AT SEA -- More than 200 years ago, United States Marines deftly and bravely fought with muskets and swords to repel their boarders and ensure no enemy, pirate or military could seize their ships. Now in the 21st Century, Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry on their forefathers’ legacy as part of the Small Craft Action Team (SCAT).
Marines with “Fighting 13th” have joined efforts with Sailors from Boxer Amphibious Ready Group to help defend USS Boxer (LHD4), USS New Orleans (LPD18) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD49) for their 2013 Western Pacific Deployment.
This team of more than three dozen Marines and Sailors trains to respond against a serious threat; fast boats used by pirates and hostile nations, loaded with armed men and heavy weapons. What makes Pirates and other hostile groups dangerous to modern naval warships is their small size, agile speed, powerful weapons and coordinated numbers, like a swarm of killer bees.
To combat this type of modern enemy that can threaten shipping lanes and travelers, the SCA Team has an arsenal heavily evolved from the muskets and sabers once used. The M2 .50 Caliber, M240B medium and the MK-38 25mm machine guns can fire traditional ball rounds to armor piercing/incendiary ammunition that complements their long range defensive capabilities. Each Marine and Sailor behind these weapons carries the responsibility that comes with it.
“Our best asset is the individual Marine and Sailor,” said Staff Sgt. Geoffrey C. Rumpf, SCA Team Marine liaison and platoon sergeant of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU, and Astatula, Fla. native. “Just being out there… being able to continuously identify threats and what could potentially harm us is crucial. That’s the hardest part-having that trigger discipline.”
Each time the SCA Team has been called to action during pre-deployment training at sea, the Marines don their Kevlar helmets and body armor and position themselves throughout the ARG. The Navy works closely with the Marines to help each identify threats.
“Early on, we sat down, worked and put together an integrated Blue-Green team,” said Navy Chief Jerry L. Munoz, Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer and chief master-at -arms for the USS Harpers Ferry and a San Diego native. “I’m really happy we have Marines here on the guns, with a lot of experience between them. We had small tweaks to make, but the [Marines] have been phenomenal and integrated really well. They’re professional and I’m glad we have them here.”
Each Marine on the M2 .50 Caliber and M240B Medium machine guns are machine gunners by trade, trained to skillfully fire rounds in rapid succession. They are also paired with assaultmen, jack of all trade infantrymen, who help serve as assistant gunners and are the eyes and ears of the two-man teams.
During training, their targets are steadily towed behind a remote controlled boat. However, the two moving vessels and surrounding waves makes aiming a challenge.
“When we’ve been shooting these moving targets it’s been in a way like playing football,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel C. Hayward, member of the SCA Team and a machine gunner with 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU and Sand Lake, Mich. native. “If your target is moving faster than you, aim a little bit in front it. It’s almost like playing catch. It’s harder to aim at targets on ship because of the rocking of the ship and you have to keep the gun moving with the waves. But if you can aim right, you’ll hit your target fine.”
Their pre-deployment preparationis nearly at an end and their MEU deployment will take “Fighting 13th” personnel across two oceans, thousands of miles away from home. On those waters they will use what they have learned to keep their ships safe.
“It is interesting to go back and see what we were originally intended to do and be ships’ security,” added Rumpf.“Maintaining ship security is something they really haven’t done in the last 11 years of war, so everyone is trying to really learn.”
Pirates and other maritime menaces that once preyed upon naval vessels hundreds of years ago, sunk beneath the waves when brave Marines and Sailors valiantly took up arms to keep the sea free from their terror. Soon it will be13th MEU’s turn to keep watch over the ships they sail aboard and carry the legacy as sea-borne warriors.