USS COMSTOCK, At Sea – Practice, execution, rinse and repeat. A continuous cycle of training allows practical application while performing repetitions builds muscle memory and a solid base of experience to draw upon; but what happens when training becomes a real scenario?
During the first iteration of at-sea training, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) – Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration (PMINT), Marines with 11th MEU found themselves executing an Amphibious Assault Vehicle recover and repair while afloat, July 15, 2016.
Within a span of 48 hours, the Blue/Green team was able to order an engine, transport it to the USS Comstock (LSD 45), and successfully replace and repair an AAV for a raid occurring the same day as the repair was finished. Maintaining and operating 15 26-ton amphibious assault vehicles is no easy task, but the Marines of Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon, Bravo Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 11th MEU worked hard to accomplish that mission.
To go from ship to shore, the company’s AAV Platoon needed a helping hand from their brothers in blue. Marines and sailors worked countless hours to achieve 100 percent AAV readiness for the scheduled mechanized raid, which took them right up to a few hours before the mission took place. Staff Sgt. William J. Proctor, an AAV maintenance chief with BLT 1/4, 11th MEU, experienced first-hand the perks of working side-by-side with U.S. Navy Sailors. Together, they ensured their equipment was maintained and operated safely.
“We pretty much do their [the sailors’] same schedule; work when they work and on exactly what they work on,” Proctor said. “But the gear we have on land is completely different than the gear they use on ship. We’re learning how to work on the ship version of our land gear.”
The USS Comstock, one of three ships in the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, has been specifically designed to conduct amphibious operations through transporting, launching and supporting assault landing craft, Marines and combat cargo to designated areas throughout the world. As a dedicated vessel to move Marines and sailors to their missions, the Comstock is well equipped to provide a range of support and repair abilities that exceed those the Marines may have on their own while at sea. Since this was their first time working so closely together during their predeployment training cycle, Marines and sailors had to learn how to integrate themselves with their counterparts and learn how they need to work while embarked aboard U.S. naval vessels.
“Being at sea definitely caused us to go through more steps than we would have if we were back on land,” said Proctor. “We had to call out to order the engine and then arrange logistics to get it from the shore to the ship.”
Marines with Combat Logistics Detachment 113, Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th MEU were sent to shore to provide transportation for the engine to get it closer to the ship. The Navy used a Landing Craft- Air Cushion, also known as an LCAC to deliver the engine into the well deck of the ship.
An AAV is about 56, 743 pounds. A heavy-duty vehicle requires and heavy-duty engine which requires a more than capable machine to lift and remove it. Marines and sailors aboard the ships used its 60-ton crane to remove and transfer an AAV engine within the well deck, to get that vehicle back in the fight.
“The crane can be both helpful and dangerous if not handled carefully,” said Petty officer 2nd Class Derek Russell, a Boatswain with the Comstock. “So it can be a double-edged sword to use if we’re not cautious.”
Due to the sway of the ship while afloat, the heavy weight crane could easily cause significant amount of damage to both the vehicle and the service members working around it. With the additional weight of an AAV engine, the results could be devastating.
“The reality of the danger surrounding the equipment is a real threat,” said Russell. “But with the proper gear and safety procedures, any harmful situations can be mitigated for a smooth execution.”
With hard work and a technically and tactically proficient team, getting the AAV up and running could be viewed as a team building opportunity for the Marine and sailors.
“It was a good change in pace to have a group of people who’re more than willing to help with the job,” said Proctor. “We had sailors and Marines pitching in and pulled an all-nighter just to see the repair through.”
The chances of encountering technical challenges during the deployment is an inevitable fact, but Marines charged with conducting amphibious operations must remain vigilant and ready at a moment’s notice to go from ship to shore.
“This training makes us focus on how to get the Marines from the boat to the shore,” Proctor said. “That whole process, to get the Marines from A to B, requires a lot of planning, training and a lot of understanding of how both sides work.”
Working on the AAV so close with the Navy gave the Marines and sailors a chance to learn how each other operate and understand and share each other’s procedures to build the relationship between the services.
“Marines and Sailors have been working together for a long time, so it’s only natural for us to lend a hand whenever they need help,” said Russell. “It doesn’t matter what service they’re with or what needs to be done, completing the mission is always the priority and me doing my job ensures that’s being accomplished.”
Although PMINT was the first time the 11th MEU and PHIBRON 5 went to sea to conduct training and work as a team, the Marines and sailors have proven they can come together as one amphibious force to accomplish a mission under critical time restraints and will continue to strengthen their relationships while they are assigned to the ARG/MEU team.
The next exercise in the ARG/MEU’s training cycle is their Composite Training Unit Exercise, scheduled for August.