Advanced amphib training
Smaller vessels such as a yacht are not typically incorporated into U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s VBSS training, but this particular team sought to familiarize itself with the challenge.
Marine Special Operations Team trains at Key West beaches, harbor during advanced amphib training
Story by Lance Cpl. Steven Fox
On a warm February day, at a harbor in Key West, Fla., two men fixed their footing on the edge of a dock and surveyed the water below and along the boardwalk in search of the soon-to-arrive Marine scout swimmers.
“Do you hear anything yet?” asked a former Navy SEAL, there to assess the approaching Marine Special Operation Team members conduct a visit, board, search and seizure exercise.
“Nope,” said another observer. “I can’t hear them.”
A few moments following their exchange, three critical skills operators and two special operations capabilities specialists finned up to the modestly-sized yacht they knew to be their target objective, emerged from the water and cleared the vessel.
The operators cleared the 30-foot vessel in a matter of minutes, turning it inside out in search of contraband and personnel.
The MSOT, with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, spent the month of February in several Florida locations conducting training exercises, all of which involved maritime operations.
Smaller vessels such as a yacht are not typically incorporated into U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s VBSS training, but this particular team sought to familiarize itself with the challenges of interdicting a small boat during their week-long training package held Feb. 15 – 22. The team focused on maritime operations that included closed-circuit diving, scout swimming and VBSS, among various other skill sets.
The team’s assistant operations chief said practicing VBSS iterations on smaller, privately-owned vessels is important for his team because its assigned area of operation may present such a mission.
However large or small the vessel, the practices and tactics employed during a VBSS mission are similar.
“The fundamentals are going to remain the same, whether you’re clearing a 25-foot yacht or a several hundred-foot cruise liner, so I absolutely think this capability is going to be maintained,” said an operator on the team. “Being able to take down either large vessels or small vessels, and doing that interchangeably between teams – that’s where we need to be.”
However, an MSOT may not get tasked with taking down a vessel of any kind, but will instead be tasked with a mission on land. The location and circumstances of that mission will then dictate the insertion and extraction method used.
If an objective lies just beyond a waterway, the only feasible mode of insertion and extraction may be of an amphibious nature. Or if the mission necessitates operational activities remain clandestine, an amphibious insertion and extraction may also be the best option.
“The scout swimming is a realistic insert method for our team,” explained the team’s assistant operations chief. “If we had some attached personnel on our team who are not divers, we can get those guys to the mission using scout swimming techniques.”
Scout swimming is an individual’s application of standard surface-swimming techniques combined with the application of mission essential equipment and attire, and does not involve the use of a supplemental breathing apparatus.
“Scout swimming is nothing super advanced, but it relies on brilliance in the basics and doing the small things right,” said an operator with the team. “Hydrographic surveys, beach reports, as well as assessing tides and currents – knowing all these things, and knowing how to incorporate all of that into mission planning before you even get into the water is really important.”
Scout swimming, though practical and effective when applied to appropriate missions, is not necessarily a suitable skill-set for every operation requiring an amphibious insertion. There are certain circumstances that demand the use of closed-circuit diving and scuba diving.
Dive operations are not commonplace; in fact, they are rarely executed outside of training and simulated missions. But they serve their purpose as a tool critical skills operators and special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen can utilize to travel underwater, rendering visual detection unlikely and better preserving the integrity of a clandestine operation.
The Army’s Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West allowed the MSOT to use its training facilities which ensured the team had support readily available, maximizing their ease of training and minimizing their logistical complications.
“We went to Key West with the intent of refining our Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and our Standard Operating Procedures internal to the team,” said the operator.
Like anything in the military, diving has the potential to be dangerous, and the skills employed are perishable. The assistant operations chief explained that the team possesses advanced dive capabilities, and they seek to regularly practice and improve upon what they already know, as well as further their skill-set.
“Key West allowed us to get into some clearer water that provided better visibility so we could see each other in the daytime and iron out our SOPs, so when we roll into the night iteration, it goes a lot smoother,” said the team’s assistant operations chief.
The team strives to offer MARSOC and Special Operations Command Pacific something valuable by gathering capabilities that are rare among MSOTs, while being able to also execute them extremely well.
“We’re working on being able to execute missions where we’re traveling five kilometers on a dive propulsion device, negotiating multiple direction changes, caching DPDs and MK 25s (underwater breathing apparatus) underwater, coming up, going onto land and executing the mission,” said the team’s assistant operations chief.
Since leaving Afghanistan, MARSOC has pushed to strengthen its amphibious capabilities, not just at 1st MSOB, but across all three battalions, and Key West offers the battalions opportunities to advance their maritime skill sets to a higher tier of capability.
“I think it’s key this training is implemented in the future because there’s a lot to learn in a dive team, and there will always be more to learn,” said the operator.