For an Army installation with more than 100 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay and Bush and Gunpowder rivers, the ability to protect and police those shores and surrounding waters -- and the countless individuals who flock to them for recreational fishing and boating -- is crucial.
Last month, 15 members of APG's Directorate of Emergency Services, who are tasked with protecting those waterways, took part in a rugged, two-week training meant to teach and refresh their boat operation and navigation skills; those skills were then put to the test.
Personnel from APG's Fire and Emergency Services and Police Conservation Law Enforcement Branch participated in the Inland Boat Operator Training and Electronic Navigation Training Program hosted by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, or FLETC, at APG May 4-13.
According to Lt. Anthony Williams, a DES Conservation Law Enforcement officer, the eight days of training included intense instruction and practical evaluations while on the water.
"The practical evolutions included reduced-visibility operating and navigating, as well as day and night runs to ensure students experienced the situations they will encounter while underway," he said.
Working in boat crews of three or four students accompanied by an instructor, the practical training put classroom-acquired skills to the test.
"Students had the opportunity to navigate under ideal conditions and not so ideal conditions such as 30 knot winds and four foot seas while operating at night," Williams said. Students had to use their acquired knowledge to identify aids to navigation and landmarks, while working alongside ships and barges that were also using the same waterways.
"You were allowed to make mistakes and see the effects, yet it was a controlled situation in a crawl, walk, run type of progression," Williams said. "By doing it in this fashion the hands-on practice instilled confidence and ensured competency."
Several of the students concurred that nighttime and reduced-visibility navigation was the most difficult aspect of the training. According to Fire Capt. George Dorbert, instructors blocked out the windshields of the training vessels, forcing students to navigate the bay's main shipping channel solely using electronic navigation radar and charts.
"Navigating without the use of our visual sight, we were required to navigate our vessels using our electronic navigation tools only," Dorbert said. "This is very uncomfortable when you have large stone barges and tug boats moving in the shipping lanes. By obstructing our view it taught us to be confident in our electronics when operating at night for emergencies."
Students also had to practice and master entering and leaving the marinas, approaches to different dock situations, boarding procedures, man overboard drills and emergency procedures while underway, Williams said.
Before heading out on the water, students learned the gamut of boat operation in the classroom: motorboat trailering, boarding procedures, marlinspike seamanship, safety and emergency equipment, preventive maintenance, vessel handling, navigation rules, nautical terminology, and inland piloting.
The navigation course also exposed students to how to navigate in less-than-ideal conditions for visibility. According to Williams, students were introduced to the fundamentals used by vessel commanders or marine enforcement officers to utilize marine electronics to safely navigate during reduced visibility and in unfamiliar maritime areas of responsibilities.
"Students became proficient with their agency-specific electronics while determining position, direction and solving time, speed and distance problems," he said.
According to Williams, this training will help standardize and further develop the marine training program currently being utilized within the APG Fire Department. It also serves as an interim stepping stone for police personnel who are awaiting to attend the more advanced Marine Law Enforcement Training Program (MLETP) at the FLETC location in Brunswick, Georgia.
Police Officer John Fitch said the training has put the entire Conservation Law Enforcement section on "the same sheet of music" after attending the training.
"This course also built upon the training and expertise some of the individuals already possessed and enabled them to pull together new and old ways to become more proficient," Williams said.
While the training was strenuous, it also served as a team-building opportunity for police officers and firefighters whose daily operations and training don't typically cross over.
"The most enjoyable portion was the cohesiveness that it created with the fire department and the game wardens," Fitch said. "This type of training has been relatively nonexistent in the past. Through Lt. Williams' persistence, this type of vital training has become more available."
Dorbert said that for the fire department, the ability to train alongside the police department was invaluable.
"I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the APG Police Officers that were in the course," he said. "We do not have an opportunity to cross-train that often so it was a tremendous help having the experience of the Marine and Wildlife officers that were in the course."
Williams echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of the cross-training between the departments.
"Working with members of the fire department and in small boat groups ensured that in a situation where you have to mix groups for a mission, we are all on the same sheet of music speaking the same terminology and knowing what actions to expect," he said.
Both the fire fighters and police officers attested to the course's positive impact on their ability to accomplish their mission.
"I am more proficient with the electronic navigation tools on board, more proficient with the paper charts," Dorbert said. "I have more confidence in my equipment and myself when operating in night time conditions or dense fog situations. Having personnel trained in the proper operation of vessel handling provides a better service to the APG community."
They are also now better-equipped to handle any situation that may arise on or near APG waters.
"Thousands of recreational boaters and commercial fishermen utilize APG waters each year," Williams said. "APG must maintain a well-equipped and well trained force to respond 24/7 and in all weather and conditions, and to be able to safely enforce federal, state laws, and installation regulations to ensure preservation of our vast natural resources."
APG's responsibilities extend to the local communities as well; DES has a long-standing mutual aid agreement with Harford County that includes the area's waterways, and provides support to Baltimore and Cecil counties and areas on the eastern shore of Maryland, when requested, Dorbert said.
"We respond to numerous calls for service throughout the season," Fitch said. "It is incumbent upon ourselves as a professional organization to provide the most professional service available while representing the agency."
Overall, the training was both informative and enjoyable, according to Firefighter Curtis Diering.
"The whole experience was great," he said. "The instructors were top notch, bringing resources and knowledge from all over the United States, with extensive background themselves. It allowed some of us to refresh our memory, while gaining experience needed and the knowledge to prepare us to continue to train and perform our mission."
For more information about APG's Conservation Law Enforcement Branch or marine vessel training, contact Lt. Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.