MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- On April 22, 1991, the sound of a ship’s bell floated across the inlet here, marking the conception of a military unit which has since had no peers. Small Craft Company, a unit which relies on neither planes nor vehicles to fight the enemy, was born. Among the crowd that day was Pfc. Brian A. Vinciguerra, one of the first members of Small Craft Company. Fourteen years later, Gunnery Sgt. Vinciguerra watched as his company was decommissioned during a ceremony here June 6.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for me here. I was here for the inception, deployments, and now the retirement of the best unit I’ve ever known,” Vinciguerra, a native of St. Cloud, Fla. said.
Former and current members of the company for the ceremony surrounded the company gunnery sergeant.
“This is kind of like a family reunion in reverse because there are Marines here who have left and gone on to other units who still feel like part of this company have come back to see her off,” Vinciguerra said.
He added that no one was really sure why the company was decommissioned after proving their capabilities from the shores of South America to the Euphrates River in Fallujah, but everyone had speculations.
“People think it’s money or manpower problems, but no one knows for sure why they’re getting rid of us. The capabilities we provided to the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and Navy SEALS in Iraq are too big to be gone for long. We’re leaving an avenue of approach open for the enemy now,” he said. “I think Small Craft Company will be back in a few years when people realize what we brought to the fight.”
Insurgents have seen U.S. coalition planes and vehicles for two years. There was nothing to prepare them for seeing a 39-foot gunboat, said Vinciguerra.
Before the ceremony, the Marines enjoyed barbecue and drinks as they shared memories from their time with the company.
“I’m never going to find a group of guys like this again. Because we’re the only ones in the military who do what we do, we formed a special kind of brotherhood,” said Cpl. Jacob E. Lucko, a field radio operator form Pittsburgh, Pa. He added, “There’s nobody in any armed service who can do what we did, so I’m sorry to see it all go. I’ll never forget what we had here.”
Many Marines joined the company after its inception and helped to prepare the equipment and the Marines for what they would face in Iraq.
“When I got to the company, it had purpose but needed direction and more publicity. People didn’t know what we did,” said Gunnery Sgt. Alvin W. Thomas, the former company gunnery sergeant. The Wilmington, Ohio native added, “The Marines here have made this company into something great. We had a whole company of boats and supplies ready to deploy in under three weeks. Guys put their heart and souls into something they believed in.”
Thomas went on to mention that many Marines came to the company en masse from the School of Infantry so they already had a bond. It only grew as they worked and fought alongside each other.
“They were in Iraq when we found out the unit was being disbanded. It sent a shockwave through everybody,” Thomas said. He added, “Even though that surprised everyone the Marines knew they still had a job to do, and they did it well.”
The Marines of America’s first small craft unit will be sent to different infantry and combat-support units in the coming weeks. Because of their training with small craft company, Thomas thinks they’ll be an asset to any unit they go to.
“After two years a normal infantry Marine is pretty proficient in infantry tactics. We had to train our Marines to not only be proficient in infantry tactics but also in communication, boat repair and heavy weapons systems,” Thomas said. “They’ll never find a unit like this again but they’ll do well no matter where they go because of what they experienced here.”
After the decommissioning ceremony, the leaders of the unit like Thomas and the commanding officers were treated to a time-honored small craft tradition that may never happen again. They were raised up on the shoulders of their junior Marines like valiant heroes – and promptly tossed into the brackish water of the inlet.
As the festivities and time together came to a close, the Marines of the first small craft company said their farewells to each other.
“These guys are realizing you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone so you have to enjoy it while it’s here,” Thomas said. He added, “We were a damn good unit and I know none of us will ever forget what we made.”