MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The Marine Corps’ amphibious roots go back to its birth in 1776. However, the more modern-day amphibious vehicles and the battalions responsible for them were developed around the time of the two world wars.
Through the decades, the vehicles, as well as the Assault Amphibian Battalion Marines who operate them, have grown and developed through the various combat encounters the Marine Corps has faced.
The Amphibious Assault Vehicle’s earlier prototype, Landing Vehicle Tracked, was nothing more than a logistics vehicle derived from a vehicle called Donald Roebling’s “Alligator.” The Alligator was a a tracked vehicle primarily used for search and rescue missions after hurricanes.
During the initial amphibious landing on the island of Tarawa during WWII, the LVT proved to be more than just a logistics platform.
When the Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel and Landing Ship Tank were unable to cross the island’s coral reefs, putting the landing in jeopardy, the LVT’s ability to both swim in the water and crawl across the reefs made it ideal for the assault forces.
“If it wasn’t for amphibious trackers back in the Pacific, we couldn’t have completed the island campaign. It’s where it got its roots storming the beaches and getting the boots on the ground,” said Sgt. Kyle L. Hogan, section leader, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, which is stationed at the Combat Center.
The LVT was further militarized and was the tip of the spear for the Marine Corps’ amphibious assaults in the Pacific during WWII.
The LVT has stood the test of time and has been the mainstay of the Marine Corps’ ship-to-shore mobility. From the early model of the LVT-1, the tracked vehicle has progressed to the LVT-7, renamed the AAV for the Marine Corps.
Although it has retained its basic design, the amphibious vehicle has been upgraded and adapted to the Corps’ needs throughout the years. It has been continuously revamped with new weapons systems, appliqué armor and more powerful and efficient engines.
The AAV used today surpasses all previous models, overcoming the shortfall that any previous LVT may have had. It has a mounted M2 .50-caliber machine gun, MK19 grenade launcher and is hauling a less volatile diesel engine. With the addition of water jet impellers and weighing 14,000 pounds less than its previous model, the current AAV is lighter, faster and more powerful than ever.
There are multiple amphibious units around the Marines Corps, including the one in the last place anyone expected n amphibious unit – the desert.
These desert-dwelling Marines describe the inside of the metal-hulled AAVs as a hot box in the summer and a refrigerator in cold weather. The AAV is at its best in the water and uses the ambient temperature of the water around it to cool itself.
While the dry, barren environment might seem to be a severe disadvantage to the vehicles’ crews, the Marines of Company D., 3rd AABn., have used the sandy terrain to their advantage to strengthen their skills.
“I’m always impressed with Delta Company’s professionalism and their ability to maintain their amphibious proficiency while they primarily operate in a desert environment,” said Lt. Col. Howard Hall, battalion commander, 3rd AABn.
The 3rd AABn. Marines practice their shooting on an indoor simulated marksmanship trainer turret. They hone those skills to expert level during live-fire exercises at the base’s many outdoor ranges. The Marines also take advantage of the unique terrain the Combat Center provides.
They focus on driving, maneuvering and shooting in the type of tough desert terrain they will more than likely experience overseas. The Marines encounter new elements that can’t be found on other bases — extreme heat, unique dust signature, sand and shell rocks.
They also routinely conduct the aquatic portion of their training along the beaches around Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“When they’re up and going, nothing can be better,” Hogan said. “But out here we’re mainly desert rats.”
They are a multi-capable and multi-tasked unit during deployments to combat zones, even ones without oceans close by. They provide support, both from inside and outside of the AAVs by conducting patrol and providing riot control.
“You get the best of both words. You get the best of amtracker and grunt, especially in this company,” said Cpl. Dustin S. Frank, crew chief, Co. D, 3rd AABn. “Most of the time it’s exciting, especially when we do field operations.”
The 3rd AABn. Marines call themselves “Alligators,” taking it from the original rescue vehicle.
As the Marine Corps only ship-to-shore tactical vehicle, the AAV stands as the forefront in amphibious assaults with the capable Marines of 3rd AABn inside.
“Amtracks play a big part in it,” Frank said. “It’s what the Marine Corps is —Amphibious.”