander Coniff before securing and returning to the hotels.
When we woke up the next day and checked in with our area command, we learned Commander Coniff had been recalled and was on his way to the compound at NAB as some sort of situation was developing in the Middle East. We went over and helped the PAR-X-ALLANCE crew with repairs (16).Throughout the morning information spiced with rumor and much speculation trickled in with plans constantly changing. At first, it seemed we (Squadron Command, SBU-12 assets and SBU-13 TOC) would continue with the exercise including more limpeteer attacks scheduled for that evening. Then SBU-12 was being pulled out by bits and pieces, and we heard some element of the command was going to the Persian Gulf. Later in the morning we linked up with the SBU-12 TOC at their hotel, The Golden Sails, about noon. They were clearly packing up and going to be driving south within fifteen minutes. LT. Brett Kuykendall, who was all that remained from Squadron Ops, told us to pack up and return to the compound.
We took our sterile transport back to our hotel packed up and checked out, then went to our safe house (the McKinney's) and collected the gear we had staged there and drove down the road stopping for dinner along the way. Naturally we were disappointed at not being able to finish the mission especially as we were succeeding and to our minds clearly kicking ass, but very excited with what we had accomplished. We also speculated a little about the situation in the Gulf and thought it would be fairly similar to the previous campaign. The PB's from both SBU-12 and SBU-13 would be loaded up as deck cargo, the actives would be in the initial deployment and later on there would be a call for Reserve volunteers.
Pulling into the compound at 2230, we were astounded by the activity. The HSB's (17) were trailered, Connex boxes were all over the Squadron and Boat Unit compounds and men from all three commands were rushing about with cordage, chancellery, electronics and weapons. Checking in with Lt. Tom DeNio, he brought us up to speed: the CO was gone! not at home getting gear ready but on a flight East. In fact, he had been so busy that the command had to mail his side arm and we would not see him until the end of the war. The initial plan was to deploy the top actives from all three commands SBU-12, SBU-13 and Squadron in that order of personnel contribution with all of the air-deployable boats (HSB's) new ridged inflatables (RIB's) then start getting the PB's (65 ft Sea Specter Patrol Boats) and Sea Foxes ready to go. Because there would be a little time before deck space would be available on merchant shipping, the reserves would be able to use these larger craft at least for the rest of the ACDUTRA period.
On August 8, Mac and Tom Folkesson were split off from the TOC and integrated into PB crews. We were all pitching in to get the commands' deployed and everything flyable to North Island. There was a virtual air bridge with a stream of C-141's and C-5A's landing and taking off night and day. Across the strand at the Teams, everything was in the same state of turmoil. Secret weapons were coming out of vaults, and guys were building palates for clothes washers and dryers for air loading. Every truck in Spec War was shuttling back and forth from NAB to North Island and guys pitched in where ever there was work to be done. The SBU-13 TOC would have one final mission before ACDUTRA ended, but back to the MARDEZ.
The next day, I got the word that I would be representing the Squadron at the hot wash up for the exercise up in Long Beach on August 10. This was a great honor for me but also shows you how serious the real world situation was. Commodore Jon Wright, Commander Coniff and Lieutenants Tom DeNio and Bret Kuykendall had put forth a huge effort over many months just to get us into the operation, and now I was not only representing Squadron but Naval Special Warfare Group 1 (NSWG-1) as well. I had my notes and collected what I could from Lt. Brett Kuykendall and Lt. Spratt for my presentation.
On the morning of the 10th, I drove up to Long Beach in my personal truck for the hot wash-up (debriefing the exercise) at the conference room at the top of the Union Bank building in down town Long Beach. In my nearly medal and ribbon free khakis, I rode up the elevator to the big board room which had a spectacular view of the harbor and surround. In this opulent corporate setting full of 0-5's and 0-6's and high ranking civilians, I think I was the only 0-3. The admiral began round table introductions. We then got down to the briefing, which was in essence, what had we (Spec War done) because they honestly did not know. After a brief explanation of why I was representing NSWG-1, I out lined our proposed objectives, then described what we had accomplished including how the HSB's had gotten the simulated drug loads over the break water. The room was astounded and wanted to know how we had "done it." To paraphrase my Company Officer from OCS, CWO-4 Wally Exum, for the next hour "I was the movie": It was all just run of the mill Spec War stuff, thorough recon, lots of mission planning, trusting our cammie and training, daring and keeping cool.
