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Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) crewmen from the AAV platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct a water gunnery range at a beach in Djibouti, Africa, March 25, 2010. The water range was the first time in 20 years that this AAV platoon performed this type of aquatic marksmanship training. The range was one of a series of sustainment and bilateral exercises the 24th MEU conducted in the east-African country throughout the month of March. The 24th MEU is currently on a seven-month deployment aboard ships of the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group and is currently the theatre reserve force for Central Command. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl)

Photo by GySgt. Chad Kiehl, USMC

Marines test their amphibious shooting skills in Djibouti

6 Apr 2010 | Sgt. Alex Sauceda 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

(March 25, 2010) Suppressing a beachhead with heavy firepower before landing Marines to fight the enemy seems very unlikely nowadays, but that doesn’t mean the Marines won’t be ready if ever faced with the situation.

For the Marines of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle platoon, deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the experience of participating in a recent training exercise where they fired their heavy machine guns while traveling through the water could be described as nostalgic.

As their hulking, Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) headed towards the range impact area on the shores of Djibouti, gunners opened fire with M2 .50 caliber machineguns – a scene reminiscent of World War II where earlier versions of AAVs transported Marines from ships to shore to fight the Japanese on heavily defended beaches.

The AAVs, commonly called “Amtracs” (short for amphibious tractors), were given the unique opportunity of testing their skills while shooting from the water, something they rarely get to do stateside. Djibouti’s training areas allowed the platoon to conduct the water gunnery range for the first time in more than nine years.

“Doing a water gunnery range in the states is almost unheard of,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan McGeady, AAV crewman, AAV platoon, Alpha Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “I love watching movies about World War II, and I would see the old track vehicles assaulting on a beach the same way we do it. The range definitely put into perspective of how effective we are when our time comes to do an assault and also we are part of something that hasn’t been done in a long time.”

Amtracs have proven their versatility in recent years transporting Marines and equipment on the battlefields of Iraq, but their actual mission and capability is to serve as an armored landing craft that can transport Marines from Navy ships to shore providing fire-power support using heavy machine guns.

The range challenged AAV crewmen to navigate their vehicles towards a beach while simultaneously firing at several targets ashore. Marines were constantly adjusting speed and direction of their vehicles while judging buoyancy and waiting for the right moment to unleash a machine gun burst towards land.

“You had to use the waves of the water to balance the gun onto a target,” said Cpl. Duane Berry, a crew chief for the platoon, which supports Alpha Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “Just as you had to wait to shoot your rifle while carefully breathing, you had to wait for that right wave to come at you and hold on for the target to be in your sights. It was definitely frustrating at first and hard to get a straight line of fire, but it was a great experience that every crewman should do at least once.”

In the past, tracked vehicles transported servicemembers from sea to shore with support of Naval gunfire and aerial assets before arriving. However, there would come a point where they receive fire from the beach and have to fend for themselves while ensuring the Marines being transported reached their destination.

Realistically, the Marines would not provide pin-point fire on potential targets. Instead, AAVs would shower the beach with machine gun fire from their turrets as they splashed towards the coast in an effort to keep the enemy's heads down.

“We are protecting the infantrymen inside our AAVs by laying down that suppression fire in order for the Marines to safely get out and do their thing,” said 1st Lt. Dan Petronzio, the AAV platoon commander. “Alpha Company Marines are our brothers in the back of our “tracs”, and we make sure the enemy has their heads down when the Marines are most vulnerable - exiting the back of the AAV.”

Although the Marines will have to wait quite some time for their next water gunnery range, most of the Marines felt they did their part to uphold and fulfill their motto “Death from the Sea.”

“The Marines came out here and proved that this training can be done and it can be done effectively, regardless of the time lapse in training event,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Shaw, platoon sergeant for the unit. “Being an amphibious force is what we as Marines are bred to do. These Marines were able to display that, not only to us, but to each other from this event.”