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Marines swim through surf in new training program as AAVs return to use in water following deadly accident

Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base sign outside the main gate of the base. (UT File Photo/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

For the first time since nine men died when their amphibious assault vehicle sank during training off San Clemente Island nearly a year ago, infantry Marines at Camp Pendleton were recently back in the water in the seafaring armored vehicles.

Some of the training the Marines are going through is now required after an investigation into the causes of the AAV accident, which was the deadliest training accident in the history of the vehicle’s use by the Marine Corps.

Infantry from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and members of the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion participated in the multi-week course. The program was designed to make sure Marines didn’t move on to more difficult skills before showing they were confident in their training, said 1st Lt. Kyle McGuire, with the 1st Marine Division.

Among the requirements, the infantry Marines had to complete water survival training and show they mastered escaping from a sinking vehicle. The investigation into last summer’s accident found there were men aboard the AAV that sank who had not completed either training.

The investigation found the mens’ deaths could have been prevented, and training lapses, bad equipment and failures to follow standard operating policies were apparent.

“We start with the basics and then increase complexities,” McGuire said of the new training program.

Marines with the 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion who serve as the crew of the vehicles already were required to have swim qualifications, now the infantry Marines being transported inside the vehicle are expected to have these same skills.

Amphibious operations are at the core of the Marines Corps’ mission, especially as it looks to future conflicts in the Indo-Pacific regions where ship-to-shore missions and moving across small island chains could be critical.

Capt. Miles Snelgrove, the commanding officer for Company A, called the recent training among the most effective and realistic he’s done with the amphibious vehicles.

“The amount of confidence and comfortability my Marines gained from the first day of training to the last was drastic and clearly evident during the culminating open water swim,” he said. “I firmly believe each Marine has a more thorough understanding and appreciation for AAV egress procedures, which directly enables their confidence and trust in the platform.”

The training began in the classroom with a review of what happened during the July 30, 2020 accident. On the first day, Marines were briefed on the required standard operating procedures and were required to pass a test on those before moving forward.

“The 1st Marine Division is basing this on what we learned in the July 30 mishap and to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” McGuire said. “The hope is that for the future, when they’re presented with these challenges, they’ll know what to do.”

After the classroom, they practiced what they had learned on land first, including how to make a water recovery and how to transfer troops. Once they proved to be competent in that, the Marines got aboard the AAVs, working on shore and practicing transferring troops out on the water in an emergency.

Training began at the Del Mar Basin and then moved to the Pacific Ocean. It was there that Marines were required to jump from their vehicles into the surf and swim 1,000 meters to shore.

“The other guys in my platoon did really well on the swim portion, and the safety boats did well making sure no one was going under or struggling,” said Cpl. Nathan Streif, a squad leader with Company A. “The command also had swimmers who were less proficient in the water wear white shirts; which I thought was a great idea because we knew to keep an eye out especially for them.”

“Not only was the training helpful for our upcoming deployment,” he said, “but we were able to have a lot of fun doing it.”


(c) 2021 The Orange County Register

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