After we had packed up and sent off our actives and the little boats, we had a bit of time before our ACDUTRA ended, and the freighters arrival which would take away the PB's and the rest of the Sea Foxes which had not been airlifted. The TOC's last mission was to ambush the PB's as they entered Oceanside Harbor. We were able to put into use the patrol tactics Duncan Smith and SEAL Team1,3,5 had taught us with a load out of weapons Tom and I had seen on earlier operations with the reserve SEAL's against SBU-11 [heavy on the 7.62 versus 5.56 with M-14's, M-60's (18) and I had trusty a M-16/M-203.] We used pop flares to simulate LAAW rockets.
Again, we inserted by Sea Fox, quickly disembarking and scrambling over a chain link fence in side the military side of the harbor. I think one of the 60's hit the dirt rather hard on the other side of the fence. But we quickly formed up in our diamond formation, patrolling to our objective at a fair walking pace. We were fairly lucky as we were never challenged by the Marines or any security personnel, as we circled around to the other side of the military harbor. Just acting like you know what your doing goes a long way.
On the South side of the harbor entrance, we deployed and set our ambush then waited until we could literally see the whites of their eyes as the PB's throttled back to enter the harbor. I initiated the ambush with a flair from the M-203 and we opened up with the blanks literally from point blank range with the PB's in the choke point. They returned fire and powered into the harbor, not hesitating in the ambush area. I don't think we were extracted until the next morning and that was our final hooyah!
Deployment and DESERT SHIELD/STORM
At our end of ACDUTRA picnic on Gator Beach, we (the TOC) were told that we would be forming up a reserve deployment to relieve the actives. The plan was for an activation order (call up) in late October or early November with a work up from that time to the beginning of the year for a turn over with the actives who already there. The TOC would be providing the back bone of this Reserve deployment. From the first Gulf deployment on the Barges in 1987/1989, Squadron had found that the deployed men lost effectiveness at about the four month period based on the tight confines of the barges.
Through August and September there was a mad on and off schedule. One week we were at the Teams filling out our wills and completing pre deployment paperwork with the Seals then the next there was rumor that we might not go. By the end of September we were down. The XO told me they were only going to call up a few of the enlisted men to man the compound, paint the pier, and not even the TOC crew, but guys who were equipment operators and other ratings. And that was how it was. It was a major disappointment to the Reserves who invested years in their unit only to be “backfilled” at best. You have to remember that these were highly, motivated working professionals, who put in a tremendous amount of non-paid time, not just collecting an extra check or education benefits. The Army Special Forces has no such “backfill policy” and their reserves have served with distinction. In the current Global War on Terror with man power shortages particularly in Special Operations, it is hard to imagine turning away trained patriots or maintaining corporate knowledge. However right after a war there seems to be an overflowing amount of fresh combat experience, but in the inevitable draw down, it is the reserves who have the corporate knowledge and can flesh out and/or create additional units.
Never the less, the actives did a magnificent job during the war, which are a series of stories for another time. As a result not only Spec War but the Boat Units re-established the significance of the community and maritime unconventional warfare missions. Almost over night, funding appeared as did new craft, some of which were steps forward like the MK-V and the big RIBs (and others were steps backward like the PC). However, most importantly the Special Boat Community was finally closed looped for enlisted men and the units grew.
Analysis of Renaissance
During this brief period in the late 1980's to the Gulf War, men of the Special Boat Units again demonstrated some of the possibilities available to unconventional warfare in training exercises for the real world as well as the élan, innovation and can do spirit which as characterized the American unconventional warrior. The drive, patriotism, eagerness and hooyah has always been there; sadly, many of the lessons must be re-learned again and again at great cost due to narrow mindedness and lack of vision at the top. It is only with support from the highest quarters that this hard won experience does not fade, having to be literally re-invented by succeeding generations of American Fighting Sailors in time of war.
1. TOC Insignia: Having seen a number of private purchase unofficial SPEC WAR unit patches from the Vietnam era and current subdued emblems, I thought about a TOC operator patch for our underway training uniforms. I wanted a design which was simple and conveyed the mission, the men, small boats and unconventional warfare. After sketching out all kinds of combinations of anchors, propellers, tridents, flint lock rifles, boarding axes, blunderbusses and cutlasses, I came up with a variation of the World War II Combined Operations patch. I replaced the more substantial rounded flukes of a ship's type anchor with the sharper pronged Danforth that we used on small boats to symbolize small craft. The Thompson submachine gun, an American design used by Americans (Postal Inspectors, Marines and the Coast Guard) far in advance of British Commandos symbolized the unconventional warfare aspects as well as heavier firepower we brought on board and tended to have afloat. There was no need for the eagle to symbolize the air component because TOC was at the sharp edge of the waterborne cutlass. The "0" above stood for operator. I thought at some point if the design ever caught on, and TOC operators were involved in a shooting war that they could have a red embroidered “0” for a combat veteran. I made these up and purchased a small number maybe 25-50 for my crew and others who helped or influenced me like GMCM Jim Gray. The patch is black thread on olive green approx 2 ½ inches x 2 ½ inches.
