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‘Mighty Mo’ is stage for training

    Sweeping the upper decks of the USS Missouri, members of a Navy VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) team trained yesterday aboard the battleship, now a floating memorial in Pearl Harbor. As part of the drills, teams boarded the Missouri from small boats, climbing more than 30 feet up the hull from water level to its main deck, and searched designated portions of the ship as other sailors played the role of resisters aboard the vessel.
    With guns drawn, a Navy VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) team stood guard as team members climbed up the side of the Missouri yesterday during a training session.

A tour on the Battleship Missouri yesterday morning included something not in the brochure as Navy security forces clambered up the side on a cable ladder and positioned themselves with weapons drawn.

About 19 sailors were split into two groups and took turns searching cordoned-off deck and interior spaces as part of visit, board, search and seizure team training.

Navy ship search training was formalized after the Gulf War in 1990 for boardings that were sanctioned by United Nations resolutions. Now it is a skill that each ship possesses.

"Nowadays it’s really ramping up. It’s probably one of our fastest-growing warfare areas — especially off the coast of Africa with the Somali pirates, but also in the Arabian Gulf," said Lt. j.g. Matthew Felton, who serves aboard the Pearl Harbor frigate Reuben James and was one of the evaluators.

The Missouri was picked for training because the teams practice the most on their own ship and are familiar with every nook and cranny. Not so on the "Mighty Mo."

The first group of 11 team members pulled up to the Missouri in an inflatable boat and climbed aboard via the cable ladder with rifles hanging from slings. The weapons were real but no magazines were inserted.

All 11 proceeded in a single-file line to the upper decks — and that was when Felton called a training "timeout."

"You guys miss anything? You going to take your whole team up to the pilothouse?" he said.

A hatch leading to the engineering room had been missed, but it was all part of the fine-tuning that comes with the training.

Five split off and started searching the darkened interior barely lit by dim red bulbs. One, then another crew member played by Navy personnel was secured.

In the engine room, another role-player was taken into custody with a pistol.

"What are you guys doing in my engine room?" he demanded.

"Why do you have a gun?" asked one of the searchers.

"I always have a gun on me," the crew member replied.

Sailors from the Reuben James, cruiser Chosin and destroyers Russell and Chafee took part in the two searches.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Ladin, 27, who is on the Chafee, said he has been involved in a couple of real boardings during deployments to South Asia.

"I love doing this stuff," the Wausau, Wis., man said. "I wish we did more of it. It’s fast-paced and exciting. You are always doing something different."

Even the training can be dangerous. An evaluator told the story of an inflatable boat capsized by a wave as it maneuvered next to a U.S. cruiser that was underway. The team was washed under the churning props and lost a lot of equipment, but no one was injured.

Dozens of tourists, including a Chinese group, snapped pictures of the sailors training yesterday.

"I thought they were filming a movie," said Karen Dryden, visiting from Seattle.

It was the second time since April that the Navy practiced the search and seizure training on the Missouri.

"We’re honored to let them have the opportunity to do it," said Mike Pagano, military liaison for the Missouri. "For us to allow them to have the opportunity to train here continues the mission of the Missouri, and it provides a scenario that they aren’t able to match anywhere else."


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