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Marines Report From The Field

Green Dragons’ repelled insurgents, explosives

Story by Cpl. Ruben D. Maestre

Submitted by: II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)

AL AMARIYAH, Iraq (Oct. 23. 2005) -- The convoy of assault amphibian vehicles came up on a cluster of houses here during an operation late last summer. After cordoning off the area with the tracked vehicles, infantrymen dismounted from the armored vehicles, providing another level of security for the ‘cordon and knock’ operation.

The AAVs—labeled ‘green dragons’ for their size and loud engines by local Iraqis—were positioned on a defensive perimeter and their Marine crewmen kept watch as infantrymen began going house-to-house collecting information and searching for illegal weapons.

Assault amphibian vehicles are huge, ungainly war machines called “tracks” or “hogs” by some of their operators. Introduced to the Marine Corps more than 30 years ago, the 26-ton behemoths were originally designed with the intent of taking combat-loaded Marines from ship to shore.

In the fight against insurgents in Iraq, AAVs provide additional force projection with an increased level of safety and firepower.

“They are an additional force for coalition forces carrying out operations within the area,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard A. Gross, 34, of Clarion, Pa., and platoon sergeant with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. “They provide security, troop transport, firepower, mobility and speed.”

The armored vehicles are able to carry more than two dozen Marine infantrymen with a maximum speed exceeding 40 miles per hour. The gun turret is equipped with an M-2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun and a MK-19 grenade launcher, both capable of taking out enemy targets over long distances and giving coalition forces more area coverage with less troops.

For the troops on the cordon and knock operation, the AAVs are seen as an added bonus in carrying out their missions in Iraq.

“I can’t carry a .50 cal,” said Sgt. Jason Campbell, 29, of Waco, Texas, and a squad leader with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, of the heavy weapon capable of stopping insurgents in their vehicles. “They have increased [our] firepower and they can go pretty much anywhere.”

Recent debate about the use of the amphibious tracks in the desert terrain of Iraq increased after an insurgent attack used a massive bomb against an AAV causing several coalition casualties. Despite that particular loss, the squad leader from central Texas pointed out the effectiveness of the tracks against improvised explosive devices and other explosives while conducting the cordon and knock operation.

“The tracks take the brunt of the blasts,” said Campbell, whose platoon has been attacked with enemy explosives three times, once by a landmine, while riding in the amphibious vehicles. “It’s better to have a broken AAV, than a dead Marine.”

Some crewmen also believe the size, mobility and firepower of their ‘green dragons’ give the enemy second thoughts about launching a full-scale attack against their operations.

“The tracks provide a show of force,” said 1st Lt. Kyle J. Andrews, 24, of Lexington, Ohio, and platoon commander with the assault amphibian unit. “We may not always be needed but we are a psychological deterrent to those that oppose us.”

The Marines finished their operation after a Navy explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed a possible insurgent rocket found sticking vertically out of the ground. The unexploded rocket had been found in an area where children played.

The AAVs left the area to return to their base from what had been a routine mission. Shortly before arriving there, a terrorist driving a car bomb targeted Marines by detonating next to one of the tracked vehicles.

The bomber had succeeded in destroying himself in the blast. Yet the feared ‘green dragons’ emerged from the carnage without structural damage and only two Marines slightly injured.