ABOARD USS BATAAN (LHD-5) -- Marines are constantly preparing for something...some time in the field, a change of duty station or a deployment. And it may seem that no one is ever prepared for Marines, whether it's the locals at an urban terrain exercise or the enemy that waits over the beach.
However, there's one group of people out there preparing to take on the Marines right now. They are not only preparing for hundreds, they will be ready for thousands of Marines. They are the Sailors of Amphibious Squadron Eight (PHIBRON EIGHT) getting ready for exercises and the six-month deployment that will follow with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus S. Washington, USS Bataan aviation boatswain's mate, explained there is an 18-month cycle between deployments. He said as soon as the ship gets back from deployment they begin a shipyard cycle for the repair and upgrade of equipment. Shortly after the shipyard they start their workup cycle.
Washington said the time they have to do these repairs is valuable because they begin taking on Marines for exercises as early as six months prior to deployment.
"We keep our well deck prepared," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Teddy R. Garmon, USS Bataan well deck supervisor. "The main things that we've got to do are make sure our lights are on, our ventilation is working, our fuel and electrical systems are working and our fresh water system is ready to go."
Along with the well deck, one of the more essential systems is the ballast system. The ballast allows the rear of the ship to be dropped, usually 6-8 inches, so that when the well deck bay doors are opened, they can take on the Marines' amphibious vehicles.
"Any kind of amphibious operation, I control it," said Garmon.
"He (Garmon) handles everything on the amphibious side," said Washington of Garmon's position. "For my job, we're handling everything for the aviation side."
Washington said they do the same things for the Marines within the aviation community, mostly making sure that all their systems and equipment work as intended.
"It's not that big a deal when you only have a couple of aircraft," said (U.S. Navy) LT. Daniel Olson, USS Bataan aircraft handler. "But when we're deployed and have all of the embarked aircraft up here, it becomes important to know the specific location of all the aircraft."
Olson and his sailors utilize a small static display with movable symbols that represents each individual aircraft. The display could be described as a game board but Olson and his Sailors prefer the nickname "Ouija Board." They chose this name not for the mystical power associated with it but rather because of the flat rounded shapes of the symbols. Mystical eye into the future or rudimentary planning tool, this system assists Sailors in keeping track of the aircraft on the flight deck and allows them to plan and move aircraft more safely.
While Marines are aboard and the ship is underway, the flight operations can span more than 10 hours a day, said Olson. But things certainly do not slow down during the 18-month workup cycle.
Olson said that his sailors must maintain a minimum proficiency and minimum qualification standard by maintaining a limited amount of flight operations. Olson attributed a major cause for the constant training to the high rate of turnover that exists within the PHIBRON. At the end of each deployment, explained Olson, many people transfer and the ship losses experienced sailors. Additionally, we oftentimes train new aviation sailors that may have never worked with Marine aviators before said Olson.
"Everyone has their own problems, said Olson, I have mine, the Marines coming ashore have their own as well . . . but, if the biggest problem for the Marine is that he needs a space to fix his aircraft, then that should become everyone else's problem, too."
"It's easy to forget sometimes what is the ship's mission," said Olson. "Clearly, the mission of this ship is to launch or insert Marines from the ship to the shore; that's what we do."
"Once the MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit] does come aboard, it's all about taking care of Marines," said Washington.
He also explained that Marines are not as used to ship life as are Sailors. After a six-month deployment, Marines are back on land and may never see a ship again, explained Washington.
"Once the Marines come aboard, our primary job is to support them and their operations," said Washington. "We make sure that they get to where they need to go and make sure they're comfortable until they get to their destination where they do what they're paid to do."
When we finally embark Marines, there is an awesome phenomenon that takes place between the Marines and their Navy counterparts, "cooperation and teamwork" said Washington.
One of the most important things to remember when preparing to float is to be ready to work along-side one another and maintain a positive attitude and environment, said Washington. "Remember, you're not the only who is thousands of miles away from home."