By MSgt Grady Fontana
TOUBAKOUTA, Senegal - A fast-moving river boat bouncing up and down the waterways can be an easy target for the adversary who may be dug in at each bank of the river. To compound on the boat’s liability it can prove to be a difficult platform to hold steady when returning the enemy’s fire. Accurate shooting on a fast river boat takes a skill that the Nigerians have honed.
In the spirit of multilateral collaboration and cross-border cooperation—both cornerstones of Africa Partnership Station 2011—the Nigerian Navy provided six instructors to share their experiences with the Security Cooperation Task Force in riverine operations, while the Senegalese contributed their expertise is small boat maneuver.
“Our specialty is we teach how to fight on water, on a fast patrol boat,” said Nigerian sailor, Cpl Abiodun Egbikume, able seaman and a native of Lagos, Nigeria. According to Egbikume, the Nigerian navy has a lot of experience with security in the Nigerian waterways protecting oil rigs from pirates.
The riverine range comprised of about 400 meters of river banks lined with various targets at river and tree levels. The river boats motored off gyrating up and down while U.S. Marines, with 60 rounds each, applied their new marksmanship skills to the test.
“We are conducting a live-fire range for riverine operations,” said Lt Moses K. Omopariola, chief instructor, Special Boat Service, Nigerian navy. “We’re here to teach the men how to shoot on the boat because the platform we shoot on is not very stable … it rocks, so you need to learn how to stabilize yourself while shooting at your targets.”
Rounds chopped down branches and made large splashes proving the skill of shooting on a fast moving boat is not an easy task; however, many found their targets.
“It’s important to apply the fundamentals because you don’t want to waste rounds by shooting in the water, you want to be able to hit your targets,” said Omopariola, a 2006 graduate of The Basic School, a U.S. Marine Corps officers’ course in Quantico, Va. “You really need to conduct it proficiently.”
Omopariola and his cadre of instructors provide three days of classes before the Marines hit the range. The instruction involved a lot of tactics on river operations. The river range is not something Marines typically train to do, and the training amounts to more than just firing weapons at targets while on a boat.
“You also have to take time to learn how to drive the boat; you have to learn how to read the wave and learn when to shoot and when not to shoot,” said Omopariola.
The live-fire range was limited to linear shooting, or shooting at only one side of the river bank; however, according to Omopariola, if in a multiple boat formation and the adversary attacked from both sides of the river, boat marksmen run the risk of accidentally shooting each other. “You have to be able to access your terrain and be able to shoot only at the enemy and not end up shooting yourself,” he said.
The Senegalese Marines also showed their proficiency in maneuvering the boat on the river. The boat driver skillfully leaned the boat to its side to allow the U.S. Marines a better position and a more open view of the targets.
“The big thing with this type of training is the cooperation that’s going on between the Nigerians, the Senegalese and the U.S. Marines,” said 1stLt Michael J. Thomas, 2d platoon commander and executive officer of the Ground Combat Element, SCTF, APS-11. “[River operation] is something the Nigerians are very good at and the Senegalese have some skills, so it’s something they bring to the table and show us how to do.”
According to Thomas, a native of Maynard, Mass., security assistance is about cooperation and understanding between partner nations in order to promote greater regional stability. Military to military events such as these enhance the interoperability and helps increase our partners’ security capacity.
“The partnership is great,” Omopariola said. “We bring our countries together so if we have a common threat we can operate on the same platform. You are only as strong as your weakest link. If you have one who is not up the standards, he will mess up your entire operation.”
The live-fire course was part of APS-11, a U.S. Africa Command maritime security engagement program that is designed to strengthen participating nations’ maritime security capacity. Marine Corps Forces, Africa is supporting APS 11 with a security assistance force based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. The SCTF began its deployment in Ghana in March and is slated to continue its follow-on mission at Gabon in June.