Is there an identity developing in the coastal riverine
community that is separate
from the blue-water, “big”
surface warfare Navy?
CEPEK: I would say yes and no.
The reason I say that is because
many of our foundational programs
for maintenance, safety, administration and personnel management
are exactly the same. I tell incoming riverine Sailors that, no matter
where they come from, they already
know a good portion of their job,
as some of them are understandably nervous about the different
warfare areas. Our difference
from the surface warfare community, as a component of the Navy
Expeditionary Combat Command,
stems from how we deploy.
We are not on ships, and our
squadrons routinely conduct dispersed operations. The squadron
CO [commanding officer] may be
in one location and, often, one or
more of our units are in another
location or in a different area of
the world. It really is a different way of deploying and
operating, but it is an incredible opportunity for the
junior officers and enlisted leaders.
Is the coastal riverine force successful
in attracting Sailors?
CEPEK: Yes, I think very well, because of the leadership
opportunities for junior officers and enlisted Sailors.
It not only builds on what they’ve learned and experienced in the surface community — a large portion of
them come from surface warfare — but it also grows
and develops that further. Whether they’re on boats
or on land, those leadership opportunities, similar to
the surface warfare community, present themselves at
lower ranks. To put it simply, I’m training Sailors to
become proficient in driving boats and employing their
weapons — 9mm pistols all the way up to remotely
controlled weapons. It is a challenge that our Sailors
respond to and, frankly, they find it fun.
How well does small boat duty develop
leadership qualities in Sailors?
CEPEK: Because the crews are small related to the
capital ships, everyone is in a leadership position.
When you get underway on one of these small boats,
everyone is on watch. And the training they receive
from the Navy classes through individual skills and
then basic and advanced tactics as a team to kind of
reinforce the leadership role that each of those crew
members in that small crew has to fill.
While recently visiting a new Sentinel-class
Coast Guard cutter, I was surprised to find that
the CO billet for the crew of 23 is for a lieu-
tenant rather than a lieutenant commander.
Are your boats similarly commanded by
CEPEK: Certainly. It translates over to our Mark VI
patrol boats, which have even smaller crews, a little bit
smaller than that in size. Similar levels of responsibility for that junior officer.
How much has technology changed in the
last 10 years? How are your operations in
2017 different than in 2007 because of what
kind of tactical craft are at your disposal?
CEPEK: We have seen advances in communications,
unmanned sensors, remote weapons systems and
Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Sherrell Roberts, left, and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Alex Behnke,
assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 4, stand watch on a 34-foot patrol boat in the Arabian
Gulf Aug. 18.