2. Operation Jaywick and Rimau: Operation Jaywick was perhaps the most daring and successful commando raid of the Second World War. A captured Japanese fishing boat motored thousands of miles into and out of enemy waters to launch a canoe borne operators on a limpeteer attack of the shipping in Singapore Harbor sinking thousands of tons of enemy shipping with out a single loss; unlike the far more famous Cockle Shell Heroes raid by Royal Marines on Bordeaux Harbor. While the former is a text book success, the latter was an ill conceived suicide run. Both should be studied by all waterborne special operations forces as should Operation Rimau. Rimau was even more fantastic than Jaywick and conceived by the same core group; however bad luck and an unkept rendezvous by their supporting submarine cost all the men their lives. For further reading the most accurate books on Jaywick and Raimu are Karit, the Fishing boat that Went to War and The Heroes of Rimau by Lynett Silver; though Return of the Tiger and The Heroes first piqued my interest.
2. Levant Schooner Flotilla: The British supplied Greek guerrillas, launched and recovered raiding parties and operatives as well as collected intelligence using a fleet of native schooners, caques, manned by Royal Navy Sailors primarily sailing out of neutral Turkish waters as well as Syria and Palestine during the Second World War. A must read book is Adrian Seligman's War in the Islands.
3. American Colonial Ranger by Gary Zaboly. Rodger's Rangers and other colonial scouting/war parties used canoes as well as coastal, lake and river craft for raiding and scouting in north America before the American Revolution. Another excellent book on Rodger's Rangers is White Devil, True Story of War Savagery and Vengeance in Colonial America by Stephen Bramwell. Additionally, landing parties, prize crews and cutting out parties were part and parcel of maritime actions in the age of fighting sail.
4. Riverine by Jim Mesko gives a nice pictorial overview of riverene operations during the French and American wars in Vietnam and shows some of the junks and sampans by US and Vietnamese sailors not to mention North Vietnamese combatants who used everything from dug outs and sampans to fishing trawlers for raiding, re-supply and mine laying.
5. “Sparks in the Wilderness”. by Phil G. Garn
6. “SOC” by James Gray GMCM ret.
7. In the 1980's, Tom Clancey's techno thrillers were all the rage and reflected the Eurocentric stance adopted by the US. Despite the conventional actions with lots of SF involvement in Grenada and Panama much less the Mayaguez or Central American conflicts, it was widely believed that "the real war" was going to be a direct head to head repeat of W.W.II with the Soviets and WARSAW PACT in Europe as depicted in General Hackett's World War III or one of Tom Clancey's novels, not these reoccurring side shows.
8. It was common place for reserves to buy and/or use own equipment not to mention spend large amounts of un-paid, non credited time to provide training opportunities for their units. A lot of issue was outdated some going back to W.W.II and primitive at best. It was not just the SOC/TOC folks, but CDR's Rick Gray and John Higgs would both use personal cell phones to clear ranges and go hot in the 1980's when the radios did not work [these were the big shoe box sized ones]. Often the reserves would leap ahead of active technology, such as adopting Gortex foul weather gear, Patagonia fleece, using cell phones or even jet skis. I still have set of Gortex foul weather gear in Woodland Cammo from the 1980's that I bought from Cabella's.
9. Duncan Smith was then in graduate school at UCLA getting his MBA when his class had been challenged to a paint ball game by I think the class ahead. In preparation for this contest, Duncan arranged a training class with Dave Maynard out at his spread in Alpine, CA and invited me along. Here I got an other shot at what I had just learned at 32nd Street on a land environment with men and women who had "no" military background. Again, in the course of a day, Duncan's class had bounded light years ahead of their opponents and went on to decimate their classmates. A plan, training (rehearsal) and confidence goes a very, very long way.
10. The array of Blue forces was quite impressive and included: Air assets - USN LAMPS MK-II, USCG HC-130's and HC-25's performing aerial reconnaissance, USCG HH-25's for recon and reaction as well as LAPD and Sheriffs' Department Bell Jet Rangers and H-500's. Sea assets - USS George Phillip, USCG Point Carew, USCG Point Evans, USCG Conifer, 82 and 42 foot cutters, Sea Rider RIB's as well as Customs and DEA craft for detection and inspection. Land assets included USCG active and auxiliary personnel, MIUW Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare) Unit-105 (who was using the then new ANSQR-17 for the first time) EOD Mobil Unit 3 with Mk-VI assets (dolphins), LAPD, Sheriffs Department, DEA Customs and harbor personnel and assets for detection and protection.
