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Reservists train at Crescent Harbor

Carl James peers through a pair of binoculars to get a better look at the Coast Guard Auxiliary boat mid-way through the training exercise Thursday. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Carl James peers through a pair of binoculars to get a better look at the Coast Guard Auxiliary boat mid-way through the training exercise Thursday.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

As temperatures soared into the 90s last week, MRSON 9, a Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron reserve unit, kept their cool while training on the waters in Crescent Harbor.

The maritime escort exercise focused on vital shipping escorts and was part of the reserve unit’s two-week annual training. Throughout the year, the reserve unit meets at a different location for training one weekend every month, said Tony Gomez.

Four vessels were used during the drill: a 41-foot Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel that acted as the escorted boat, two 34-foot SeaArch Navy craft that acted as escorts, and a 25-foot Navy SAFE boat that acted as an unknown point of contact.

The escorted vessel, referred to as a HVA, or High Value Asset, is usually a large ship, Gomez said. For training purposes, the Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteered to stand in as a mock HVA for the training.

The exercise provided the members of the reserve unit with practice escorting HVA shipping vessels that rely on maritime escort.

“We provide security on the water,” said Tony Gomez, who drove a 25-foot SAFE boat that acted as an unknown boat in the waters near the shipping vessel. An unknown boat that comes too close to a shipping vessel during escort becomes a contact of interest, or COI.

Two 34-foot SeaArch Navy boats escorted and screened the mock “vessel” in the area from the inner harbor to a rendezvous point and back.

The exercise provided an opportunity for the reservists to learn how to identify a contact of interest and respond in a certain way, he said.

“It’s to familiarize the crew with how it’s done as a job, with what they’re supposed to do, their reaction, our levels of escalation, how we man our weapons, what the commands will be, what reports will be done and the proper maneuvers we need to do with our craft,” he said.

During the training, the two SeaArch craft learned to keep pace with the contact of interest — in this case, the Navy SAFE boat — in order to screen the coast guard boat.

The reserve meets for an annual two-week training once a year, and then one weekend out of every month.

“A lot of time it’s open communication, conference calls and planning,” Gomez said of the monthly reserve unit’s training. Members live all over the West coast, from Seal Beach, Calif. to Puyallup.

“We’re always preparing. It’s our job to be ready at all times,” Gomez said. “Readiness is key.”

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