Guardsmen test waters of Tigris River on
coveted boat patrol
Stars and Stripes
Saturday, June 4, 2005
TIKRIT, Iraq The instructor leans
toward the steering wheel being gripped by his attentive student and passes on
a few pointers.
Palm it with one hand, Staff Sgt.
Hector Rangel says to Spc. Louis Otten, who is looking over his shoulder as he
begins to back up. Do it slowly. You dont need to gun it.
Rangel, Otten and Spc. Carlos Mayorga, the
other student along for the ride, are members of the 3rd Battalion, 133rd Field
Artillery, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard.
As the trio skips and splashes its way across
the lake, they and three other soldiers in a second boat know they are darn
lucky to have one of the best gigs in all of Iraq: boat patrol.
Easy strokes, let the motion of the
boat do all the work, Rangel continues as Otten finishes the maneuver.
Yeah, you redeemed yourself.
With the move complete, Mayorga soon takes
his place behind the wheel, and the three go speeding off to make more waves
across a man-made lake on a huge palace compound along the Tigris River in
Not many people can say they were on a
boat in a war zone, says Rangel, a lake patrol officer in Austin,
While the detail offers troops a refreshing
break from the heat and their yearlong tug of war with Iraqi insurgents, there
is a practical side to Rangels Navy, as some call it. The
Army says the Special Boat Squadron offers an extra layer of security for the
42nd Infantry Division headquartered on the compound.
The suspicion is that insurgents sometimes
use the Tigris River and its tributaries to launch mortars or smuggle weapons
River patrols by coalition forces in Iraq
arent something new. Theyre done in and around the port at Umm Qasr
and along the Euphrates River by a Marine small-craft company, among
Rangel is the perfect person to head the
effort along the Tigris because he does basically the same thing minus
the heavy machine gun for the Austin Park Police. For the past couple of
weeks, hes been tutoring the others in the basics of boating and water
I told my wife I got my feet wet
again, Rangel says. When we got these boats, I was the happiest
person in Iraq.
The fleet consists of four, 28-foot-long
vessels powered by dual 115-horsepower engines. Painted an odd camouflage
green, they nonetheless give the Army a resourceful way to shore up its palace
defense and chase down any waterborne threats that might be lurking.
Well light em up,
Members of a field artillery unit, Otten and
Mayorga are accustom to launching projectiles. But the pair of boat novices has
a blast whenever they launch their yet-unnamed craft into the watery sector
they now patrol.
I just might buy a boat when I get
home, Mayorga says. My wife asked me, Do you know how to
drive a boat? I said, No, but Im learning.
The plan is to keep the current team together
for several weeks before giving another group of soldiers a shot at the
They all want to be on the boats,
says Spc. Jeremy Seal, who was on a second boat with Staff Sgt. Joe Flores and
Spc. Gabriel Cunnion. A lot of guys want to be on the boat crew. We got
(click for close-up)