CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- A routine training event turned into a test of endurance and combat readiness when Marines of Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit ran, crawled, and swam through the surf and sand at Red Beach here recently.
It's called surf qualification and for the Marines of E Company, it means jumping from the roof of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle 200 meters from shore and swimming to the beach.
The Marines, part of the battalion's mechanized company, conduct most missions from AAVs. An annual surf qualification ensures that Marines are capable of surviving a mishap while being transported from ship to shore inside the tracked vehicles.
"Basically, they get in the water and swim," explained GySgt. John Ploskonka, Company Gunnery Sergeant. "I wanted to make (this surf qualification) a little more interesting and incorporate some infantry tactics."
It was more like combat, according to Cpl. Jeff Walding, 2nd team leader, 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon.
During the qualification, stereo speakers blasted sounds of gunfire while artillery simulators fired a barrage of deafening explosions. Once on land, squads maneuvered through a series of stations, all designed to simulate battle conditions in the competition themed event.
Each squad competed for time as they donned flak jackets and helmets and raced along the beach. The eight stations included, a two-mile run in combat gear, 200-meter swim, 25-meter combat crawl under barbed wire, grenade throwing, fireman's carry, hand-to-hand combat, casualty run, and 2-mile surf run toward the finish.
"I collected ideas from the Marines and came up with the squad competition," Ploskonka explained. "The Marines might have been leery of getting into the cold water at first, but they were motivated to work together as a team."
Each station was meant to be physically challenging, and at the same time strengthen espirit de corps, according to Ploskonka. During the casualty run portion, a Marine from each squad laid on a stretcher while the rest of the team carried the litter and continued the race against the clock.
"My team carried a 209-pound Marine during the casualty run. It definitely lets you know where you're at physically," Sgt. Isaul Montez, machinegun section leader, Weapons Plt., said.
After swimming through the surf, running, and crawling under wire, events like the grenade throw seemed to take every bit of strength the Marines could muster, according to Montez.
When it was over, the Marines walked off the beach toting their flak jackets and helmets and shaking the wet sand from their faces. The winning squad was awarded a Marine Corps Community Services gift certificate, but everyone gathered for a barbecue that followed.
"It beats going to the field and sitting in the defense," Montez said. "I've been a part of surf quals before where at the end of the day we loaded into 5-tons and went home. It's awesome that the Company Gunny set this up for us."
The competition went well and brought the Marines together, according to Ploskonka. The morale was high and everyone seemed to enjoy the surf qualification.
"It made us reach down inside and suck it up," PFC Richard Seborowski, Weapons Plt., said. "It didn't (beat us down) - Everyone did great."
The event took place one week after the company wrapped up a Special Operations Training Group raid course here in preparation for their upcoming six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf Region with 11th MEU. During the next few months, the company will embark the ships of Amphibious Squadron 7 for scheduled at-sea training exercises.