Surfers Not the Only Ones Riding the Waves in San Diego

By LTjg Jan Shultis, SURFOR Public Affairs

CORONADO, California (June 22, 2009) – Thirty-three Naval Academy Midshipmen kicked off their summer training program last Monday by riding the waves with the Coronado-based Assault Craft Unit One “Surf Riders.”

Assault Craft Unit One (ACU 1), comprised of approximately 300 sailors and 23 landing craft, specializes in moving Marine amphibious units from ship to shore and back again. Their primary platform, the 135-foot Landing Craft Unit (LCU), is designed for heavy lift and can carry a variety of equipment, tanks, and troops. Made famous by movies depicting campaigns like the World War II landing on the beaches of Normandy, these “workhorses of the Pacific” are once again surging to the forefront of the Navy’s capabilities.

“Our operational tempo has more than doubled since September 11th,” said Cmdr. Mike Lockwood, commanding officer of ACU 1. “Our craft are very good at operating in many theatres because we are so operationally flexible. We also integrate well with small navies, and even do international relations and diplomacy work.”

The midshipmen spent a day with ACU 1 as part of a 4-week training program designed to immerse them directly into the operational environment. One week of training focuses specifically on the surface warfare community, exposing the soon-to-be officers to the many leadership opportunities available throughout the fleet. By the time they return to the Naval Academy in the fall, 800 midshipmen will have seen firsthand what ACU 1 can do.

“Our goal is to showcase all aspects of surface warfare to educate them so they have good baseline knowledge,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Stucky, the Current Operations Officer at Surface Forces Headquarters. “Most do not have exposure to amphibious operations.”

The midshipmen started their day at the LCU 1500 Memorial, dedicated to the fallen crew of a boat hit by an enemy rocket in Vietnam. There they heard from the commanding officer and learned a bit about what it means to be a “Surf Rider.” The year has been a busy one for the unit, beginning in January with the completion of the first “women at sea” modification that will allow female crews to deploy with LCU 1665, whose small crew complement of 12 sailors has traditionally meant open bay berthing. In May an LCU completed a record 1283-mile run from Norfolk, Virginia to Tampa, Florida, the longest independent transit by a craft of this type.

After their introduction, the midshipmen boarded a Maritime Prepositioning Force Utility Boat (MPFUB), “one of the fastest boats in San Diego,” according to Lockwood. ACU 1 maintains three of these 40-knot craft to aid in transportation of personnel and materials, medical evacuation, force protection, and support for salvage, damage control, and repair operations. The mids received a display of MPFUB’s high speed and maneuverability before reaching the waiting LCU and boarding in time to observe a beaching demonstration.

“I never thought I would be doing something like this,” said Midshipman Second Class Allison Reckenbeil, an oceanography major from New Jersey. “It’s like watching all that professional knowledge we study leap off of the page.”

This response is exactly the one that Lt. Cmdr. Paul Sumagaysay, Landing Craft Officer, hopes a day at sea with ACU 1 will prompt from the midshipmen.

“This is the best job,” said Sumagaysay. “We get a chance to show a different side of the Navy and the capabilities of the amphibious surface forces. You can’t beat working with young Sailors, and the ACU allows young sailors to gain tremendous responsibility right away in engineering, deck, navigation, and driving small boats.”

Many of these midshipmen will find themselves back in San Diego when their Academy days are behind them. A few may even have the chance to board an assault craft again. Regardless, according to Lockwood, “they’re all ‘Surf Riders’ now!”