MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- To be considered one of the best rodeo riders in the world, you’ve got to stay in the saddle for at least eight seconds. To rope an assault vehicle to a Landing Craft Air Cushioned, or LCAC, the best drivers in the Corps need to be able to gripe and un-gripe their vehicles in less than eight minutes. Failure to do either results in the same punishment – you get the horns.
To ensure that Marines and Sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit avoid that inglorious fate, vehicle operators involved in the Expeditionary Strike Group/MEU Integration Training participated in driver’s improvement training aboard the USS Iwo Jima and at Onslow Beach here Feb. 8-10.
The primary objective of the course is to give assault vehicle drivers a chance to drive aboard ships, learn basic interaction with the LCAC, and develop a basic understanding of shipboard commands and hand signals, said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weyandt, a course instructor and Assault Craft Unit 4 loadmaster stationed at Naval Base Little Creek, Va.
“It’s all about safety,” said Weyandt. “The Marines are doing a great job and they’ve learned a lot since the first time we loaded on the ship.”
Honing the skills necessary to quickly embark and debark the ships and landing craft is key to mission planning and correctly calculating the time needed to move personnel and equipment to different locations, said Staff Sgt. Robert D. Smith, a section leader with Weapons Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
“When we load, the standard is to make sure we gripe and un-gripe the vehicles to the deck in under eight minutes,” said Smith. “So far we’ve beaten every time. I’ve been very happy with the Marine’s performance.”
According to Smith, the Marines averaged less than four minutes to tie down each vehicle with a two-man crew and close to two minutes per vehicle with a four-man crew. Marines trained in darkness and were able to load nine vehicles on the LCAC in approximately 15 minutes, a movement that has, according to Smith, become “second nature.”
In addition to the embark/debark training, Marines were able to train for kill-zone recoveries and for steering through water, a situation that often arises during LCAC operations, said Staff Sgt. Charles P. Berglund, Motor Transport Operations Chief for 1/8.
“With the new armor, everything is completely different,” explained Berglund. “The vehicles handle different in the water, and the Marines need to learn that the vehicles can handle and are equipped for this kind of driving.”
Still, the key lesson imparted to the Marines to keep them in the saddle and in the fight was the importance of safety and experience, said Sgt. Titus L. Graham, a field radio operator with the S-6 radio section and a class participant.
“The class is important so Marines can have the experience to do the job right in real-time operations,” said Graham. “When we do it for real, we’ll all be a lot safer. We keep the Marines safe and we keep the vehicles from being damaged – it’s as simple as that.”
The 24th MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.
The 24th MEU is set to participate in its premier pre-deployment training event later this month, a two-week Training in an Urban Environment exercise, or TRUEX ,in Hampton Roads, Va. The MEU is scheduled to deploy this spring to the European and Central Command theaters of operations.