USS NEW ORLEANS at sea (NNS) – Amphibious craft, loaded with Marines and equipment, splashing out of the well deck of a ship, then powering their way from surf to sand is an image that has been recorded in movies and history books throughout the decades.
Amphibious operations are a critical part today’s naval defenses, just as they were when Marines stormed the beaches of Normandy, turning the tides of war during World War II.
The job of Quartermaster First Class Petty Officer James Merrill and Logistics Specialist Seaman Andrew Golden is to ensure when amphibious craft come ashore, they do it with the least amount of risk possible.
Merrill and Golden are assigned to Beach Master Unit One (BMU 1), Detachment Alpha, which is currently assigned to USS New Orleans (LPD 18), in support of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) 2010.
A-SPS is the amphibious portion of Southern Partnership Station, which is a deployment of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission’s primary goal is mission-focused information sharing with navies, coast guards, and civilian services throughout the region in order to enhance regional maritime capabilities and security.
The New Orleans is currently participating in both Partnership of the Americas 2010 and Southern Exchange 2010 in support of A-SPS, in Salinas and Ancon, Peru. It is the platform for Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 24, to conduct amphibious operations with partner nations from Mexico and South America.
Before U.S. and partner nation Marines were able to begin amphibious operations, Merrill and Golden were flown ashore in a helicopter to determine if the state of the surf was acceptable for an amphibious landing. Golden began gathering his data by simply throwing a tennis ball into the ocean.
“Throwing the tennis ball helps us to measure the speed of the littoral current in knots, and it tells us which way the craft needs to compensate so it doesn’t broach,” said Golden.
Measuring littoral current is just a small part of determining the overall condition of the surf.
“When we do a surf observation, we take in all the environmental factors that affect the surf,” said Merrill. “We throw the tennis ball into the water and see how long it takes for that ball to travel laterally. We measure wave height and frequency, the speed of the wind, and any other environmental factors that could affect a landing. Once we gather all the information, we go to some tables and figure out the MSI (modified surf index).”
While it may seem obvious whether surf conditions are too rough for an amphibious craft to land, looks can be deceiving according to Merrill.
“You can’t determine whether the surf is too heavy for a landing just by looking,” said Merrill. “You have to come to your conclusions by using scientific data. You have to gather the data, use the formulas, and once you get to the MSI, that information will help determine if it is safe to land a vehicle.”
There are several different types of amphibious vehicles employed by the Navy and Marine Corps.
“Every vehicle has its own limitations including the AAVs (Amphibious Assault Vehicles), LCACs (Landing Craft Air-Cushioned), and LCUs (Landing Craft Utility); and the MSI is applied differently to each one. No matter which vehicle it is, doing a surf observation is important to the mission,” said Merrill.
“The main thing we’re concerned about, when we’re out here doing surf observations is ensuring it’s safe to land craft on the beach. Safety is paramount in all exercises. The key thing is for us to be able to give accurate information to the commodore and the commanding officer so they can make an informed decision. The surf observation is a key component to any beach-landing exercise,” said Merrill.
BMU 1 is responsible for other aspects of amphibious operations in addition to providing surf observation reports. They control landing craft, and the movement over the beach of equipment, troops and supplies. They also provide assistance in local security and beach defense. They have the capability to provided beach and surf zone salvage with the use of their LARC-V (Lighter, Amphibious Resupply, Cargo, 5 ton) vehicle and provide the evacuation of casualties, prisoners-of-war, and non-combatants. BMU 1 is based at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in Coronado, Calif.
USS New Orleans, along with PHIBRON 5 and other embarked units are scheduled to visit Callao, Peru; Bahia Malaga, Colombia; and Balboa, Panama during the three-month deployment.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.