MOUNT SURIBACHI, Iwo Jima -- At the site of the bloodiest battle in World War II, Marines landed on Iwo Jima again, this time for a memorial ceremony and educational visit.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s Assault Amphibian Vehicle Platoon, E Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion attached to Battalion Landing Team 3/1, landed 14 AAVs Friday onto Green Beach, the same beach where Marines were lured into a barrage of fire and steel in 1945. It was also the first landing by AAVs during the MEU's six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions.
Nearly 600 Marines and Sailors from the 13th MEU (SOC) and Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group visited Iwo Jima to commemorate the heroes who fought on the hallowed ground and gain an appreciation for the rich history that helped shaped the Marine Corps. The MEU/ARG team also got to visit Betio on the Tarawa atoll on the way to Australia in late August.
The AAV Platoon had to take extra caution before landing on Green Beach, because there is currently no existing hydrographic data on the surf zone leading into the beach. The platoon commander received data from meteorological reports the night before that projected bad weather conditions and rough sea states that could affect the landing or prevent them from landing at all.
Initially, the Modified Surf Index, a report that considers wave height, wave type and wave interval, indicated that the launch could not be made, according to 1stLt. Wyndham Buerlein, a 27-year-old AAV platoon commander from Richmond, Va. "I asked the surface observation team ashore to reevaluate the data, and then I had to calculate the MSI reports three times before I was authorized to launch," said 1stLt. Buerlein, who was working within a tight launch schedule. "I literally ran from the ship's flag bridge to my tractor to get going."
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Duluth launched all AAVs on line, but due to a shorter beach landing zone, the platoon had to split into four waves. Once the AAVs splashed ashore onto the deep black sand on Iwo Jima, they made history.
"It was very emotional for everybody, popping the hatch after hitting the surf zone and seeing Mount Suribachi off to the left," said 1stLt. Buerlein. "It's just incredible to look at photographs of the war and actually stand in the same spot in the photograph and see it as it is today."
The visit was also an educational one. "I read Flags of Our Fathers and encouraged many of my Marines to do the same," said 1stLt. Buerlein, who used the book about the Battle for Iwo Jima and famous flag-raising to educate his Marines about the battle. "I think the book offered a great perspective of the battle and gave the island a lot of personality."
Each AAV was filled to capacity - 250 total Marines and Sailors from I Company, L Company and the Reconnaissance Platoon from Battalion Landing Team 3/1 and MEU Service Support Group got the chance of a lifetime. It was an opportunity that didn't come often in the six-month float, however. It was the first launch.
According to 1stLt. Buerlein, extreme sea-state and escalating weather conditions dictated cancellation of a landing in Hawaii. Stringent agricultural inspections and environmental considerations prevented a landing in Australia. The most recent opportunity for the AAV Platoon would have been in the Arabian Gulf, but USS Duluth remained on station in Aden, Yemen, for Operation Determined Response to act as a standby extract force and were unable to participate in training exercises in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Even though the AAV Platoon launched only once in the float, they made the most of their time on Green Beach, dedicating a plaque in honor of the Marines who fought on the island. It was a time to reflect and a time to remember.