U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – Down the ramp and below decks, over hurdles of humvees, boxes, and stockpiles of Marine equipment lies a small community set in a place not often visited by Sailors and Marines.
Assault Craft Unit One (ACU-1) is comprised of four utility landing craft (LCU), neatly stowed in the belly of amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu’s (LHA 5) well deck. The total crew amounts to approximately 50 Sailors who eat, sleep, and work aboard the small vessels.
The Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif.-based unit’s mission is to embark and deploy an agile ready fighting force of Marines ashore. It handles the amphibious assault aspect of an engagement by moving troops, assault vehicles and their supplies across open water to the shore. This adds to Peleliu’s simultaneous two-pronged attack that deploys the Marines, assigned to 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, through the sea and air.
“We take the Marines where they need to be, so they can do what they need to do,” said Enginemen 1st Class Ryan K. Kuykindall, from Los Angeles, the chief engineer aboard LCU 1632.
Marine Combat Cargo unit attached to the ship assists the evolution through directing and loading the Marines and their gear onto LCUs. Once the gear is on board and tied down, Peleliu’s engineering team fills the ballast tanks to sink the stern and flood the well deck. The water fills in around the craft to allow it to float out of the well deck.
The LCUs, with their approximate 135-foot length and 30-foot width, pales in comparison to the 820-foot long Tarawa class LHA, but the craft’s Sailors carry out the plan of the day just the same as Peleliu’s crew.
“First thing in the morning, we field day the craft, then perform maintenance on the main engines and work on the radio antenna on the mast,” said Kuykindall. “Pretty much, we do the same routine as a lot of the Sailors who work above us.”
Although more compact and condensed than most ships throughout the fleet, the landing craft still have most amenities of their much larger counterparts. Some of these include berthing spaces, galley, laundry, and lounge.
“This is a ship. If they kick us out of the well deck, we can survive on our own,” said Kuykindall. “As long as we have fuel and food, just like larger ships, we can stay out as long as we need to.”
A dozen Sailors from various ratings ranging from boatswain’s mate and culinary specialist to enginemen and quartermasters make up the LCU’s crew.
Each member must be capable of handling many different types of tasking assigned, due to the small crew size.
“We all know a lot about each other’s jobs,” said Quartermaster 2nd Class Dramarcus L. Campbell, from Marshall, Texas. “I could be [in] here navigating, and if they need someone to jump on the helm, to be the conning PO [Petty Officer], or go out on the deck and chain vehicles. Those are all different things I can help out with.”
The size of the craft and the crew also creates an environment that encourages them to work closely together as a tight-knit team.
“It’s a lot more like a brotherhood or a family,” said Campbell. “Everybody does their part, but we share the workload.”
While embarked in the well deck, they perform their normal routine duties, but should they be called upon, the crew is always ready for the high-tempo operational requirements of bringing the fight to the enemy.
“We have to be active all the time,” added Campbell. “We can’t get complacent because every operation is different, every beach is different, and nothing ever stays the same.”