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Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman

The "Boat Guys"



A wall of spray is thrown as a SWCC moves at top speed around a 90 degree corner in a small, shallow waterway in Mississippi.

Official Navy Photo
They call it the “E-ticket Ride:” a 33-foot Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) vs. Mother Nature. Middle of the night, almost pitch black; a pair of RHIBs race through open waters of the Pacific Ocean. The crew wears night vision gear, but still find it hard to see the waves. Each ocean swell–unpredicted– creates a ramp and sends the craft airborne for what seems like seconds at a time. And when they come down, they come down hard. The crew braces for shock, the boat shudders and a giant plume of boat wash is the only mark left in the faint moonlight as the boat races forward into harm’s way.

Forty knots, in the blackness, wind ripping across the open craft–this is daily life for a Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC), (pronounced “swick”) and these guys wouldn’t have it any other way. “We judge boats by their speed and rounds per minute,” said Engineman 1st Class (SWCC) James Martino, a member of Special Boat Team (SBT) 12 in Coronado, Calif. He, like others at the command, wears a command T-shirt that reads “God, Country, and Fast Boats.”

Who are these guys – the ones who drive these camouflaged boats on the horizon? First guess for most would be Navy SEALS. But these Special Warfare operators are actually SWCC–aka the “boat guys.”

Some recognize the difference, like the editors at Men’s Fitness magazine. They recently did a cover story on “Military Fitness” and went to the Navy specifically seeking out a boat guy. They wanted someone from that unique community which is so unknown in the Navy, yet creates such a wake of attention when they are around. “We need someone tough!” the editors said. “We need someone fit, aggressive, a warfighter and someone who can dead lift 450 pounds without thinking twice.”

The guy they put on their cover, which appeared on the newsstands in Aug 04, is Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class (SWCC) Peter Hamilton. Somehow those civilian editors knew that SWCC had something special–a no-fear attitude, aggressiveness, and the intelligence and skills to conduct covert operations in littoral regions of the world.

SWCC teams conduct unconventional special operations. To be exact: they drive go-fast speedboats down narrow, winding rivers or open ocean, transporting SEALs to and from hostile situations and operating nearly every weapon with a trigger the military has to offer. And they do things that would make James Bond tremble at the knees. When a call comes, a boat team can form up, put a 33-foot RHIB in the back of a C-17, fly half-way around the world to a hot zone, push the boat out of the plane into the ocean and then jump in after it, wearing parachutes, over enemy territory, with little or no notice.

They use craft like the Mark FIVE (MK V), the RHIB and the Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R). Way beyond any putt-putt fishing boat you may have seen growing up, these boats move, as noted in Jane’s Fighting Ships–“MISSION: High speed, medium range, all weather insertion/ extraction of Special Operations Forces, maritime interdiction operations, tactical swimmer operations, intelligence collection, operation deception, coastal patrol, and more.”

What Jane’s doesn’t describe is the fact that the crew routinely takes bone-jarring wave shocks of 10- 15 g’s with peaks of 20 g’s. The pounding of the sea is so severe that seats are equipped with million-dollar shock absorbing technology that mitigates the rough ride.

“Once, we were in 15- to 20-foot swells, recalled Quartermaster 1st Class (SWCC, PJ) Christopher Moore, from SBT-12. “Our boat, a 24-ft. RHIB, could barely make it up the swells before the engine would sound like it was going to die. Then we would get to the top and become a 24-ft. surfboard coming down the other side. We couldn’t even keep in visual contact with our other craft.

“After getting beat up in conditions like this for 10 hours, the only thing you want to do is get off the boat–but you can’t because your knees are locked up, your hands are frozen to the helm and your back feels like you just got out of the ring with Mike Tyson,” said Moore.

“Then you go out the next night and do it again,” he added.

Boat guys do more than just go fast. SWCC missions include unconventional warfare, direct action, combating terrorism, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, information warfare, security assistance, counter-drug operations, personnel recovery and hydrographic reconnaissance. SWCC numbers hover around 600 personnel–less than 1 percent of the U.S. Navy, but they offer big dividends on a small investment. The SWCC units’ proven ability to operate across the spectrum of conflict and in operations other than war in a controlled manner, and their ability to provide real-time intelligence and eyes on target offers decision makers a lot of options.

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