Guns & Gear of the U.S. Navy's Riverine Forces (Part Two)

Guns & Gear of the U.S. Navy’s Riverine Forces (Part Two)

10 April 2009, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. This member of the RST proudly wears the patch of a Riverine Joint Terminal Attack Controller. It takes a lot of intensive and exacting training to produce a qualified JTAC, charged with the heavy responsibility of directing precision fire from supporting aircraft and artillery. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:What recommendations would you like to make to the chain of command to improve skill with individual weapons and the ability to operate day and night?

Lubrani:  The NVGs we have now I enjoy.  I’ve heard a couple of guys say they’d like to use a two-tube NVG (like the AN/PVS-15) for better depth perception.  I like the single (tube) one because you never know.  Someone can shine a light on you and they have a safety thing that’ll kick off (automatically shut down) but at least you still have one eye to engage with.  With a binocular NVG you’d have to take time to lift ‘em up to see or wait for them to readjust.

SADJ:  Comment on the individual weapons used by the RST.

Lubrani:  The 9mm Beretta, I love it, hasn’t failed me once.  Keep it clean and it never jams up on you.  The M4, I love that rifle, it’s great.  It held up very well in Iraq with all the dust.  I didn’t have a problem with it.  None of the parts ever loosened up on me or anything like that.  It’s a really good rifle.

SADJ:  Most of the flattop M4s we’ve seen in your detachment have 4 power ACOG scopes mounted.  Does anybody use a different scope or sight?

Lubrani:  A couple of our RSTs have Aimpoints, a red dot sight.  At first all of the RST guys got Aimpoints and all the boat guys got ACOGs.  But now they’ve kinda switched up a little bit.  Only because our Aimpoints don’t come with magnification.  I know they sell one and I think that would be great.  If it had both I think that’d be spot on.  Or the one you mentioned (4 power ACOG with a piggyback DOCTER red dot) that sounds great.  When we’re in Iraq there’s a lot of open space so you could use that magnification.  But at the same time you never know when your convoy will break down in the middle of the town and you have to go in and search those buildings.  You have to have both ‘cause you never know when you’re gonna need it.

SADJ:  When you were deployed was most of the RST work in going through villages? 

Lubrani:  Not really.  We encountered a lot of tents, not too many buildings at all.  We ground convoyed through towns but we didn’t stop to get out and search.

SADJ:  Would you make recommendations for any other gear like weapon-mounted night sights?

Lubrani:  We’ve got the PEQ-15 (ATPIAL – Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light) and those are really good.  We usually use them with the infrared laser pointer and we have our NVGs on and it hits, it picks up really good.

SADJ:  Any personal experience or stories you’ve heard about the effectiveness of M855 standard 5.56mm ball ammunition in stopping the target?

Lubrani:  We’ve heard that there are times when they won’t.  Maybe going to a heavier caliber for us would be better.  I’ve personally never seen anyone shot with ‘556.’

SADJ:  Have you had the opportunity to use the 40mm M203 grenade launcher on an M4?

Lubrani:  Yes, through training.  It’s very well built, you can deploy it very quickly and these ITA instructors here have shown us a way that makes it even better.  Usually we use leaf sights but they showed us a quicker way of engaging your target using reference points on the side of the rifle.  Apparently comes from their experience in using it.

11 July 2008, Haditha, Iraq. Standing watch behind an M240 machine gun aboard an RPB operated by RIVRON THREE, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Russell Osbun relies on a helmet-mounted AN/PVS-14 Night Vision Device to pierce the darkness during night operations on Lake Quadsiyah. In addition to improving security and deterring insurgent activity, Osbun and other Riverines of his squadron are assisting with an update of census data. (U.S. Marine Crops photo by Cpl. Seth Maggard)

SADJ:  RSTs were previously using the MK43, a modified M60.  We’re hearing some say they’re not happy with the new MK 48, that 7.62mm belt gun from FN.  Comment?

Lubrani:  I’ve had a lot of experience with the M240 and the 48 is almost the same as far as how it works and its cyclic rate.  But the 48 for some reason was jamming.  You wanna go out knowing you have something that’ll shoot.  More than fifty or sixty rounds before its jams up on you.  Being a small unit element we have two machine gunners and that’s it.  So if one of those or both of those go down that’s a big gap in our firepower.  We’ve heard rumors that it gets better after a certain amount of rounds.  I don’t know if the parts open up and get looser and it’s more reliable.  But as of right now; not good.

