December 2011/January 2012 - Navy
By LCDR John Gay, USN
Public Affairs Officer
Navy Expeditionary Combat Command
The Navy Riverine Force completed its mission in
Iraq with great success in October 2010, and the
lessons learned from multiple deployments validate
the importance of the Riverine capability
for future missions.
In Iraq, the Riverines operated from the shore and
provided direct support for ground forces. Today, the
Riverines expanded their capability and proved they can
also operate from Navy ships. The successful launch and
recovery of two Riverine Command Boats (RCB) and a
Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB) aboard USS Oak Hill (LSD
51) May 31, 2011, opened the door for future missions.
Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 3, Detachment 1
deployed in October 2010 with 28 Sailors and 2 RPBs
aboard USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) to participate in
Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station. The Riverines
conducted exercises with the Colombian Navy that built
strong partnerships that enhanced the skills of both
“This deployment emphasizes interoperability with the
Colombians,” said LT Jared McClain, Assistant Officer in
Charge, RIVRON 3, Detachment 1. “They (the Colombian
Navy) have a great deal of experience in Riverine
operations in the jungle, so we’ll learn a lot from them.”
Riverines provide the Navy a capability across the
warfare spectrum to meet maritime strategies. They
are able to deploy from a small five-person team up to
a detachment or squadron level deployment. The impact
is more Sailor-to-Sailor and allows the Riverines to set
the groundwork for repeat and extended relationships
between other nation’s small boat forces.
“The Riverines ability to go in and do small unit to
small unit engagement is exactly what the maritime
strategy talks about, and doing that in a joint fashion
builds a lot of cooperation amongst seafaring nations,”
said Chris Halton, Commodore of Riverine Group
(RIVGRU) 1. “Whether it’s the near coast mission in
the future or the brown water mission we do today, we
are able to go from a small mobile training team on up
to a combat focused, engaged unit.”
In 2007, nine months after the formation of Riverine
Group, Riverine Squadron 1 deployed to Anbar
province, Iraq and relieved the U.S. Marines of their
mission and assumed responsibility for the equipment
in Haditha and Ramadi. Within weeks, the Riverines
were actively engaged in combat operations fighting side
by side with the Marines.
Early Riverine missions focused on patrols using a
two-section rotation that lasted up to four-to-five days.By the end of the nine-month maiden deployment,
Riverines had captured more than 100 insurgents,
uncovered more than 75 significant weapons caches and
provided combat capability in direct support of Marine
Corps operations. In addition to combat operations,
Riverines established the first training academy to train
Iraqi waterborne security teams in Al Qaim.
Over the next four years, Riverines provided maritime
security and interdiction along 10,000 km of the Iraqi
inland waterways, and made significant contributions
to Iraq by completing seven deployments in support of
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
Squadrons completed more than 600 combat missions,
more than 430 Riverine combat patrols, more than 360
boat missions, and more than 190 convoys. They also
registered nearly 1,000 Iraqi boats and trained over
1,000 Iraqi security forces personnel.
“Every patrol was different; we’d go out for four-tofive
days at a time and stay on the boat.” said Chief
Boatswain’s Mate Gerald Russo, RIVRON 1. “We have a
tight-knit group. Every time you go outside the wire, you
are literally with family. You go out there and do your
thing and you all come back together.”
Missions focused on everything from convoys in the
Anbar province to patrolling from the far western town
of Al-Qaim near the Syrian border to the southern areas
near Ramadi. Each patrol carried with it a myriad of
challenges and dangers.
“Most improvised explosive devices (IED) were on the
roads, but there was also a danger in the water, too,”
said Russo. “We had a waterborne IED that was on the
river bank aimed toward where the boats would have
passed, but the insurgent jumped the gun and detonated
it before we got there. So we were pretty lucky.”
The Riverines rapid success throughout seven deployments
provided them a variety of skill sets that they will
apply in future maritime expeditionary missions.
“Riverines deployed repetitively to the combat zone
of Iraq, and they worked with a variety of U.S. forces as
well as with the Iraqi forces,” said Halton. “They have
also gone from zero to 60...five years ago there was no
Riverine force. In a very short time, we stood up three
full mission capable squadrons and the headquarters
Riverine group that trained and executed combat
missions in a very compressed time period.”
Riverine forces can operate throughout the world’s
113 major river systems and brown water environment.
They trace their history back to the Vietnam conflict.
After the conflict, the Navy transferred the Riverine
capability to the U.S. Marine Corps until the 2006
Quadrennial Defense Review recommended shifting it
back to the Navy. The Riverines are once again a full
mission capable Navy capability.
