The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

May 6, 2013

Marines getting back to amphibious roots

By Cpl. Austin Long
For The Tribune

— Marines with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion traveled four nautical miles into the ocean off the coast of Onslow Beach on April 10 to assist the USS Bataan (LHD-5) qualify to load and unload Marine forces.

The training not only benefited the USS Bataan, but Alpha Company’s reconnaissance Marines as well. The Marines splashed two zodiacs, each carrying one team of five Marines, for some refresher training in open water operations.

Because many of the Marines in Alpha Company have been training for Operation Enduring Freedom deployments for the past 10 years, it was their first time recovering and inserting from a ship in the open sea. With the companies doing fewer deployments, they’re beginning to get back to their amphibious roots and doing more water operations, said 1st Lt. William Wellborn, a reconnaissance platoon commander from Little Rock, Ark.

The training helped certify the USS Bataan to recover and deploy small watercraft and also allowed Alpha Company Marines to get the green light for that part of their water operations.

“This is essentially what they do on a [Marine expeditionary unit]. They have to be able to launch from ship to shore and shore to ship,” said Wellborn.

After a body-battering, four-hour ride to the USS Bataan, the recovery and insertion training only took roughly 30 minutes total to practice loading and inserting the zodiacs twice.

“We let the Bataan recover us twice. So we went to the back of the ship – and with the [USS Bataan’s] ramp down and well deck flooded – we approached, threw a monkey fist (a rope attached to the zodiac with the unattached end knotted up into a small fist) to the recovery crew and then they pulled us on ship,” said Sgt. James O’Neal, a team leader from Fayetteville.

For some, the training was a first. For others, it was a refresher, but it helped the teams as a whole in preparing for success.

The training called upon both Navy and Marine Corps personnel to work together in order to load and insert the small watercraft in the rolling waves.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been out in a ‘Zode’ in the open sea,” said O’Neal. “But today gets you back in the mind set and shows you it’s not like going out for a joy ride on a bass boat. The waves will wear you out whether you want them to or not.”

Training ended after a long day of battling open seas, a scorching sun, and below 50 degrees water. Back at shore the Marines unloaded their gear, washed salt water off everything, did small maintenance to the engines, called it a day, and got the check in the box for small water craft open sea operations.

“We got to launch and recover a couple of times, so it was good. The guys did a good job of handling it,” said Wellborn.