CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Deep desert sands, pools of mud and dirty streams - the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) can roll through any of it.
Marines with the 22d MEU recently underwent advanced training to learn how to take the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle off-road and safely navigate practically any type of terrain.
The (HMMWV), or "Hummer" as it's commonly known, is one of the Marine Corps' primary modes of ground transportation. Though none of the students were Motor Transport drivers by military occupational specialty, they were still afforded the opportunity to take part in the training.
"Most incidental (reserve or secondary) drivers don't get this type of training," said Sgt. John Smith, of Brooks Springs, West Virginia, the 22d MEU Motor Pool's training non-commissioned officer. "You can put a HMMWV through lot of stuff."
"We want to make them more confident in the vehicle," said Sgt. Chris Toplin, a motor transport mechanic from Detroit, Mich., who assisted Smith in the training. "In a combat situation, there won't be paved roads.
The drivers negotiated several obstacles designed to show them the vehicle's capabilities. For instance, the HMMWV is capable of driving through water that reaches the hood of the vehicle and although the drivers may get a bit wet, the HMMWV itself will blaze through where most other vehicles would drown. The chance to get down and dirty was an experience the Marines enjoyed.
"Going through that [the water obstacle] was pretty fun," said Lance Cpl. Daryl Charboneau, an operations clerk with the MEU Command Element S-3 clerk and Manchester, Conn., native. "The Hummer did it with ease."
After taking the HMMWV for a swim, the Marines then tried their hand at maneuvering through steep inclines and over logs. The Marines learned to straddle terrain and the importance of tire pressure in maintaining traction over various types of situations.
"I feel more confident in being able to drive the vehicle anywhere," added Charboneau.
Smith and Toplin were the primary supervisors of the training, and brought in Major Kevin Shusko (USMC, Ret.) to lend a hand. Shusko is the director of logistics and training for Advanced Vehicle Systems, Inc., a company that provides off-road vehicles to the Marine Corps.
Shusko, who served for 26 years in the motor transport field as both an enlisted Marine and officer, emphasized to the students the importance of safety during off-road vehicle operations.
"The vehicle is engineered and built to handle any off road obstacle, but it must be done safely," he said.
For example, safety is paramount in self-recovery operations where a winch is used to pull a stuck vehicle out of entrapping terrain. Shusko related a story where he, as a lance corporal in 1976, saw an improperly used winch cable snap and severely injure another Marine.
"From that moment on, I needed to force myself to learn recovery," he said. Shusko often volunteers to come out and show Marines what he has learned.
For example, the HMMWV has an average weight of roughly 5000 lbs., the force needed to pull a HMMWV out of a mud bog can be any where from double to triple the weight of the vehicle. If the winch doesn't have enough strength, attempting to pull the load out will burn out the winch - or worse - snap the cable.
Newer winches, such as the ones with which the 22d MEU's HMMWVs are outfitted, have tension strength of 10,500 lbs., which can be doubled with the use of a pulley. The advantage of learning driving and recovery skills now will prevent mistakes when actually deployed.
"Better to learn it now than while you're on float," Shusko said.
Both Toplin and Smith feel the training mission was a success.
"The fact is when we do go overseas, these Marines will understand how to negotiate any type of terrain and do a self recovery if necessary," said Smith.
The 22d MEU consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit is scheduled to deploy early next year aboard the USS WASP, SHREVEPORT, and WHIDBEY ISLAND as part of the WASP Expeditionary Strike Group/22d MEU.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.