The new Riverine Force needed sea warriors and
reached out to the fleet for volunteers.
“I’ve been with the Riverines since they started back
up in 2006,” said Russo. “I was a coxswain in the fleet
and nominated for the Riverines.”
Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1, the first of three
Riverine squadrons, was formally established May 25,
2006, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort
Story, VA; and in less than two weeks, the 220 Sailors of
RIVRON 1 shifted operations to Camp Lejeune, NC, to
Riverine Sailors complete a long list of schools before
they are fully qualified. The first school is the five-week
Riverine Combat Skills Course at Camp Lejeune, followed
by another two months at Special Mission Training
Command for either boat captain or combat craft boat
coxswain training. They move on to a four-week convoy
training course at various locations, then back to Camp
Lejeune for five weeks of Riverine security. After one
week of language and culture training, they are ready
for their final two weeks at Camp Lejeune for Command
The three Riverine squadrons are comprised of
Sailors of many different ratings. While all Sailors are
trained for “the blue water Navy,” Riverines are also
trained to operate in the “brown water” of rivers and
inland waterways, and in the “green water” near shore
environment. In the Riverines, Boatswain’s Mates
function as the combat coxswain, Operations Specialists
run the operations center, and Seabees take charge of
Riverine Sailors receive tactics training on three
different Riverine boats. The Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB)
has a crew of five and can carry 13 combat-loaded
troops. The RPB is designed to provide tactical mobility
and personnel transport for a ground combat element in
a Riverine environment. It has an aluminum hull with
beaching plates and is armored for small arms ballistic
protection. It cruises at 35 knots and has three mounts
for M2 .50-caliber, M240B 7.62mm, Mk19 40mm
machine guns, or Mk44 GAU-17 7.62mm guns.
The Riverine Assault Boat (RAB) is designed for
Riverine combat operations in a Riverine environment.
The RAB is capable of operating in shallow, confined
waters, is fast and maneuverable, and is capable of
suppressing fire or breaking contact with hostile. The
aluminum RAB is 34 feet, 11 inches in length, armored
for small arms ballistic protection and capable of transporting
up to 15 passengers and crew. It is capable of
speeds in excess of 30 knots and has five mounts for M2
.50-caliber, M240B 7.62mm, Mk19 40mm machine
guns, or Mk44 GAU-17 7.62mm guns.
The Riverine Command Boat (RCB) is designed to
provide command and control, tactical mobility and
personnel transport for 18 troops in the Riverine
environment. The hull is aluminum construction with
robust beaching plates and is armored for small arms
ballistic protection. At 49 feet in length, it can reach
speeds in excess of 40 knots. There are four mounts for
M2 .50-caliber, 7.62mm M240B, Mk19 40mm machine
guns, or Mk44 GAU-17 7.62mm guns.
The RAB and RPB have a range of about 250 nautical
miles and the RCB has a range over 320 nautical miles.
All Riverine boats can be transported in various cargo
aircraft for rapid deployment or aboard U.S. Navy
The training each Riverine Sailor completes is not
only unique and beneficial to the Riverine Force, in the
long run, but also it benefits the fleet with a Sailor who
is trained for additional responsibilities and jobs.
“We provide the fleet trained and ready forces that
are able to operate as small units almost anywhere in
the world,” said Halton.
Riverine volunteers quickly undertake more responsibility
and authority, which increases a Sailor’s value
when they return to the fleet. “One thing that enticed
me was the small unit leadership,” said LTjg Gordan
Van Cook. “Here, the emphasis is a little bit different
than the fleet, and it’s more focused on the Sailors.
You’re making sure your guys are ready to go through
the training cycle.”
The Riverine Sailors not only have a close-knit bond
with each other but also they’re better prepared to handle
more complex duties in future assignments.
“I think, for the fleet, they get a Sailor who is experienced
in small unit tactics,” added Halton. “They get a
Sailor who has had a lot of responsibility at a very junior
pay grade, that’s officer and enlisted, and the fleet gets
someone who knows how to mission plan.
“Developing and strengthening partnerships with
foreign countries, developing more cooperative training,
and conducting maritime security on inland waters are
other opportunities available for the Riverines,” added
The Riverine Force, part of Navy Expeditionary
Combat Command, is a combat-arms force that performs
point defense, fire support and interdiction operations
along coastal and inland waterways to defeat enemies
and support U.S. Marines and coalition forces.