Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
The touring vessel left the marina in Oriental, N.C., around 8 a.m., June 12, at a nice, leisurely pace – summoning just enough of a breeze to provide its roughly 50 guests sweet relief from the incessant summer Carolina sun.
As the boat moseyed along the Neuse River toward Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s Bombing Target 11 range, two vessels of a much different sort sped by the boat’s starboard side, racing toward the same destination.
They were rigid-hulled inflatable boats, or RHIB, and each one held at least five special warfare combatant-craft crewmen from Special Boat Team 20 out of Norfolk, Va. Naval special boat teams are the maritime mobility asset for all special operations forces across the Department of Defense.
Members of SBT-20, along with UH-1N Huey aircraft from Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, were on hand to demonstrate their operations at BT-11 range to the public.
“Hopefully today we’ll be able to communicate our needs and capabilities with respect to the air station and national security, and spend a day on the water with some friends.” Col. Douglas A. Denn, commanding officer of MCAS Cherry Point, said at the outset of the event.
The air station conducted the demonstration to show the public how instrumental the range is to training. Some commercial and recreational fisherman have reportedly disregarded the posted signs around the range, potentially endangering themselves and disrupting range operations.
The demonstration featured the two RHIB’s firing M240B medium machine guns from the bow and stern as HMLA-467’s Huey’s fired down on the range.
Maj. Carlos Scott, a pilot with HMLA-467, was on hand to discuss the vital importance of the range to his operations. Scott said having the range 15 minutes away provided his squadron with the crucial ability to train junior pilots.
The air station’s range management officer, Kenneth W. Cobb, said that the BT-11 range is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Cobb said for that reason, the Navy has recently ramped up its usage of the range in order to conduct their shallow water training. SBT-20 uses the range at least four times a year and SBT-12 travels at least twice a year from Coronado, Calif., to conduct training on the range.
Members of SBT-20 said the use of the range was of critical importance to their training and gave them experience that firing with blanks somewhere else failed to offer.
“Without the immediate feedback of seeing our rounds hit the target, we’re sending our guys down range partially trained,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Bryan Main, the assistant operations officer for SBT-20.
The public had the chance to see and touch the equipment in a static display featuring an RHIB outfitted with weapons with firing pins removed, and speak with the operators about their mission, Main said.
“The public was appreciative. They asked good questions and seemed to value the openness of the forum,” said Main.
Spectators seemed to learn a lot from the demonstration about military operations at BT-11 and the importance of the training.
“I’ve learned it’s critical that our military personnel receive the training they need,” said Joyce M. Mitchell, the eastern region liaison for U.S. Senator Kay R. Hagan. “Our office feels that the military is vital not only to North Carolina but our nation as a whole. Without the military, we would be unable to live our lives freely on a daily basis.”
Cobb said he hopes the range can be expanded to allow for the use of .50 caliber rounds.
“Long term, hopefully this demonstration appeases the public and demonstrates that we really do have their interests at heart,” Cobb said. “And I would like to give the Navy the expanded capabilities so they can train the way they fight.”