"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hitting the beach

The ship’s at general quarters; perfect time to update the old blog.

Rather than hitting the bottom, we hit the beach after the longest twenty-minute ride of my life. After gently bobbing through the water and watching said water slowly leak through the door into the track, there was a sudden grinding noise as the tracks caught on coral and crunched through it, and then the front of the vehicle was pointing at the sky, and we were on the beach. It pulled onto a level span, and we quickly (and gratefully) popped open the top hatches to start setting up our gear and figure out where we were in relation to the objective. Most of the guys on my vehicle had a sneaking suspicion we weren’t in the right place, because we’d been told that our transit from the ship to the shore would take about an hour, and here we were ‘feet dry’ less than thirty minutes after launching. Once our GPS booted up, it confirmed our situation: we were a good two klicks south of our expected landing site (as the vehicle commander loudly and colorfully told me, this was not the first time they’d been dropped off on the wrong beach). Well, Marines don’t just take their ball and go home when things don’t go their way. The objective still needed attacking, so we had to get there one way or another.

Fortunately, as our raid packages are always part of a MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force), we could phone a friend for help; so I got on my radio and called up the section of Cobras that were attached to us for close air support. “We’re in the wrong place; help us get to the right one”, I asked, and the skids proceeded to scout up and down the shoreline to find us a way off the beach. They called back saying that there appeared to be a fordable crossing about half a klick north near a small waterway. Our tracks coughed out black clouds of exhaust and ground their way north. As we got closer, the Cobras cued us in to the crossing by flying low profiles right over it, and we soon saw a waterway paralleling the beachline with a dirt road on the other side that seemed to head off in the right direction (in this waterway, incidentally, was a randomly placed three-level harbor cruise ship which clearly had no way of getting out of the stagnant strip of water in which it found itself. None of us could figure out how this thing got there in the first place, short of being picked up by a rogue wave and deposited to rust away its remaining days in ignominy. This was not the last strange sight we’d see in the Philippines). The lead track gamely plunged into the water and waded to the other side. However, turns out the road was just a little too steep for a track to climb, so the rest of us watched with some amusement as the track got oh so close to the top, only to slide back down into the water and soak the passengers in the back who’d not had the foresight to seal the top hatches. After four tries it was clear we needed another way inland; calling the skids again, I told them we needed a plan B.

Cruising another kilometer up the beach, our escorts came back and said that they’d found a stream that ran inland and apparently led directly to the hard-surface road that would take us to our objective. Hoping the stream proved more fordable than the cruise ship graveyard, our mechanized column plodded on until we found it. Our flight-suited brethren were proving to be invaluable to this mission, as they told us just how far up the stream we had to go, what turns we needed to take, and close it would get us to the objective. All we could see was a trickle of water heading into the jungle, but the pilots’ confidence that this would get us where we needed to go was reassuring. Two hundred meters off the beach, the jungle quickly closed in around the creek to the point where we could only see the track in front and behind us. We maneuvered our way through foliage, under randomly-strung power lines, and around the occasional water buffalo, becoming less and less happy about the situation as we couldn’t see anything around us and the increasing number of large, ugly insects being deposited on us by the jungle was rapidly consuming more of our attention than the minor fact of being lost. Don’t worry, called the skids above us, you’re almost there. And, suddenly, we were; we came around another turn, the track lurched out of the stream bed up the embankment, and we found ourselves in the front yard of some confused but friendly-looking locals. And beyond their front yard was the road. We waved and smiled at the family whose beach hut we’d narrowly avoided squishing and raced down the asphalt.

We were an hour behind schedule, but finally in a position to execute the assault plan, which was blessedly uneventful. The Cobras had to check off station, as we’d used all their gas just finding our way off the beach, but I thanked our aerial Tom-Tom for helping us unscrew ourselves and sent them on their way. Our AAVs set themselves up in their assault and support-by-fire positions, and we dismounted and went to work. After about twenty minutes of running around, throwing smoke grenades, and surprising the Filipino naval garrison on the objective who had no idea we were coming, the mission was over and we were ready to call it a day. Getting back to the beach was much easier than leaving it; the mech company commander lined up his tracks, pointed them toward the water, and plowed over every rut, bush, and rusted fenceline for five hundred meters until we were there. We couldn’t head back to the ship until the helo raid being conducted to our south was finished as well, so we spread ourselves out along the water and watched the helicopters coming and going from the Essex until the battalion commander gave the call for everyone to come home. After another twenty minutes of bobbing through the ocean (with less water leaking in this time, thankfully), we climbed back into the welldeck of the Denver and called it a day.

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