MANA — It starts as a low rumble, slowing overtaking the sound of the rolling
surf nearby. It’s early morning and a handful of Navy personnel and an even
smaller handful of journalists are gathered at Major’s Beach at the Pacific
Missile Range Facility holding Styrofoam cups of coffee and waiting.
rumble continues to grow louder. Out in the Kaulakahi Channel is the faint
outline of a ship, the USS Harper’s Ferry, out of San Diego. Beyond it, against
a perfectly conceived rosy-fingered dawn sky, is the larger shadow of Ni’ihau,
the Forbidden Island.
This is the backdrop for an amphibious landing
rehearsal held at the base last Friday as part of RimPac 2000, the Navy’s
month-long training exercise.
Besides the fact that the beach is already
friendly soil, the rehearsal is very lifelike, says program manager Eric
He points to a helicopter flying overhead. “Well, that wouldn’t
normally happen. That’s our photographer.”
It is actually a rehearsal of a
rehearsal. The real rehearsal, an assault at Pohakuloa on the Big Island, took
place this week.
All along the horizon, dark figures emerge in the ocean.
Some, like angry sea serpents, blow out clouds of steam, “to provide cover for
the second wave.”
In all, there are 12 of these figures. As the rumbling
continues to get louder, Dunn explains that these are AAVs, or Amphibious
Assault Vehicles. They are the first wave of the assault, the first thing—and
perhaps last thing— an enemy would see, providing heavy armor for the
transport vehicles to come.
One Navy personnel says that similar launches
took place in Somalia, which was embroiled in a bitter civil war in 1993. Only
then an army of paparazzi were there on the beach to greet the landing Marines,
much to the disgust of the top brass.
The AAVs roll onto the beach and turn
right, heading for the rallying point further on down at Kokole
“They would normally go inland,” says Dunn, “But at PMRF, a base
that’s 300 yards wide, they don’t really have anywhere to go.”
is still. But then again on the horizon, two huge, wide houselike objects rolls
towards the beach. These are the LCACs, or Air Cushioned Landing Craft, the
military’s version of hovercraft. As they near,a Navy observer jokes that
everyone should roll up their windows. “They kick up quite a lot of sand,” he
says. With turbines whirling at 200 MPH, the two LCACs make their presence
Once landed, the LCACs reveal their payload, 200 marines and 15 or
so humvees, some of which promptly get stuck in the sand. “It’s crazy because
you see civilians in their 4x4s and they don’t get stuck,” says Beachmaster
The landing has been deemed a success, and, once given a
helping push, the Marines in their humvees make their way to their objective,
apparently to a nearby radio tower. Albert says that this all the easy part,
really. “The hard part, and the thing we don’t usually get to practice is the
backloading,” she says.
Sometimes, she adds, there are some extra people
left over after the last personnel vehicle has left the beach. “I just hope
they saved a seat for us,” she says.