MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
During a joint operation between 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, combat engineers set up rafts and moved tanks across a body of water aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 14, 2011.
The objective of the operation was to move 10 M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and one M88 Hercules Heavy Equipment Recovery Vehicle to a range where the Marines of 2nd Tanks would complete their annual gunnery qualifications.
According to Capt. Brad Klusmann, company commander for company C, this sort of mission requires something only 8th ESB can provide.
“We’re using bridges to float the tanks across the water, and we’re currently the only active duty unit in the Marine Corps that has that capability,” said Klusmann. “This is a very unique skill set.”
Although the tanks have the ability to get to the range without crossing over any body of water, the trip is long and expensive.
“We’re taking a long and tedious process for these Marines and turning it into a few hours of loading and off loading,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Brannen, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “This way, they have more time and energy to concentrate on their qualifications.”
Before the process of loading can begin, two days of preparation are vital to mission success. Marines must spend time setting up and configuring the Improved Float Bridge. The Marines have the option of several different configurations for the bridge. The one they chose to use can handle any 75 ton track vehicle.
“The amount of logistics that go into missions like this is huge,” said Sgt. Joshua L. Currie, a combat engineer with 8th ESB. “We have to deal with putting together the bridge, bringing boat mechanics because of the usual wear and tear problems with the boats, as well as preparation for the M3 Bridge Erection Boats, which help guide the bridge through the water and mark the areas on its path.”
The M3’s were also used alternately as safety boats, cruising alongside the bridge in case of an accident or man overboard, even though each Marine was required to wear a safety flotation vest and protective Kevlar helmet.
Once the bridge reaches shore, hydraulic pumps are used to help steady the bridge and get the ramp into the correct position for the track vehicle to board. Anchors are then sometimes used to keep the bridge steady while the vehicles are being brought on. The vehicle must come in straight in order to keep the bridge stable, and if it drifts too far to either side, the results could be disastrous.
“Safety is of the utmost importance in missions like this,” said Brannen. “On top of the usual mechanical problems, we also have civilians in the area fishing and boating. Marines always have to be aware.”
Although the Marines did make it through the mission safely, transporting all the vehicles, they know that with each similar mission, they must be equally as well prepared and alert.
“We do this pretty regularly, so we know what to expect, but we always keep an eye out for trouble," said Brannen. "In the water, anything can happen.”