Naval Special Warfare Combatant Craft


THE QUIET PROFESSIONALS OF SWCC  Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2007 16:09:52 -0600
Story and photos by MC2(AW/SW) Tiffini M. Jones

It was a steady 15 knots through the San Diego Bay; but upon clearing the channel, the boat began to pick up speed; 17 knots, 24 knots, 36 knots in a matter of seconds.

"Air contact, heading three-five-zero, position angle two!" shouted aft lookout Operations Specialist 2nd Class David Beem.

Lookouts were yelling surface and air contacts from every direction. The other two boats ahead crashed every wave at full throttle. With every crest came another heavy hit.

Once in the open water, it was all over. Some of the crew were leaning against the side of the boat and holding on with all of their strength.

Instructor, Quartermaster 1st Class (SWCC/SW) Jason Capelle looked at them with a grin and said, "Are you scared yet?"

"Hold on!" the coxswain shouted.

Since the war on terrorism began, there is no such thing as a safe zone, especially in the endless miles of vast ocean.

At Naval Amphibious Base (NAB), Coronado, Calif., students of class 54-2, Special Warfare Combatantcraft Crewman (SWCC) School are challenged physically, mentally and on navigational capabilities. In such a small community, SWCC team members rely on each other to get the job done.

The program is designed to test Sailors' abilities to perform under pressure and have the skills to accomplish any mission, pushing their limits to the maximum.

"You have to be comfortable tying knots, doing a buddy tow and other vigorous exercises in and out of the water," said Chief Quartermaster (SWCC/FPJ) Chris Moore, one of the instructors.

The program is broken down into three phases, two weeks of SWCC basic indoctrination, five weeks of basic crewman training (BCT) and 14 weeks of crewman qualification training (CQT).

During the indoctrination phase, candidates learn about the history of SWCC, the Navy's Core Values, sports medicine, hygiene and nutrition. They also begin their physical training.

Candidates run an average of 30 miles a week, and are expected to run from an evolution, to chow and back to an evolution at a seven-minute mile pace.

From indoctrination to BCT, students begin classes in navigation, boat familiarization, hull inspection and first aid. Their physical conditioning improves along with water rescue tests. Each passing day brings harder challenges and more core strengthening.

"Initially, all students have fear in their eyes, because they are stepping into the unknown," said Instructor, Enginemen 1st Class (SWCC/PJ) Billy Burt. "It's our job as instructors to get them to be confident through training. The purpose of this course is to evaluate, test, and pressurize the students to see how they react in all types of situations."

During BCT, students are taught to expect the unexpected.

On time! On target! Never quit! It's the SWCC motto, and it's the motivational tool instructors try to instill in the students.

On time - Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) teams and other special operating forces (SOF) rely on SWCC to be there at a specific time. It's imperative to all missions, including being at school. On target - The accuracy with their weapons. Never quit - this mentality is carried for life.

"Their limitations aren't that bad," said Instructor, Gunner's Mate 1st Class (SWCC) Robert Staples. "They need to realize they can push themselves a lot farther."

"Go until you can't go anymore, and go one more," added Moore.

Phase three, CQT epitomizes Moore's statement. Mission planning, rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) operations, and engineering and damage control make CQT academically challenging.
Students are tested on weapon systems, chart plotting, communications and seamanship.

"Intense training comes along with CQT, driving boats and shooting weapons," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Anthony Dominguez, class leader of 54-2.

Damage Controlman 2nd Class Ricardo Torres, a member of Class 54-2, said it's all about execution.

"I'll actually apply all of the skills I've been taught on a daily basis to my job and my missions," Torres said.

Of the special forces, SWCC has the skills and knowledge of maritime insertion and extraction of special operations.

"SWCC provides platforms that very few military forces can master," said Hull Technician 1st Class Lawrence Obst, an instructor at the school. The boat teams work hand-in-hand with Navy SEALs who are equipped to support any and all operations in maritime and riverine environments.

"We're not fighting for our jobs," said Staples. "Not one other person does our job in the military, and SWCC is in high demand because of it."

Vessel Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS), close-quarter battles and counter intelligence are conducted with surface assets or combat crafts to secure afloat missions using MK-V craft, RHIBs and the SOC-R riverine boat.

"All the training at the SWCC School is geared around what the boat guy does for a living because we take the biggest beating," said Staples.

All boats have different equipment and different operating capabilities, but all boats have one mission - combat terrorism.

"Our MK-V craft is extremely fast," said Moore. "The boat can be going full speed and come to a complete stop within the length of that boat. It's called a crash back," he said.

When USS Cole (DDG 67) got hit, the SWCC boat guys were the ones protecting the waters from further attacks," said Staples.

For Burt, being part of a boat team is intense. "Most people don't understand what we do. It's a big misconception and we have to educate people," said Burt. "Once they understand how tough it is to operate in a maritime environment, at night with low visibility, they gain respect and appreciate SWCC."

The instructors have camaraderie, and they are a real close team, said Torres. "In our training, we rely on each other in the same aspects."

The mindset of the boat teams builds confidence and mission success for the quiet professionals SWCC is known for.

"It's more than just being part of an elite brotherhood. Being in the water, pushing fast boats, jumping, and shooting - it's all part of an awesome job," said Obst.

With approximately 540 designated SWCC in the military, the demand for more of the elite combatant crewman has caused the Navy to make SWCC its own rating of Special Boat Operators (SB).

Five hours after leaving the bay, the teams had plotted every fix for the evolution. It was dark; the only thing they could see were the downtown lights that seemed miles away. Their clothes were soaked; their knees were sore and everything was covered in salt from the sea spray and the aft lookout was still wide-eyed in search for contacts.

"Surface Contact one-eight-zero position angle two!" Beem shouted to the coxswain.

Beem looked at the students with a smile and said, "Don't you just love it?"

SWCC BCT class 54-2 had just completed their first low light/night operations evolution.

The class leader of 54-2 said it best. "If you want to be a part of something bigger and better, this is the place to be," said Dominguez.

Seven weeks down and 14 more to go; but for them, it's just the beginning.

Jones is assigned to Fleet Public Affairs Center, San Diego.

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