SADJ:  Tell us about the 12 gauge M500 Mossberg shotgun.

Lubrani:  That’s probably gonna be our next home defense weapon (laughs) for my wife and I.  On the team we haven’t had to employ it.  Just in training.  But among all the guys we love it.  Put a slug in there and knock the hinges off a door real quick.

SADJ:  Do you have leeway in your gear?  For example, the holster for your M9.  Do you get to pick your own if you don’t like the Navy issue?

Lubrani:  Yes, you see some guys with different types of holsters but for the most part we like to keep it all the same, like the SERPA (Blackhawk Industries), a great holster.  If you notice most of our guys have Navy issue SERPAs with a one finger release.  The only difference (points to LT Baer) would be like the LT is wearing his ‘drop leg’ and I’m wearing it hip platform.  It just comes down to personal comfort.

SADJ:  Lieutenant, is that an issue rig?

Baer:  I actually purchased this myself, a drop down with that extra gap below the body armor for a quicker draw.

SADJ:  How about variations in the types of magazine pouches and their positioning on the body armor?

Lubrani:  At first it was a command thing, they wanted us to all be the same.  But once we got into training it was realized that some things just don’t work for everybody.  Everyone has a different way they grab their magazines, different places.  And once you get into the training it all becomes muscle memory, you have to know where your things are.  I’ve rigged mine five or six times in different positions just so I can get it to where it’s comfortable.

Baer:  If you look at his mag pouches you can see how he’s got loops holding his mags and I have a different configuration.  So it’s personal preference.  The only thing these guys are held to is in our standard procedures we have first line, second line, third line gear.  First line gear is the stuff you wear on you, like your emergency pack and holster.  Second line is weapons and helmet, third line is what you’re gonna carry in your pack like GoreTex rain gear.  As long as they have that gear in each of those lines they’re good to go.

SADJ:  Other tricks of the trade from real world experience on your individual weapons?

Lubrani:  Most of our tricks of the trade have come through training.  Just getting out here and practicing so much.  Other things, I think the biggest one for me personally was learning how to shoot on your side.  Sometimes you can’t always get the shot laying flat down in the prone position.  Learning to manipulate your ACOG so your point’s still facing the same way.  Same thing with your M9, holding the flashlight up when you’re coming into a room with your Beretta.

10 April 2009, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. Riverines on the boats and on RSTs carry 9mm Beretta M9 semiautomatic pistols, also standard issue throughout the U.S. Armed Forces. Lubrani’s M9 is secured with a coiled tether that stretches to allow accurate shooting with arms fully extended. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  How about interaction with other RSTs?  Do you get together to talk about what works and what doesn’t?

Lubrani:  Absolutely, we’ll get with different dets and ask ‘em questions.  Maybe see somebody with his gear rigged differently or his PEQ mounted on the side instead of on top.  We bounce things off each other all the time.

SADJ:  We’ve seen different types of foregrips on the M4s.  Some have the GripPod with little bipod legs that drop down.  Also tactical lights and pressure switches for the M4.  Are these regulation, available through the Navy supply system?

Lubrani:  Usually our armory guys take care of all that stuff.  They have a list of approved things we can use on there.  The accessories we can vary up a little bit.  Personal preference.  A lot of guys go out and buy their own.  From what I understand it’s the same pretty much in other units like the SEALs.  As long as it fits the Navy’s requirement.

SADJ:  Your magazines don’t have pull loops.

Lubrani:  Some of the guys do have ‘em, including MagPul.  I’ve got short fingers and I don’t really like ‘em too much (laughs).

SADJ:  What happens if you’re in country and something breaks on the weapons?

Baer:  It goes through the regular Navy maintenance system.  We can get parts replacements and we have spare parts we can use to fix our weapons.   If something goes down hard then they send it back to (NSWC) Crane and we’ll get a full replacement.  We have spare weapons in the detachment.

SADJ:  What lessons did you learn about yourself and your boat mates in your last deployment?

Lubrani:  It was pretty hot over there.  The worst part is for the guys on the boats who have a different vest than we RSTs do.  It’s a KDH (Tactical Maritime Body Armor System) and ours are Eagle Industries (Maritime Combat Integrated Releasable Armor System).  From personal experience the KDH is so cumbersome.  It feels like you’ve got twenty extra pounds on.  This Eagle feels lighter even though the (ballistic) plates probably weigh about the same.  I’m actually carrying more stuff than I was on the boat but it’s the maneuverability.

