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Securing Iraq's future: naval mobile security: detachments guard: the Iraqi oil terminals.

Naval Mobile Security

Detachments Guard

the Iraqi Oil Terminals

Puddles of crude oil and thick greasy substances cover the rusting, spider-like structure of two of the biggest moneymakers in Iraq. Al Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT) are prime targets for terrorists wishing to disrupt the rebuilding of Iraq. ABOT alone accounts for 85 percent of Iraq's crude oil export, and they are both being protected by Det. 22 of the newly-formed Naval Mobile Security Unit.

"The need for Mobile Security Detachments came up after USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked," said Senior Chief Master-At-Arms Todd Getz. "The Navy needed security teams that, on a 96-hour response, could travel to unsecure areas anywhere in the world to temporarily protect high-value assets. Since then, our job has changed into a wider variety of missions."

The current mission of Det. 22 is to work with coalition ships to keep all civilian and unfriendly forces out of the 3,000-meter warning zone surrounding the platforms.

"There is a notice to mariners establishing the warning zone," said the Detachment's Commanding Officer, LCDR Patrick Fulgham. "Any vessel approaching is warned by several methods, including radio and visually."

These are the same rules that have been maintained since the United States began guarding the platforms in March 2003 with one exception--the platforms are now being used to pump millions of gallons of oil into tankers from all over the world.

When U.S. Navy SEALs and Coast Guardsmen first held the platforms, all the civilians were evacuated and all oil stopped flowing. While not very good for the Iraqi economy, it made guarding platforms relatively easy.

Now, along the horizon, ships swarm around the platforms like bugs around a zapper, and like a bug, those ships should not get too close.

There have not been many attempts to approach the platforms. Most were just fishing dhows that drifted too close.

But, before Naval Mobile Security moved aboard, two U.S. Sailors and a Coast Guardsman were killed when one of the approaching craft exploded as an American boat moved to intercept it. Another bomb-laden boat exploded within 400 yards of ABOT.

U.S. and coalition ships are helping to make sure this does not happen again. Each ship or boat nearing the platforms is boarded and searched before being allowed to continue on to the platforms. This includes not only oilers coming in for a several-"million dollar" load, but also any tug or Iraqi military boat, which must also verify their identity and purpose of the visit.

For the first few months, Det. 22 lived on the platforms with only the oil workers. But as of this February, they have the help of the newly-formed Iraqi Naval Infantry.

"I never thought I would be standing side-by-side with an Iraqi soldier looking in the same direction," said Fulgham. "It takes a little getting used to."

All of his men have not only gotten used to the addition of the Iraqis, they also train and have befriended many of them.

"We teach them the different force protection procedures we use and the use of our weapons" said MA2 Mark Miller. "We're giving them the tools they need to defend themselves once we are gone."

Not all of the Sailors were comfortable with the thought of working with the Iraqis when they arrived. "I was scared before I got out here," said 19 year-old MASR Roy Brown. "But once I started talking to the Iraqis, I found they are just like us."

Talking, in most cases, involves using hand signals, pointing and using Iraqi/English dictionaries. At times, it can be difficult for both Americans and Iraqis, but they make do out of necessity.

"When we first got out here, we didn't have any hot water tanks and I was working with an Iraqi named Safar" explained MA1 Eric Schotter. "Even though we couldn't speak the same language, we were able to get everything set up by show-and-tell. I would show him what I wanted to see happen, and he would figure out what I meant. It took a while, but we got it done."

Soon a full Iraqi platoon will be coming to ABOT and Det. 22 to start integrating into the defense of the station. Eventually, protection will be primarily Iraqi, with a few American troops. The importance of the job they are doing is not lost on the Sailors. They are setting the standards by which the Iraqi Naval Infantry will operate from now on. "We have seamen and third classes training a brand new military," said Fulgham.

Det. 22 is the second unit from Naval Mobile Security to deploy to the oil platforms since the Navy took over defense from the Marines. When the Marines were in charge of platform security, life was much different.

"The quality of life is pretty good compared to when the last detachment was out here," said MA3 Trina Drulard. "We have made a lot of improvements. At one time, the people guarding the platforms were sleeping outside on cots, with no hot water, no phone, computers or Internet."

Improving quality of life was one of the top priorities on the platforms for a long time. When SEALs first arrived on the platforms at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, workers living aboard did not have a facility to shower, and most of the food eaten was caught in the same foul water that was used to carry away human waste and garbage. Some of the first U.S. Coast Guardsmen who lived aboard used inflated emergency life rafts to sleep inside. Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) were the standard meal, and entertainment was limited to a few board games.

Now, Sailors sleep in four-man CONEX boxes, which are both heated and air conditioned. More CONEX boxes were brought in with showers, washing machines and dryers. Satellite dishes were set up for Internet, television and telephones. According to Fulgham, the Internet is so fast that many of the Sailors from surrounding ships come to the platforms to use it.

"We have better Internet than they have at Kuwait Naval Base and better telephones than any of the ships out here," said Fulgham proudly.

The telephones are working on a new SPAWAR system that costs Sailors only four cents a minute oil a rechargeable pin number purchased online.

When satellite television was first set up for these Sailors, they were able to watch local middle-eastern channels and pick up BBC. The day before the Super Bowl, American Forces Radio and Television Services (AFRTS) was hooked up so the game could be watched live.

But entertainment is only a small part of keeping up the Sailor's morale. There is an old saying hi the Navy: "You can judge the morale of a command by the quality of food served in its mess." During rough seas, platform Sailors still eat MREs, but when seas are calm, "morale" comes skipping over the Gulf waters from the coalition ships.

It's called "Meals on Keels," and three times a day, they are welcomed to the platforms by the residents. From bowls of cereal to steak and potatoes, the Sailors eat well.

"Support from the ships has been outstanding for the most part," said Fulgham. "Meals on Keels is the key to making life here tolerable."

While U.S. ships supply the majority of the meals, many other navies, including British and Australian, also send supplies to the platforms.

Life has become comfortable enough on the platforms that once the Sailors get used to the dirt and oil, most prefer to live there than on a ship.

"It's a little bit better than a ship," said Getz. "The only problem is that on KAAOT we have only a thousand meters of habitability, and half of that is the Iraqis' territory."

To some, the limited space is an issue, but most claim they would much rather feel the wind on their face as they stand their watches than be looking at a console inside the skin of a ship.

"The upside of living on a ship is that you know at some point you will hit a port," said Getz. "When we are here it's for six months solid, and we can get a little stir crazy after a while."

Living conditions are improving for the Iraqi platform workers and military aboard, also. The living quarters on ABOT are now getting a $300,000 makeover. The interior is being completely refurbished, and the exterior is receiving a new coat of paint.

When the oil platforms are eventually left in the hands of South Oil Company and the Iraqi Naval Infantry, they will be in better working condition to make money for Iraq than ever before. Iraq will also be better prepared and trained to defend them. The security brought to Iraq by Naval Mobile Security will be felt not only while they are aboard, but far into the future of the newly-freed country.

McCoy is a photojournolist assigned to All Hands.
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Author:McCoy, Shane T.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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