USS Carter Hall, At sea --
The amphibious assault vehicles crouch, chained to the deck like squat, armored animals in the damp heat of the lower vehicle stowage. Painted green, protruding with heavy weapons and hatches, metal plates and storage racks on the outside, arrayed in rows stretching toward the gate at the stern of the ship, ready to splash into the ocean beyond.
Here, in the tropical climate, the heat is everywhere. Sweat soaks through uniforms within minutes of working outside. It’s even worse in the lower vehicle stowage area on the USS Carter Hall, amidst the lines of AAVs and the M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks in the hold, parked nose to stern ramp. Mechanics and tracker crewmen clamber up and down the armored flanks of the AAVs, working to unknown purposes on obscure pieces of machinery in some peculiar ritual, sweat and oil streaked on flushed faces in the warmth.
“I don’t think any other service has anything like AAVs,” said Sgt. Gabriel Vega, assistant maintenance chief with AAV Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The amphibious nature of the AAVs means there’s far more maintenance involved in the smooth operation of an AAV than a vehicle of comparable size that operates solely on land.
The realities of saltwater corrosion on engines, communication equipment, weapons, and other mechanical systems make for an intensive maintenance schedule. “We’ve got to keep them running. We’re always the first into battle,” said Sgt. Joshua Whitehead, maintenance chief for AAV Platoon.
The process of keeping the AAVs running is a continuous one. As an issue arises, the Marines troubleshoot it, determine the part they may need, do all the administrative work to acquire the part, then install the part, and finally, verify that it works, according to Whitehead. Marines are constantly busting rust induced by the saltwater; the continuous chemical interaction is extremely detrimental to the metal of the AAVs.
The AAVs, attached to Company K of BLT 3/2, are part of the mechanized raid force, the heavyweight package for raids and assaults on fortified objectives, as well as amphibious assaults on beaches the world over. The Marine Corps is the most prominent user in the world of AAVs. “There’s a lot of pride working on them, but there’s always something new,” said Vega.
The AAVs are the only vehicles the MEU has that can transition from ship to sea to shore, and then immediately conduct combat operations throughout a mission. “If we can’t get there, neither can anybody else,” said Whitehead. AAV Platoon also possesses more firepower in terms of heavy machine guns and grenade launchers than the rest of BLT 3/2, all in one package, making it a formidable raid force.