MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The fumes of diesel and oil surrounded Marines as they sat in the small, dimly lit hull of an Assault Amphibious Vehicle. The massive gate to the USS Essex’s (LHD 2) well deck slowly lowered, disappearing under the surface of the water. The AAV-7 jolted forward as the driver increased the speed as the end of the ramp approached. The Marines felt a brief instant of weightlessness as the AAV-7 drove off the ramp into the Pacific. The jets engaged and propelled the AAV-7 through the waves as it piloted toward the shore.
The Marines of Company A, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division, began their pre-deployment Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation at Camp Pendleton, Feb. 24, 2016, by launching an amphibious assault from the USS Essex.
A MCCRE is a training evolution in which a unit is evaluated on their readiness and ability to perform tasks required by the unit’s mission essential task list.
In preparation for the MCCRE, Co. A rehearsed operations at the individual vehicle level. They practiced mechanical failure drills, water infiltration drills and disabled vehicle recovery maneuvers. They built upon their training by conducting drills with the entire company and moving from the calm waters of their basin at Camp Pendleton to the surf of the beach.
“The company started by conducting training in the boat basin at the small unit level, which built up to the platoon level training in the ocean and eventually company level operations and movements,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Souders, the operations chief with Co. A, 3rd AA Bn.
Marines were provided with a realistic training atmosphere with support from the Essex and Assault Craft Unit 5 of Expeditionary Strike Group 3. The opportunity allowed the Marines to become familiar with the challenges of ship debarkation and amphibious landing.
“U.S. Navy 3rd Fleet played a vital role in the entire evaluation,” said Souders, from Chester, Pennsylvania. “[Company A] supported us with the USS Essex and [Landing Craft Air Cushions]. Everything we did – from amphibious planning, to the debarkation of our vehicles and going ashore, and landing on two separate beaches – was incredible. We could not have done it without the support of 3rd Fleet.”
The AAV-7s launched from the Essex. Once ashore, the Marines were faced with a series of challenges which tested their skills and performance in fast-paced, high-stress situations. The Marines were evaluated on how they handled each situation.
“The Marines could expect to be evaluated on how a [simulated] casualty is assessed, reported and transported to medical, as well as the evacuation of the crew and recovery of a vehicle after it had been disabled by a simulated improvised explosive device,” said Souders.
Between evaluations, Marines received a class from Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Wilcox, a crew chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, on the limitations and configurations of the CH-53E Super Stallion. They also learned how to refuel AAV-7s from an aircraft. This was a unique experience for the Marines, as refueling an AAV-7 from an aircraft is not a typical skill taught to most AAV companies.
“It was something we wanted our Marines to know how to do in the event they are presented with a situation where they need to be refueled,” said Souders. “They now understand there are refueling capabilities when conventional refueling procedures are unavailable.”
After the week-long crucible of scenario-based training, Co. A returned with new and refined knowledge that will aid them in their upcoming deployment to Okinawa, Japan.
“We conducted everything the same as if this was a real mission,” said Cpl. Eric Galcik, a crew chief with 2nd platoon, Co. A, 3rd AA Bn who is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “After seeing how we sit in the defense and how we debarked from the ship together, we looked absolutely fantastic.”
The Marines will continue to build on the lessons learned from the evaluation. With their deployment date growing closer, the Marines utilize the remaining time to further hone their skills, and while their mission may be uncertain, the Marines of Co. A, 3rd AA Bn. are prepared to answer the call.