JINHAE, Korea – Two days before a weather front sopped the southern tip of the peninsula, Navy SEALs from both the U.S. and the Republic of Korea teamed up to conduct visit, board, search and seizure drills on a Korean Navy ship in Jinhae Harbor.
Sailing in calm seas and flying in clear skies, the ROK Navy and U.S. Army provided support with the ROK Navy AOE-59, Hwachun – a refueling vessel – and U.S. MH-47 Chinook helicopters piloted and crewed by soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The SEALs, from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 out of Coronado, Calif., and the Korean Naval Special Brigade, began the evolution by performing fast-rope drills at a helicopter pad resting on top of a hill overlooking the harbor at Jinhae Naval Base.
Fast-roping is a technique for descent from a helicopter by sliding down a thick-woven rope. It is the preferred method of rapid troop delivery from a helicopter platform.
“If we do it right, we can get 15 guys onto the ship in 30 seconds or less,” said “Mike,” a U.S. Navy SEAL, who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s all about speed and maintaining your distance between you and your buddy below you.”
Typically a 10-foot gap between troops is the norm when fast-roping, he added.
After the SEALs honed their skills on land, it was onto the primary drill in the harbor the following two days. By the light of day and in the black of night using night-vision goggles, teams of SEALs fast-roped onto the aft deck of the Hwachum and scattered in their respective squads to search the ships many rooms and quarters for mock “pirates” who were hiding down below the deck and on the bridge.
“When people think of pirates, they tend to think of Hollywood movies and Captain Hook – the stereotypical image of pirates in the 16 and 1700s – but the threat is very much still around, not so much off our (U.S.) shores, but definitely over here and especially off the coast of Somalia in the Arabian Sea,” said Chris, another U.S. SEAL, who also wished to remain anonymous. “But this type of training combats piracy and other forms of high-seas threats like drug runners and, of course, if North Korea ever tries to take a South Korean naval vessel.”
Events like the VBSS demonstrate the successful interoperability between the U.S. and ROK Special Forces and the continued coordination and cooperation between the two allies said a Lt. (senior grade) platoon leader from ROK SEAL Team 3.
“It’s critical to share tactics like this to make sure we’re on the same page and I hope to have similar training like this in the future,” he said.
NSWG 1 Commander Van Wennen, who was participating in his second Foal Eagle, couldn’t agree more.
“The VBSS has been the primary focus of the last two exercises,” he said. “We teach and learn from them – really a two-way street. We’ve had a long relationship with the ROK Naval Special Warfare community and we hope to sustain that relationship for a long time to come.”