Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- There are many ways of reaching a battlefield to unleash fire and brimstone against a dug-in enemy, but the distinctive rumble of a tracked Assault Amphibian Vehicle (AAV) lets the enemy know the Marines are coming.
Marines from Alpha Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines (BLT 1/6), the ground combat element of the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) loaded up and rolled out in AAVs during a series of mechanized raids aboard Fort A.P. Hill during recent training there.
The exercises allowed the Alpha Co. Marines, who are designated as the 22nd MEU's mechanized company, to practice one of missions they may be required to undertake when the MEU deploys early next year.
For many of the Marines, the raids were their first. Lance Cpl. Michael Carro, who recently reported for duty with BLT 1/6, said he's eager to learn about his role on these types of raids.
"I want to learn everything I can now," said Carro, a native of Old Bridge, N.J., "that way when we're at war I won't freeze up."
Others had conducted mechanized raids before, but not in the forested terrain of A.P. Hill. Most based their knowledge of such raids on their experiences during Combined Arms Exercises aboard Marine Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California. According to several members of Alpha Co., a mechanized raid in the forest is a lot different than in the desert.
"It's much different terrain," said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Lopez, of Fairview, N.J., an Alpha Co. rifleman. "This is all hills. There it's all flat. We have more cover and concealment here and can attack their backs without them seeing you."
Though the terrain was friendlier to the Marines, the pace of the training was not.
"My head's spinning like a top trying to absorb it all," said Lance Cpl. Cordell Trusty, an Alpha Co. fire team leader from Elma, Wash.
One of the primary objectives of the training was to incorporate Alpha Co. with the platoon of AAVs assigned to BLT 1/6 with whom the mechanized company will primary operate during their time with the 22d MEU.
With a strength of more than a dozen vehicles and approx. 50 Marines, the AAV platoon was detached from the 2d AAV Bn. Practically all the Marines in the platoon volunteered to serve with the MEU, a feat made more extraordinary by the fact they volunteered within weeks of returning from Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
"All these guys at tracks basically got back from war," said Sgt. Leonard Chavez, an Albuquerque, N.M., native who serves as the platoon's maintenance chief. "That's why we work pretty well together. Everyone volunteered to go. That's the coolest part of this platoon."
One of the reasons for the joining the MEU was a preference for fieldwork versus paperwork.
"Out here you can just do your job," said Chavez.
Getting the job done was the name of the game. During their training, the mechanized force of AAVs with the embarked attacked a bunker-filled trench line and two days later assaulted an urban training facility aboard A.P. Hill.
Owing to the amphibious nature of the MEU, and the inherent role the AAV plays in that mission, the mechanized force will conduct extensive training over the upcoming months, including field exercises and a course taught by the II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). The unit will conduct waterborne training in the waterways on and around Camp Lejeune, and during the MEU's pre-deployment exercises.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.