CAMP RIPPER, AL ASAD, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Chimbuoyim Okoli Jr. and his fellow Marines with 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion recently conducted operations in a unique environment.
The Virginia Beach, Va., based unit, attached to 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, is launching their armored vehicles from fortified bases, instead of ships in the ocean, to conduct operations on urban terrain here.
“We take the troops into the city so they can do their job,” said the AAV crewman and Virginia Beach native.
The vehicles that Okoli operates were adapted from the designs of an amphibious tractor used to help people during severe weather such as hurricanes and floods. The modern AAV, designed to be a ship to shore troop transport, weighs 26 tons and can hold 20 personnel.
Although a departure from their designed transport role, these armored machines are proving to be valuable asset for operations on land.
“The vehicle is much better than our seven-ton trucks because it offers better protection,” said the 2000 graduate of Salem High School. “We can travel over rougher terrain and if there isn’t any bridge we can cross, we just tighten up and go across the river.”
During missions, the Nigerian born Okoli and his fellow ‘AmTrackers’ provide security on the city streets. They are able to provide heavy covering fire as needed and an armored position from which to operate.
“We have a MK-19 (a 40 mm. automatic grenade launcher) and a M-2 .50 caliber machinegun on each vehicle. If the infantrymen need it, we can provide awesome covering fire that will send most insurgents running,” said Okoli with a smile.
While the vehicle can travel up to speeds of 50 mph on land and 12 knots in the water, there are a few drawbacks to using AAVs according to Okoli.
“The maintenance on these vehicles is high,” he said. “Every time we drive these vehicles something wears down. We have to fix it so we can stay in the fight and continue the mission.”
Even though AAV’s are high maintenance, Okoli and his fellow ‘AmTrackers’ provide a substantial asset to the units they support in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They provide a means of transportation that is safe and fast.
“It’s much safer because our vehicles are better equipped to handle major blasts from rockets or mines. We save a lot of lives by doing this.”