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Lance Cpl. Raymond T. Wilcox, amphibious assault vehicle driver, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, navigates the AAV during an amphibious landing training exercise in support of well deck operations with the USS Pearl Harbor here, Oct. 24, 2013. The training took place off the coast of Camp Pendleton to train and evaluate the Marines in amphibious operations, wet well procedures and the tactical employment of AAVs in the water and on land.

Photo by Sgt Jessica Ostroska

Gators swim to ship, shore

6 Nov 2013 | Sgt. Jessica Ostroska

The ocean was a dark, metallic grey along the shoreline. Visibility was only a few feet in distance. The breeze was salty and cool, and all was dark except for some low, glowing yellow lights lined up in the sand. The sun had not yet begun to rise over the horizon, yet quietly along the beach there were close to a dozen steel gators ready and waiting.

Quietly the Marines with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, packed up their gear and got the massive vehicles prepped for the morning's training evolution off the coast here, Oct. 24.

“Today we were tasked with supporting amphibious operations with the USS Pearl Harbor,” said 2nd Lt. Jason Harbison, General Support Platoon commander. “We had to splash from the beach, go on ship, recover on ship, conduct amphibious operations, splash from the ship through a boat line and assault the beaches. A lot of these opportunities to train with the ship are few and far between, so it’s good for the Marines to gain the experience in being able to assault off a ship onto the beach.”

When the time came, the platoon sergeant gave the appropriate hand signal and the amphibian assault vehicles, one by one, took off from the beach into the ocean. Each gator roared as it clashed with the cold, harsh waves, and then made its way toward the naval ship.

After the gators were in calmer water, three small hatches atop each vehicle popped open and three Marines appeared from the belly of the steel machine. The Marine in the front of each AAV skillfully maneuvered the landing vehicle toward the rear of the ship for embarkation.

“We had to drive onto the ship and stage the vehicle in the upper deck of the ship,” said Lance Cpl. Raymond T. Wilcox, vehicle crew chief with GS Platoon. “We don’t get to do this training very often, maybe once every two months. This was my first time getting to dock an AAV onto a ship. I thought it would be hard, but it was pretty easy to maneuver.”

Once on board the ship, sailors directed the amphibious vehicles to the upper deck. The vehicles moved slow and steadily to their staging position until the naval vessel was in position and ready for the gators to hit the ocean again.

“We’re doing amphibious operations, embarking and disembarking troops on ship and shore,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Manuel, a section leader with the platoon. “It gives us training and the ship training. We have a vital role in the Marine Corps, being that we are an amphibious branch. It is what we do and what we always have to be ready for.”

One at a time, sailors gave the tracks the green flag to signal they were good to disembark the ship and hit the water for the next training evolution.

“During the second part of the training I was driving,” said Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Smith, vehicle driver with the platoon. “I needed to ensure tactical employment of the vehicle, and listen to my crew chief to ensure my vehicle was positioned where it needed to be, that I was going the correct speed, staying on line and hitting center beach on time. This part was a little challenging because you can’t see to your rear or right, so you have to listen to the crew chief a lot. It is about being on the same page, and that’s why we train so much.”

When all the gators were in the seawater, they got into their attack positions and headed to the shore ready to storm the beaches.

“What we did today was a beach assault from ship to shore,” said Smith, a Louisville, Ky., native. “Normally we would have (infantrymen) in the track with us, and then we would assault the beach. It gets us back to our amphibious roots and trains us on how we need to be so we are ready to do it for real.”

With sand flying in the air and ocean water spraying upward, the AAVs successfully took the shoreline.

“The training objectives set forth were definitely met today,” said Harbison. “The biggest objective was for the platoon to conduct amphibious operations launching from ship to shore, which is the primary objective for amphibious assault vehicles and the personnel aboard them. It is always good to have these training evolutions and to be able to identify potential problems in the future. Overall, I was definitely pleased with the training evolution. The section leaders and individual crew chiefs stayed on top of what they needed to accomplish the mission.”