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Essex and 31st MEU Complete Successful CRRC Exercise

25 Sep 2008 | Mass Communications Specialist Second Class Greg Johnson

Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completed a successful Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) operation from the well deck of Essex, Sept. 25.

During the three-hour exercise, 25 Marines from the 31st MEU’s Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon and more than 20 Essex Sailors successfully launched and recovered four CRRCs, each manned with a crew of six Marines. It was the first CRRC exercise conducted by the 31st MEU since getting underway for fall patrol.

“Our job was to assist in stabilizing the CRRCs upon launch just in case the water got too rough,” said Seaman Apprentice Justin Mitchell. “We also secured their boats as quickly as we could when they pulled back into the well deck.”

For Mitchell, and many other Sailors who participated, it was their first experience working along side Marines.

“It was intense getting down there and seeing it first-hand,” said Mitchell. “These guys are very professional about this kind of stuff.”

Marine Staff Sgt. Ryan Cullen, Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant, said the Marines also gained from the experience of working with the Sailors.

“It’s always good to get down there and work with the blue side,” said Cullen. “Working together onboard a ship takes a team effort from both sides and hopefully this training improved that teamwork.”

“The main objective was for the Marines to gain confidence in one another,” said Marine Capt. Daniel J. Macsay, Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon Commander. “If you reduce friction by making them more confident in their jobs, it can keep them out of a bad situation in combat. That was really our goal today.”

Cullen agreed that building confidence was the main objective. According to Cullen, less than 20 percent of the Marines had previously launched a CRRC from an amphibious assault ship. He said the team’s confidence level was noticeably higher after the exercise.

“They were definitely more confident,” said Cullen. “When you do this for the first time it definitely eases the anxiety.”

CRRCs are small crafts consisting of an inflatable hull and a low-volume, outboard engine, making them ideal for transporting Marines from ship to shore, said Macsay.

“They’re extremely low-signature,” said Macsay. “They have very little engine noise and they’re low to the horizon. If you keep more than 1000 meters out they’re virtually impossible to detect.”

Throughout the exercise, the platoon exhibited the ability to launch and recover the boats through an assortment of maneuvers. After successful launch and recovery of the CRRCs one at a time, they performed simultaneous launches and recoveries of two and four CRRCs.

Cullen, who has been on six CRRC exercises, said the majority of the platoon had experience launching the boats in port before the exercise, but operating on the open sea presents a new set of challenges.

“Any time you’re dealing with CRRCs in the middle of the ocean it’s pretty intense. Having to contend with the conditions of the sea means you have to be aware of everything going on around you,” said Cullen.

Despite the potential dangers of a full-scale CRRC exercise, Cullen said the platoon pulled through with a safe, successful effort.

“It went really well,” he said. “We’re more used to doing it on shore and things were tense at first, but Marines live for this stuff.”

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in the Asia-Pacific region at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force, and is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan.

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander.  Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit