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SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND, Calif. — The splash of the cold Pacific Ocean and the thump of heavy machine guns surrounded the Marines of Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon, India Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as they conducted water gunnery training off the coast of San Clemente Island, July 20.
The training was part of Composite Training Unit Exercise, the second at-sea period the 15th MEU and Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group have conducted since the MEU formed a Marine Air Ground Task Force in February. The training will prepare the two units to function as a blue-green team, capable of conducting a wide-variety of worldwide missions ranging from humanitarian aid to combat.
“Water gunnery is a skill that could possibly be used on deployment,” said 1st Lt. Josh M. Coelho, platoon commander, AAV platoon, India Company, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “It’s a part of the AAV doctrine, but it’s the first time we’ve practice this as a platoon,” added the 25-year-old native of Tucson, Ariz.
The training involved three consecutive waves of three AAVs suppressing targets on the beach nearly one kilometer away with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun. After leaving the USS Green Bay, the platoon collected the ammo on the island and conducted a final brief before their exercise.
“After we arrived on the beach, we finalized the scheme of maneuver and conducted the training as planned,” said Gunnery Sgt. Zackary J. Hefty, platoon sergeant, AAV platoon, India Company, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “There are a lot of small things that can only be improved upon by doing more repetitions. We hope to conduct more evolutions like this one during the rest of the training cycle,” said the 31-year-old native of Oceanside, Calif.
“I was very impressed with the way the Marines performed,” said Coelho. “Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised with how accurately we engaged the targets,” added the platoon commander as he described what he called “the most advanced level of AAV gunnery.”
Forty-seven Marines participated in the training, and nearly 6,000 rounds were expended to better hone the skills of the amphibious warriors.
“This was the best training I’ve ever taken part in as an AAV crewman,” said Cpl. Evan L. Watson, assistant section leader, 3rd Section, AAV platoon, India Company, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “Engaging the target provided me with realistic training, further enhancing the MEU’s amphibious capability,” added the 27-year-old native of West Hills, Calif.
In addition to water gunnery, the platoon has conducted a variety of field operations to better familiarize themselves with their vehicles. These include mechanized and amphibious raids, along with live fire and maneuver ranges.
While the other training helped, Watson explained the benefits of training on the island.
“San Clemente Island is a large area with an endless amount of training possibilities,” he said. “However, due to the amount of fuel it takes to get the AAVs to the island, we aren’t able to conduct this training without the help of the Navy and their ships.”
Coelho looks forward to conducting more training with his hard-working crew of Marines.
“The Marines are well trained,” he said. “They have put in countless hours to perfect their skills, and it shows when we conduct training like water gunnery.”
India Company is one of three rifle companies in Battalion Landing Team 3/5, the 15th MEU’s ground combat element. With the help of the AAV platoon, India Company is the only mechanized infantry company in the battalion. It offers armored lift and allows commanders to expand the battle space with increased direct and indirect fire capabilities.
The 15th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force with approximately 2,400 Marines and sailors. It is currently training for deployment this fall.