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Gators on track with the 31st MEU

US Marine Corps News

By Cpl. Ryan Mains | July 2, 2015

The hatches of the AAV-P7/A1 Amphibious Assault Vehicles are closed, engines are rumbling and the blue vastness of the Pacific ocean is visible from the opening of the well deck of the USS Ashland (LSD 48). Once given the signal, the AAV's push forward off the edge of the ramp, splashing into the water.

It seems counterintuitive for the bulky, armored vehicles to move through the water, but the AAV's are a historical cornerstone in the Marine Corps' role as an amphibious force.

The Marine Corps' use of amphibious tracked vehicles dates back to World War II. The Landing Vehicle Tracked, or LVT, played an important role in the Pacific campaign from the Battle of Guadalcanal through the end of the war. LVT's took center stage once again when they were used in Korea during the landing at Inchon in 1950. The LVT would go through several updates in the years that followed, eventually becoming the LVTP-7 in the 1970's. In 1985, the LVT-7P was re-designated the AAV-P7/A1, and the "Gators" have been carrying Marines from ship to shore ever since.

Today, the AAV platoon attached to Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is conducting splash and recovery training to enhance their proficiency. They're an integral part of the MEU's amphibious capabilities, and the training is vital to their readiness.

"One of the many things we bring to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is a quick reaction force because we are available at any given place," said Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Martinez, the AAV platoon sergeant for Echo Co., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU. "For instance, if we were called upon to assist in humanitarian aid we could put all of the supplies in the back of our AAV's and take it ashore and move inland if need be, or, in the event of a U.S. embassy evacuation, we could transport personnel. Anything can happen at any given place, so we are always on call and we make sure that our vehicles are 100 percent operational so we can complete any mission given."

For Lance Cpl. David Belgard, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to riding in an AAV.

"When I enlisted I chose to have the job as a crewman for the AAV's," explained Belgard, a Huffman, Texas, native and an AAV crew chief with Echo Co., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU. "I always wanted to have something important in my life that gives me a lot of responsibility and as a crew chief, or even as a crew member, you get the perfect opportunity to do so."

Keeping to their amphibious roots, the Marines hone their skills and knowledge with the AAV's as often as possible.

"One of the reasons that we conduct splash and recovery drills over and over again is because it keeps us on our toes and you don't know when something could go wrong," explained Martinez, a Chicago native. "The AAV could be running perfectly while in the well deck but as soon as you start rolling forward something could go wrong mechanically, and then you have to assess the situation and decide on whether or not you can splash and accomplish the mission. The Marines have to think about different scenarios and how they could solve each problem. This helps with building confidence within crews and within each individual Marine."

Now with the training coming to an end, sailors wave green flags from the well deck signaling the AAV's are clear to return to the ship. Back aboard the Ashland after accomplishing the mission for the day, Martinez looks over his Marines.

"One of the things I like to see as the platoon sergeant is the exhausted look on all of my Marines' faces when they return from a splash, because that shows me that they gave me their full effort, 110 percent," said Martinez. "Attached to the 31st MEU we have to be ready to operate independently, and I feel that my Marines are all very proficient in their jobs and everything that they do."

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