FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- It's a loud, robust machine that is at home on land and in water. It can traverse a trench eight feet wide and can climb a three-foot wall. It boasts a pair of heavy guns that make it a formidable opponent as an assault weapon, and it has an armored belly that can bring a reinforced squad of Marines safely to the fight.
It's an Assault Amphibian Vehicle, and a platoon of these formidable machines is bringing an extra dimension to the combat capabilities of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment.
Weighing in at more than 26 tons, an AAV is pure mechanical muscle. It can ably move Marines or supplies with its 12,000 pound cargo load capacity.
The MEU's AAV Plt. is comprised of 13 AAV P7s, the standard track, and is supported by two auxiliary vehicles, a communications track and a recovery vehicle.
The platoon's parent unit is the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., based 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion.
An AAV is usually crewed by three Marines: a gunner, driver and rear-area crewman.
In most situations, the vehicle commander doubles as the gunner, said Gunnery Sgt. Michael R. Chouinard, platoon sergeant for the 26th MEU's AAV Platoon.
Being the gunner in an AAV is quite a responsibility, as the vehicle boasts .50-caliber and MK-19 heavy machine guns mounted together in a steel-armored turret capable of rotating 360 degrees.
The gunner can fire the weapons manually using the weapon's triggers or electronically using a button in the turret.
Assault Amphibian Vehicle crewmen, or "trackers" as they are also known, love to put the hammer down on the enemy, said Lance Cpl. Jared M. Siebrecht, an AAV crewman with the MEU's AAV Plt. and a Central Point, Ore., native.
"The best part is definitely the shooting," he said. "When you're up there in that turret, there's no one there but you and those beautiful guns."
The AAV doesn't just dish out punishment, but can take quite a punch itself and keep on tracking.
The vehicle's aluminum chassis is encased in one-quarter inch thick armor that repels small arms and fragmentation and can withstand shells up to 12.7 millimeters in diameter.
The versatile tracks offer many things to the MEU, said 1st Lt. Kyle J. Andrews, the 26th MEU's AAV Plt. commander.
The AAVs are present to provide ship-to-shore transport for troops and add substantial firepower to mechanized assaults and raids, he said.
A track platoon packs a whallop, but like any other war machine they require constant care and upkeep.
An average day at a gunnery range will keep a track's crew busy with at least four hours of maintenance before the vehicle is ship shape and ready to roll out again.
The AAV Plt. has been training here with the rest of BLT 2/2 since the unit arrived July 6th.
The tracks have made use of Fort A.P. Hill's extensive training ranges to rehearse section gunnery skills and shore-up individual troop knowledge such as land navigation.
Having the Marines and Sailors of an AAV platoon up to speed as Marine infantrymen is a crucial objective, said Chouinard. The trackers always need to be able to operate as a provisional rifle platoon since they are often the ones carrying troops into harms way, he added.
The 26th MEU continues to train here as a part of a rigorous six month pre-deployment training program that will culminate with a deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism in 2007.