Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scout Swimmer, Part 1

About a month before we boarded the ship for deployment, the call was made that we might have some need of scout swimmers. Not enough time to send any Marines to school, command decided that we would get all the zodiac coxwains (guess what we called 'em), first-class and above rated swimmers, and a few guys from the recon platoon together to figure out how we were going to take care of fielding swimmers, if needed.

For a down and dirty swimming course, we didn't spend all that much time in the water. It was kind of a given that anybody who was there was going to be a decent swimmer, and for the most part, everybody was. The focus of the course was to ensure that Marines from the different platoons would all know the same information, and if need be, could be considered interchangeable when it actually came to training and working joint ops. We spent a lot of time on beach clearing, signaling, and the like.

Finally, the time came to get into the zodiacs and do a number of practice runs.

As it has been said many other times in much better ways, you do not really control an area until you have boots on the ground. Technology is great, but until you have some mean looking knuckle-dragger on the ground and ready to hook and jab, its just all hot air.

Head mean looking knuckle-dragger came in the form of...well, we'll just call him Staff Sergeant Enojado. SSgt. Enojado wasn't the most cheery sort, what with his colorful vocabulary, hatred of everybody (especially Officers), and a muy fuerte accent. About the only thing that I saw give him joy was when he managed to throw off several Marines from his zodiac while attempting to set naval speed records on his boat. ¡OlĂ©!

I would always hear a couple of the good-old boys in the group let out more than a few "yeee-haws" (a la the Dukes of Hazzard) when we went airborne, always followed by muffled curses when we crashed down to the water, and then followed by swallowing several gallons of water when the Ssgt. cut hard to the flank immediately upon crash landing. Several times the 'tactical water insertion' was accomplished thusly.

On one particular nut-numbing practice run, I was holding on for dear life on the starboard side. Marines were stacked upon the inflatable 'arm', facing forward and draped over the tube to maintain a low profile, with their swim buddy on the other side of the zodiac. Theory was when you got to you drop off point, you would look over to your swim buddy, ensure that both were ready to abandon ship, and just kind of lean over into the water. SSgt. was having none of that, of course. Cruising along at roughly the speed of sound and cursing all Officers ever born, Ssgt. was in top form. I could tell he was feeling particularly nice today by the way he informed us of the upcoming drop-off. "Hold on, ju fockers, an get ready to get the fuck outta my boat! Pinche beach is somewheres over dere!". He illustrated his fine directions with a nod to a generally forward direction.

I felt like one of those motorcycle racers, when they lean waaaay over the bike, to avoid being flung off like so many...Marines on a zodiac. We were getting a lot better at holding on, much to SSgt.'s displeasure. If we had enough prior warning, we would anticipate the turn, leaning to one side or the other. Sneaky bastard noticed this and started faking us out, letting us anticipate a turn and then deftly slamming the boat in the opposite direction, promptly tossing one side or the others worth of Marines, and apparently for the Naval Marine-chucking World Distance Record. Inevitably, you would find yourself on the outside of the turn, nothing keeping you on the boat but fingernails, curses, and grit.

From the beach, you would have not noticed anything at all, just the crashing of the waves, birds calling and shitting, and the regular noises of nature. Out to sea, zodiacs would be quietly cruising along (and/or soaring through the air). Marines would depart the zodiacs by signaling their swim buddy and easing themselves off of the boat (and/or flying ass over teakettle, cursing all the way, into the water).

Back on the zodiac, I found myself on the outside of yet another turn. This hard flank was not as sharp as some of the other, probably why I wasn't immediately tossed overboard. When the g-forces get to a certain point at a high rate of speed, I don't care how many pull-ups you can do, your ass is launching. I was barely holding on, arms fully extended, fingers in a death-grip around the rope, willing myself to curl my body back atop the tube. I remember the moment when my determination to remain with the boat started to overcome the force of the turn. I managed to curl my arms and move my body about half an inch closer to the tube. That was when I knew that I had this turn beat.

That was also the moment that Popeye, immediately behind me, lost his grip and started his ungraceful exit from the boat. Apparently, his right boot had slipped from its perch and made contact with the water. Scrambling atop the slippery rubber, he reached out for any purchase he could find, and

Just as I was celebrating my victory over what turned out to be the inevitable, I was sucked off of the zodiac like I had tied a line to the pier. I caught a flailing boot to the side of my grape whilst soaring through the air, and managed to suck down about 20 gallons of sea water, as I was cursing Popey in about 3 different languages. We bobbed to the surface, exchanged a few pleasantries, and waited for the zodaic to swing around.

to be continued...

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