11. In 2007, I was on a really that a set record for swimming around Catalina Island and we left the same dock area where our TOC rendezvoused with the Crazy Baby . I got goose bumps flashing back to 17 years earlier to how we had run Al Qaeda like missions from this very spot.
12. While the Coast Guard Auxiliary represents the very best a TOC or any special operations crew could expect for friendly agents and assets, US patriots who are top flight sailors with outstanding local knowledge and well maintained craft in super condition; it is better to plan for the worst, friendly agents who are not friendly in an unfriendly environment. This type of operating is way behind the lines and ultra ruse de guerre, so it is highly unlikely that the opposition is going to do anything other than torture you to death, so you must plan for the worst at any point along your route. It is literally do or die horribly. Even with the CGA folks who were tops, we had to plan for a quick takeover at any point in time and E&E immediately. This needs to be part of the operators mission planning from square one and along the route until out of the danger area (back to friendly base).
13. ASDV: These were tired heavy landing craft (LCU) which had been converted to support diving operations with a crane that could lift an SDV (swimmer delivery vehicle, mini submarine) and a re-compression chamber. They were so slow that it was nearly impossible to steam (hold formation) with them in any weather for any appreciable distance. Their top speed was just above most boat's idle in the Squadron.
14. Wayback: From the Fractured Fairy Tails cartoon "Wayback Machine" - getting off track talking about other operations and folks in the community. Skippers were usually experienced handling mad men because, they had been a mad man in their operational days which is what you found out in the Wayback.
15. This sort of nonsense is something you could hardly tolerate even in training. In the real world, this would be eliminated see note 12 above.
16. Fixing PAR-X-ALLANCE : Here was a real example of how skilled the guys were especially Mac. The hours they put in would have cost the CGA captain hundreds of dollars (out of his own pocket) and went a long way to building a bond with our CGA comrades who would have no doubt provided a source of “indigenous craft” for future training evolutions, had the war not intervened.
17. HSB's (high speed boats): The first HSB's were civilian ocean racers produced by Setton purchased by Seal Team-6. We (SBR-1) inherited them after Team-6 had given them a good thrashing operationally, including paradrops. They were not really well suited to Spec Ops, but a good start. I remember riding them out at San Clemente on a final battle problem and they would beat you to death. At any speed in sea above glass, the only comfortable spot was at the helm. The weapons stations though a jury rigged after thought were slightly better than the Sea Fox, but equally ineffective at speed.
18. Tom and I along with Jay Duenas, Bob Cantwell and Brad Hackett had supported SEAL ambushes of SBU-11 boats up in the Sacramento River Delta during a previous ACDUTRA. We learned from them not only the up gunning, using the 7.62mm weapons versus 5.56mm but also some patrolling for infil to exfil including E&E. Spec War would hold on to M-14's while other services gave up the big weapons, which recently made a big comeback in Afghanistan. Though a bear, especially on full auto, the M-14 was much better gun with longer range and more knock down and penetration than the M-16. As much as we envied the CAR-15's and MP-5's, the shot gun M-203 and M-14 were much more of a staple in the Squadron at that time. We were also happy with the M-60E's as dismounted weapons, though the Stoner was a mighty fun little fire hose and would eventually be replaced by the SAW. Pistols in the inventory ranged from the trusty .45’s to decrepit .38’s though the 9mm SIG’s came in for a while.
Photos: I know I took a number of photos from the MARDEZ exercise and the ambush, developed them and passed out the prints, but these and the negatives were lost in the shuffle. If anyone has copies, please get them to me. It would be greatly appreciated.
|TOC with Klepper preparing for Op. Doc Kyle smiling for Camera and PO Hackett the support Vehicle driver.||Phil Garn and Brian Eschbaugh launch their Klepper canoe||
TOC after swimming in rest against a
Mission complete, a long night for
Brian Eschbaugh and I getting ready
for a night time Canoe Op.
|Night ops on SEAFOX||
SWCL underway gives a carefull look
at Boat ahead as they approach from stern
TOC practice tactical deception with
a few sheets, line and poles are able to change the
shape of a SEAFOX into a sail boat. Not much to look
at in light but in the dark of night enough to
||Brian Eschbaugh at helm of fountain HSB. Tom Folkeson as engineer and controls trim tabs.||
Mac like all good TOC resting on pier
when they can living out of a parabag and tool bag.
|Doc Kyle with M-60E-3 and those tactless Orange Life Vests||Tom Folkeson and other TOC do chart work on their Mission Prep.|