Words by Bridget Foster.
What in the world, you may ask, could the Coast Guard do in a land nearly 300 miles from the nearest body of water? As it turns out…plenty! A small detachment of twelve, carefully selected but volunteer Coast Guardsmen are spread throughout the landlocked region assisting with drawdown operations. Known as the Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment team, or RAID, these Guardsmen are responsible for securing hazardous materials and inspecting the shipping containers used to transport military equipment back to the United States. RAID inspects an average of 300 containers a month. The Coast Guard’s long history of specialized container inspections was instrumental in its selection by the Department of Defense for this task.
Traveling throughout the country to outlying forward and contingency operating bases around Afghanistan, RAID members conduct several types of inspections before the containers are packed. Their primary inspections are to determine the seaworthiness of the containers used to move equipment and supplies. To comply with international rules, all containers traveling aboard commercial ships have to have placards attached showing that they are fit for an ocean voyage. If possible, containers not meeting the standards are repaired and recertified, which saves the Department of Defense from having to lease additional containers.
RAID teams also inspect for the proper loading and labeling of hazardous materials, review shipping credentials and HAZMAT documentation and make sure the containers are properly sealed so they will clear customs at border crossings. The inspected containers are transported through Pakistan to ports on the Arabian Sea, or through longer routes in central Asia to Central or South Asian ports. The RAID inspections save the Department of Defense thousands of dollars in transportation expenses and fees since any cargo held up in these ports could cost upwards of $5000 per day.
Under the tactical command of detachments of the Army’s 831st Transportation Battalion, the experience of field life is a new one for RAID team members. Accustomed to life on a cutter, these men live in freight containers, tents or B-huts and occasionally, even travel in land convoys as they move from base to base. But, make no mistake, they are well prepared.
RAID team members are typically senior, experienced Reservists who, in the civilian sector, are veteran law enforcement officers or emergency responders. High performing active-duty Coast Guardsmen have recently been added to the mix. To prepare for deployment, the Guardsmen attend weapons and force protection training, intensive combat training and theater orientation to learn the Army’s distinctively different way of doing things. Additionally, they receive training to acquire Coast Guard inspector qualifications if they don’t already have them.
The first combat-zone deployment of RAID teams was to Iraq in 2003 and teams were deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. An office opened in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2012 to assist US and NATO forces with the current drawdown operations and in that year alone, the RAID team inspected more than 7,000 containers.
This very small, but effective team is proud of its contribution to the safe return home for US troops and their equipment.