Defenders Protect Sea Vessels in Port
"Be advised we've got two contacts inbound," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Ronga, the Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 3, or MSRON 3, alpha team patrol leader, as he radioed to one of his watch teams to take note of an approaching civilian boat during a ship escort Oct. 5, 2012, in the Port of Djibouti, Djibouti.
"Today we're escorting a ship into port," Ronga said. "That's our job out here - provide security for the ship. We risk our lives to make sure the ship, cargo and personnel on-board stay safe until the ship enters and exits port. Anything that might come up; it's our responsibility to take care of that situation expeditiously."
The U.S. Navy squadron, from Naval Outlying Landing Field in Imperial Beach, Calif., is made up of an alpha and bravo team. Each is comprised of a patrol leader, coxswains, gunners, engineers, and navigators who pilot several SeaArk patrol boats during each mission. During a mission they are responsible for the force protection, escort service and static defense of all U.S. Naval vessels that dock in the port.
"I have really highly qualified personnel [to protect the] U.S. assets out here," Ronga said. "This is one of the major ports for our U.S. vessels that operate in this [operations area]. These ships [need to] feel safe coming to this vicinity to do their mission."
For Ronga, a 16-year U.S. Navy veteran, from San Bernardino, Calif., who's deployed a total of six times and has been a patrol leader with MSRON 3 for the past five years, the job is a personal one.
"My ship pulled in to Yemen prior to the [USS] Cole. The Cole was supposed to pull in when we did," Ronga said. "If we would've pulled in when we were supposed to that probably would've happened to my ship."
The USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, was bombed by al-Qaeda operatives on Oct. 12, 2000. Seventeen Sailors were killed and several more were injured.
"Doing this job, making sure that never happens again or the chances of it happening again are extremely low … that means a lot to me," Ronga added.
As the team's patrol leader, Ronga's job is simple - call the shots. The execution of his job is slightly more complicated.
"Patrol leads have to be fully qualified on the boat, the job and tactics," Ronga said. "There aren't too many service branches that have E6s and E5s with the [commanding officer's] authority to tell other people to open fire. As the patrol lead, I'm in charge of my boats. I'm in charge of [my Sailors], what they do and how they handle the mission and conduct business on and off-duty."
Although each team may have more than one qualified patrol leader, only one serves as patrol lead during missions.
"You can only have one person calling the shots," Ronga said. "If you had more than one person calling the shots on what to do, communication would go down and the mission wouldn't be accomplished. I have full trust and respect for my Sailors, and they [have] the same for me. If I make a wrong choice I could put their lives at risk, or the lives of those we are protecting, which to me is unacceptable."
The team, which will redeploy in the coming months, has ensured 40 successful missions. Their replacements, MSRON 2, hail from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.