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628th SFS Airman takes helm, steers into history

By MC2(SW/AW) John Haynes | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | August 18, 2016

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A few miles from the bustling runways full of cargo planes at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, one Airman is acquiring his "sea legs." Senior Airman Austin Walworth, 628th Security Forces Squdaron, recently earned the Navy's Small Craft Insignia. It is believed Walworth is the first member of the Air Force to achieve such a designation.

The "Coxswain Pin" as it is commonly called, originated in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. The pin recognizes elite Sailors who were specially trained to operate small boats in combat.

"This pin signifies that Airman Walworth has achieved the highest levels of qualification in small boat operations and tactics," said Lt. Charles Gatewood, Naval Support Activity Charleston's Waterfront Operations officer.

To become eligible, Walworth completed several Personnel Qualification System watch stations, two small boat coxswain courses and planned and led a small team in completing a mission. Level I, or Shore Installation Management Small Boat Coxswain, introduces small boat terminology and equipment, basic concepts of navigation and maritime law. The Level II Coxswain course builds on that knowledge and teaches operators how to tactically employ the boats.

"Weapons is a big part of the course," said Master at Arms 1st Class Brian Cobb, Harbor Security Training Supervisor and lead instructor of the Level II course. "But mostly we discuss high value asset security and how we maneuver the boats to prevent attacks, as well as conducting insertion/extraction and search and rescue."

After building on the fundamentals in the classroom, students put what they learn into action through live combat scenarios in the water.

"At the end, we got to actually execute the mission we planned," said Walworth. "Seeing everything come full circle and putting all of our training together to get the job done was pretty rewarding."

Because the Air Force and Navy have historically different missions and roles in protecting America, there are some challenges when training between branches. Walworth says this aspect of the qualification process was the most difficult but gave him a newfound appreciation for what the Navy does.

"In the Air Force we are used to operating on land and this type of navigation in the water is completely different," Walworth said. "All I know is air base defense, but once I got onto the boats here I wanted to be the best I could be at it."

The story of Walworth's climb up the ladder from Airman to small boat crewmember to coxswain is beneficial for both branches of service.

"This opens a new avenue for Security Forces Airmen to see how the Navy does waterborne security," said Gatewood. "After completing the course and earning their pin, it allows multiple services to speak one language on the water to help minimize miscommunications.  It also helps planning because the Airmen have a better grasp on factors to be considered when performing a maritime security mission."

Walworth's dedication paid off personally and provides a shining example to other service members on Joint Base Charleston.

"He sets the new standard for all the Airmen following in his footsteps," Cobb said. "After earning his pin, he is considered a subject matter expert on everything related to small boats."

The Airman from Claire, Michigan welcomes the expectations that come with breaking down barriers.

"In today's world, anything can happen and we have to be ready to react to any threat out there," Walworth said. "I look forward to seeing and being a mentor to new Airmen coming into the program and I hope they catch as much of an interest as I did."

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