Special Operations Training Group Marines Paddle, Swim, Sail to Additional Specialty in Coxswain Course on Okinawa

By Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Public…

By Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein,
3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, OKINAWA, Japan — Fourteen Marines with Special Operations Training Group are taking part in the Basic Coxswain Skills Course to earn the additional military occupational specialty of combat rubber reconnaissance craft coxswain.

The course, which began March 10 on Camp Hansen, will conclude April 4 at White Beach Naval Facility.

Coxswains maintain and operate rubber reconnaissance crafts, also known as Zodiacs, and lead boat teams of Marines during amphibious missions, according to Staff Sgt. Aaron A. Smith, the senior amphibious raid instructor with SOTG, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.

“Part of our job as Marines is being an amphibious force,” Smith said. “We have this training for coxswains so we can safely insert a company raid force from ship to shore.”

During the first week of the course, the Marines trained on fundamentals of nautical navigation such as plotting points on a nautical chart and tying various knots used to secure lose objects to the craft.

The first week concluded with a test of those skills. Marines had to score a minimum of 80 percent to continue. The following week, the Marines moved on to the practical application portion of the course and received hands-on training in operating and maintaining a Zodiac.

They practiced safely operating the boats and unloading Marines onto docks and onto vessels while moving at speeds up to 20 nautical miles per hour.

“Anybody can drive a small boat really fast, but it takes skill to operate it correctly,” said Sgt. Bart P. Dellinger, an amphibious raid instructor with SOTG. “We spend a lot of time practicing maneuvers.”

During the practical application portion of the course, each morning for physical training, students conducted a Zodiac race, dividing into two teams and racing to assemble their craft. Once an instructor inspected a team’s craft, the Marines paddled out into the ocean.

When they reached marked points, course instructors called out, “broach the boat,” and the students intentionally capsized their boats.

Once the Marines gained accountability of their boat team, they began “righting the boat,” or flipping it back over.

The Zodiac race gave the Marines a great workout and helped condition them for one of the worst possible scenarios in Zodiac operations, Smith said.

“The most dangerous part of operating a Zodiac is the landing and withdrawals while entering and exiting a surf zone,” Smith said. “A wave can flip your boat over from the rear just as easily as it can from the side. Broaching and righting is a drill we teach the students so that they will know how to react if they ever face that situation.”

On the final day of the course, instructors will test the Marines’ overall knowledge and Zodiac handling skills with a hands-on test that requires the students to identify and repair at least 16 of 20 boat and engine discrepancies, Dellinger said.

“It’s important for the Marines to be able to trouble shoot the boat,” Dellinger said. “If they don’t have this skill, it will take longer to get the objective accomplished on time.”

Students who pass the discrepancy test then have to conduct a simulated night raid that requires them to put into action all the skills taught during the course before receiving what they worked so hard for, the coxswain specialty.

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