NEWS | July 19, 2018

Watercraft operators: What it takes to command the sea

By Spc. Trenton Fouche Exercise News Day

The U.S. Army Reserve offers a wide variety of career fields ranging from logistical support to human resources. However, with so many jobs to choose from some military occupational specialties can sometimes be overlooked by potential recruits. One such specialty is watercraft operator.

Watercraft operators play a huge role in ensuring the Army’s overall mission readiness by overseeing cargo operations and making sure Soldiers on land and at sea are able to access resources needed for combat.

With such a great responsibility of carrying the load and executing an essential mission, it is important that the Army find Soldiers capable and combat ready to engage the enemy by navigating the sea aboard Army watercraft.

With so few watercraft operators in both the active and reserve component of the Army, it is essential that the Army makes certain that these Soldiers are proficient in their field.

“The watercraft field is a very small community,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Barker, a watercraft operator representing the 824th Transportation Company in Tampa, Florida. “A lot of us know the same people.”

The road to becoming a watercraft operator isn’t easy. In addition to 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, Soldiers must also endure six weeks of Advanced Individual Training with on-the-job instruction taking place both in the classroom and the field.

Many of the skills needed for this MOS exceed simply knowing how to use communication and navigation systems, it also entails being able to lead other Soldiers during operations.

“Everyone has a mission and if you have 10 people asking 10 different people the same questions there would be chaos,’ said Sgt. Brian Hays of the 651st Harbormaster Detachment. “It’s important to know where to go to find an answer.” 

“This is why leadership is very important,” he said.

With so many moving parts on each vessel, it is essential that watercraft operators gain as much experience as possible to ensure they are capable of executing the mission when the time comes.

The U.S. Army Reserve annual training exercise Big Logistics Over-the-Shore West 2018 in Tacoma, Washington, provides Barker with the experience and time he needs to get his license. Big LOTS West 18 is a hands-on training opportunity for Soldiers in watercraft units, terminal battalions and deployment support command units.

“Being from Florida allows me to get a little bit of a different experience,” said Barker. “Sailing over here is a lot different than sailing back home, the currents are different over here.”

Watercraft operators depend on training events such as Big LOTS, to test their proficiency and ability to achieve the next level of responsibility in their specialty. 

As Soldiers in this career path continue to advance, they must complete a duty task performance packet to become licensed and ensure they are competent and efficient in each task. This allows Soldiers the opportunity to gain experience in order to reach the goal of ultimately becoming vessel masters.

“Each level has a packet to complete once you come out of your respective school,” Barker said. “It can take a week for active-duty Soldiers, but for Reserve Soldiers it can take a few months because they only have battle assembly weekends to complete a task.”

In the face of evolving global threats, the Army continues to emphasize competence in basic Soldier tasks and specialties. Proficiency and mastering the fundamentals are essential to being an effective watercraft operator.

“There’s a lot of hard work involved and you have to have a good attitude because you’re in close quarters with other Soldiers,” said Barker. “You have to be willing to work because we deliver cargo over multiple platforms whether it’s a beach or a fixed location. That’s what makes us vital to the Army’s mission.”