MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Traveling through rough waves is just another training day for reconnaissance Marines, but this time their objective is something entirely new. After a tough three mile ride through the open ocean in a zodiac, the Marines arrived at the USS Freedom, a littoral combat ship. Their objective was to find out if the ship could launch and recover a zodiac.
The LCS is a new type of ship that is designed to operate close to shore. It was envisioned to be agile, stealthy and capable of defeating anti-access threats such as mines, submarines and fast surface craft.
The ability to use an LCS is the future of the reconnaissance Marine, said Gunnery Sgt. Mickey Eaton, the assistant operations chief for Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion.
The Marines with Bravo Co. have trained for Operation Enduring Freedom deployments for more than a decade, but this was their first time recovering and inserting from a ship in choppy waters. With the Marine Corps’ shift to the Pacific, they are moving back to their amphibious roots and conducting more water exercises.
During the exercise, the Marines employed two zodiacs, small inflatable boats with a hand steered engine, each carrying one team of six Marines. The open water created new challenges for them as they guided their boat through the strong current and onto a narrow ramp in the back of the USS Freedom while waves crashed into them.
“The ship is quite open in the back, which makes it feel the effects of what is going on in the ocean,” said Eaton, a native of Chicago. “The Marines are trying to land the boat on the ramp, which is small to begin with, while they’re getting kicked around by the water rushing in and out of the ship.”
The Marines worked as a team to overcome the obstacles. Once they were on the ramp, the two in the front of the boat attached tending lines from the ship to the front of the zodiac to stabilize the small craft. The Marines in the middle attached rear tending lines as well, and the two service members in the back of the boat were responsible for shutting off the engine in order for the ramp to raise them into the ship.
When the drills were over, the Marines determined that using an LCS gives them the opportunity to launch and recover reconnaissance teams from a greater distance out in the ocean.
The Marines’ training started well before they launched from their zodiacs. They conducted a full day of rehearsals prior to the drills to familiarize themselves with the LCS. The combination of the simulated rehearsals and practical application resulted in a successful day at sea.
“Since we have never done this on this type of ship, the Marines studied pictures of the ship, planned everything out on chalk boards and did a full day of rehearsing everybody’s job,” Eaton said. “I think doing that made them a lot faster, smoother and safer for the exercise.”
After numerous successful loads and unloads, the Marines knew they had added a new asset for their future missions.
“The Marines were great,” said Sgt. Benjamin Lebidine, a team leader with the company, and a native of Marlton, N.J. “I could tell they rehearsed and studied. They wanted to see if we could do this, if it was feasible to use the LCS and we found out that we could. They worked hard and well.”
The addition of the LCS broadens the spectrum of missions the Marines can conduct and helps them remain a premier force in readiness.