SADJ:  Why do they wear a different vest?

Baer:  The boat guys have more chance of being hit with shrapnel and debris from the boat if it comes under attack.  If you look at the KDH the boat guys have it’s gonna ride up higher under the arms and actually drops down lower.  It has more flak protection built into the jacket of the vest itself and that’s why it’s heavier.  The shoulder straps are wider and has protection that goes up into the shoulder areas.  The Eagle has a little less flak protection.

SADJ:  How about the actual ballistic plates?

Baer:  They are the same, 7.62mm ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert).

The Riverine Security Team of Detachment 1, RIVRON THREE takes a quick break from intense live fire insertion and extraction training for a group photo at White’s Lake Tactical Training Site. The twelve RSTs, augmented by an Intel Specialist and a Hospital Corpsman, are armed with M9 pistols and M4 carbines, some equipped with M203 grenade launchers. Conspicuously absent are the team’s brand new MK48 machine guns that, we were told, need some gunsmithing to improve reliability. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  You’d sink like a rock in these heavy things if you went over the side.  What keeps you floating?

Baer:  This ‘horse collar’ automatically inflates and it will keep your head above the water.  Sometimes they go off when you’re just getting wet in training….

Lubrani:  The vests come with a quick release that you pull and it drops the ballistic plates.

Baer:  A configuration we’re expecting in the future is where, instead of having the ‘horse collar,’ we’ll have foam floatation inserts that go into the vest itself and ride between the plates and your body.

SADJ:  What advice do you have for RSTs preparing for their first deployment? 

Lubrani:  It can be something as simple as what to pack and what to expect out there.  Morale is the most important thing.  When they leave for deployment they should make sure everything at home is organized because nothing will bring you down worse than that.

SADJ:  What would you like to say to young men considering joining the Navy about why they should choose Riverine?

Lubrani:  We’re a very unique unit.  SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant Craft) says they’re the Riverines – I beg to differ – we carry that name now.  I think because of the veterans from Vietnam we have a big name to live up to and so far we’ve very much done so.  We’ve got big shoes to fill.  It’s a hard life, you’re constantly training but you’re getting paid to come out here and shoot guns all day.  What more can you ask for?  Shoot guns, PT (physical training), a big camping trip with live fire and boats.  It’s great and there’s nothing else like it.  ‘Big Navy’ doesn’t have that.  We were out here yesterday training, soaking wet and cold in the Zodiacs, and I turned around and said to the ITA instructor, ‘we’re actually getting paid to do this….’

10 April 2009, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. A Riverine Patrol Boat slowly moves “upriver” in preparation for its turn at inserting a Riverine Security Team at the north end of White‘s Lake. The RPB’s distinctively low and flat profile comes from practical design considerations that maximize its effectiveness as a river-running gun platform that also supports tactical movement of personnel and cargo. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  What would you like to add to any of this?

Lubrani:  It wouldn’t be such a great experience without the people around you.  The team, the entire det that makes it so good, the camaraderie.  My own experience would be as a high school athlete and the kind of solidarity you have with your teammates.  That’s exactly what it’s like here and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t like that.

SADJ:  Lieutenant, did you ask for Riverine?

Baer:  I did and it has lived up to my expectations.  I joined the unit in November 08 when the first group of the detachment returned from Iraq.  I took the Riverine Unit Level Leader’s Course at Lejeune’s SMTC (Special Missions Training Center) for good baseline knowledge.  This unit is a good place to be and I enjoy it.  It’s a lot of time away from home but it makes it worthwhile when you get to go out here and do the things we do.

SADJ:  Still no word on where and when for the next deployment?

Baer:  Yeah, we’re standing by.  We keep appraised and abreast of what’s going on in Iraq with our other squadrons because we need to know if we are going to relieve them in the same place and where we’ll take up from where they left off.

SADJ:  Your boats are painted green.  Will you leave these behind if you go back to Iraq?

Baer:  Yes, the other squadron in Iraq will turn theirs over if or when we relieve them.  They get a regular supply chain of new equipment and parts, maintenance on the boats themselves.

SADJ:  Will you leave your weapons behind?

Baer:  No, the weapons come with us, but the boats, trucks and trailers we’re using now will stay.  RIVGRU ONE keeps them in rotation for stateside training.

(Editor’s Note:  Since these interviews were conducted, RIVRON 3 has learned where their next deployment will be.  SADJ sends our wishes to them for fair winds and following seas.)