NEW ORLEANS-- -- “Unanticipated setbacks” in training are something Marines include in a training exercise, but when those setbacks come in a real-world scenario, it’s the true test of competency for a unit.
Crews from the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion got their test Sept. 4 when they mobilized to New Orleans to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of the category four Hurricane, Katrina.
“We started out this morning working with 2nd platoon, second squad to clear a section of the city to look for survivors of Hurricane Katrina,” said Cpl. Beese Sampson of 4th AAV Bn., “and now, we seem to have run over a mattress, and it’s caught up in the track.”
4th AAV Bn., set out in the morning with Marines from Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, to search the neighborhoods of the city for people in need of evacuation.
“When we first came out here, we were told there were people with weapons who were firing at rescue workers,” said Sgt. Casey Pippin, a squad leader with BLT 1/8, who brought his squad along for the ride.
“We were locked and loaded and ready to go, and now we get here and find out our challenges are something completely different,” he said.
Pippin also noted the unsanitary conditions inside the city left by the hurricane and the shift of his mission from security to humanitarian operations.
With the increasingly hazardous working arrangements involved in the relief effort of the category four hurricane, the flood waters forged by the Assault Amphibian Vehicles are often black with a green tinge and let off a strong swamp smell with undertones of various toxins. Dead fish float on top of the city floodwater and the obvious, strong contamination makes conditions too dangerous to exit the AAV.
The urgent need to reach evacuees means its necessary for the AAV’s to plow through the wake of the flood with no visual image of what lies in the murky water below. Hitting cars, light poles, and random appliances isn’t uncommon, although usually avoided by a diligent driver.
As Sampson dug deeper into the disturbance on the front end of his track, he saw the problem was bigger than it initially appeared.
“That’s the whole bed spring up in there,” he said, “And the other side has a baseball coat wrapped up the same way. This could be why our jets stopped working.”
Sampson and his crew worked for two hours with wire cutters, knives, and wrenches to clear the obstacles out of the track of his AAV before continuing on the mission.
“It’s a hazardous environment, and sometimes this stuff happens,” he said after assuring that common bedroom furniture can’t stop him and his crew from reaching Americans who need evacuation.
“It’s kind of a random thing. Who else has ever had an entire bedspring wrapped up in their machinery?” he joked.
“Our Amtraks started operating as soon as the eye of the storm passed over New Orleans,” said Lt. Col. Kent S. Ralson, Inspector/Instructor with for the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, a reserve unit out of Gulfport, Miss. He continually emphasized his unit was waiting for the call to help with the situation.
“When you see unanticipated setbacks, you have to adapt and overcome,” he concluded.