Through the Suez - Marines and Sailors man battle stations

4 Feb 2003 | LCpl. Shawn C. Rhodes 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Lance Cpl. Chris Coger has had live rounds in his rifle before, but today is the first time he might have to use them to defend himself, and possibly kill his attacker.

Marines and sailors manned their posts and battle stations recently when the 7 ships transporting the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade navigated through the Suez Canal as part of the MEB's deployment to Central Command?s area of responsibility.

The ships heighten security due to the close proximity to land.

"Any time we get into a choke point, the ship becomes an easy target.  Anyone could do the ship or it's crew harm when we're so close to the shore and in a heavy-traffic area," explained Chief T.J. Kivley, the ship's armorer. 

"When we're at sea, we're offered protection by distance, but when we're in a commercial area, attack becomes much more likely and we have to be ready."

Both Marines and Sailors manned posts during the ship's passage through the Suez.  Navy Gunners manned 50 cal. Machine guns, M-60's, and a cadre of small arms.  The Marines took their places in strategic positions around the ship, armed with their M-16
A-2 service rifles, 50 cal. Machine guns and Mark-19 grenade launchers.  Many Marines were also armed with pistols, depending upon their qualifications.

"With Marines and Sailors standing post around the clock, we are prepared to defend against everything and anything," said Kivley.  "With our defenses up and ready, we become a hard target, even in high-traffic areas."

Increased naval security is the result of numerous attacks against Americans and American military forces, such as 9/11 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole (DDG 67) in Oct. 12, 2000.  A

Although officials did not expect an attack on the ships when passing through naval waters, the United States did not expect the aforementioned attacks at that time either.

Marines and sailors standing post were advised to keep watch for small boats and suspicious-looking people on shore.  All could possibly pose a threat to the Bataan.

"We have 360-degree coverage of the ship, 24-hours a day.  The Marines and sailors manning their posts know how serious this is, and that their level of awareness could be what stops an attack before it can cause damage," said Kivley.

"Marines standing post on ship are only experiencing the first of many posts they could stand, when they arrive in Central Command's area of responsibility," said Col. Reed R. Bonadonna, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade's historian. 

"I think we'll see a lot more training in the future with Marines on land and sea protecting their posts from an attacking boat's small arms fire," he said.

The Marines standing post with live rounds know the importance of the job they have.  Many enjoy it, but are nervous about the duties they may have to perform.

"I know I'm in an uncertain environment.  I saw a guy on the shore pointing his thumbs down at us.  It makes me feel unwelcome," said Coger. 

The motor transport operator and native of Oakman, Ala., added "I know there's the possibility of someone trying to attack the ship, and it's good to know we have the firepower to stop them."

The transit through the canal was peaceful and without incident.  The Egyptian military presence during the transit was impressive, said Rear Admiral Nowakowski, Commander Amphibious Group 2.  He added, "And that's a long way to cover."

The completely man-made Suez Canal is over 2,600 years old.  It has fallen into disrepair many times over the centuries.  The condition of the canal, dug through more than 100 miles of desert, depended upon the importance the particular empire in power placed on Egypt's trade economy.  Now, it is used as one of Egypt's main sources of income, and links the Mediterranean Sea with Asia.