News: Polishing perishable skills: 4th Force Recon Marines dive to train, increase proficiency
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
MARINE CORPS TRAINING AREA BELLOWS, WAIMANALO, Hawaii — The gentle whirr of F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Craft motors cuts through the wind as it moves across the unsettled waters off Oahu’s coast. Relentless rains have turned the water a murky gray, yet its emerald glow slowly reappears as the sun breaks through the clouds.
Lying huddled on the sides of the black crafts, stern-faced teams of hardened force reconnaissance Marines with 4th Force Reconnaissance Company prepare to slink into the water for hydrographic reconnaissance training at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in Waimanalo, Hawaii, Jan. 13.
The craft — better known as “Zodiacs” — will speed force recon Marines from the sea to survey the beach, map its gradient, and develop an underwater grid of depth and bottom composition.
“We are the tool our generals use to determine the geographical makeup of the land,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Weissman, a hospital corpsman with 2nd platoon, 4th Force. “Before he makes the decision to execute a mission, the beach’s gradient has to be surveyed. We come in clandestinely at night and make an underwater map of the beach for him.”
Following a real-life mission, the data they collect — such as the size and frequency of wave crests, sediment type and slope of the beach — allows commanders to determine what type of landing and vehicles the beach’s composite supports, said Weissman, from Las Vegas.
The hydrographic reconnaissance was part of a weeklong jump and dive training package that brought the unit, headquartered in Alameda, Calif., together with their Hawaii-based counterparts — 4th Force’s 4th platoon.
“Both jumping and diving are two of our primary insertion methods for deep reconnaissance and exfiltration,” said Sgt. Barry Lemons, combatant dive chief, 4th Force.
The Tampa, Fla., native called them “perishable skills” that the force recon Marines must execute often to remain proficient. Additionally, he said, the training fulfills qualification requirements based on the recon military occupational specialty and the unit’s mission capabilities.
During the training block, 11 divers from 4th Force conducted more than 70 dives, Lemons said.
In addition to the combatant diver missions, the force recon Marines performed static line and free fall jumps, scout swimmer techniques, “over the horizon” navigational techniques and training, and coxswain skill training.
“Teamwork can’t be built if the situation is always comfortable,” said Cpl. Jonathon Schannep, a force recon Marine with 2nd platoon, 4th Force. “Everyone has a plan until pain or problems are introduced. Recon Marines have to be able to drive on through without throwing everything into the wind.”
Before getting onto the Zodiacs, the force recon Marines divide responsibilities and billets, all of which they are trained to perform.
“In any mission, we need to know the job above and below us so we can take over in case a man or craft goes down,” said Schannep, from Livermore, Calif. “It’s much easier to do a job with two people, but sometimes we have to do it with less. We have to be able to adapt and overcome.”
In preparation for their mission, they practice dry runs until they are ready, simulating exiting the Zodiacs and maintaining the proper formation.
Swiftly and silently, the force recon Marines pick up the Zodiacs, bring them into the water and board, donning fins and scuba masks. Once they are half a mile out, the coxswains idle the craft. Amidst the gentle rocking, the men slide into the water. Their visibility is clear for now, but they will soon conduct the mission under the cover of darkness.
“The more we practice the mission, the better we’re going to get,” Schannep said. “We’re practicing during the day so it will run smoothly at night. It’s a lot harder to fix things when you can’t see them.”
With piercing eyes and intensity to match, scout swimmers creep onto the shore, low-crawling through the golden sand with their weapons at the ready. They quietly remove their fins, wasting no time in beginning to scout out the beachfront.
At intervals in the water, the teams of Marines work together quickly to find and record the ocean’s depth and other needed data. Sketch teams begin drawing and making detailed notes about the gradient of the beach and the vegetation on its line of sight. At the rear, swimmers designated as “dead men” swim with a gradient reel while measurements are obtained at intervals along the reel’s line.
Two men, the coxswain and assistant coxswain, stay on each of the Zodiacs and await the Marines’ return. Before long, their job is done, and they move back to the craft.
Operating in Hawaii’s warm waters was a new experience for many of the force recon Marines from the company’s headquarters — they were used to training in the chilly waters off the coast of Northern California — but it only served to polish these perishable skills.
“Exercising our capabilities here means we’ll be able to do a larger variety of missions all over the world,” Schannep said. “Training in every clime and place helps us to be ready for missions in every clime and place.”
This work, Polishing perishable skills: 4th Force Recon Marines dive to train, increase proficiency, by Sgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.