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Around The Fleet

No Beach Out Of Reach

Assault Craft Unit 5

The image is iconic: Marines pouring ashore, emerging from choppy waves to secure a beachhead in the name of freedom.

But do you know how Marines and their vehicles manage to storm those beaches, often at a moment's notice? They do it via a landing aircraft, air cushion (LCAC), a hovercraft operated by a Navy assault craft unit (ACU).

An LCAC is a high-speed, over-the-beach, fully amphibious landing craft capable of carrying a 60 to 75-ton payload. It is used to transport the assault elements of a Marine air-ground task force from ship to shore and across the beach at high speeds. This includes weapons systems - even M-1 tanks - equipment, cargo and personnel. Air cushion technology allows this vehicle to reach more than 70 percent of the world's coastline, while only about 15 percent of that coastline is accessible by conventional landing craft.

"ACU 5 is not your typical haze-gray Navy," said Senior Chief Operations Specialist Noah Free. "You're not reporting to a ship for sea duty; you're reporting to a base, a building." Free is a member of ACU 5, assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean about an hour north of San Diego. Like other LCAC crewmembers, he usually sports an olive green flight suit typically associated with aircraft pilots and crews.

"Transporting Marines and their vehicles from ship to shore is a vital operation for any amphib," said Hull-Technician 3rd Class Matthew Owen. "These key operations are made possible by us at ACU 5."

"Without ACU 5, Marines and their vehicles wouldn't be able to get to the ship and then be able to storm beaches," added Operations Specialist 3rd Class Coshonna Allison.

The unit boasts 36 LCACs, Sailors rated from seaman to senior chief, and a shore and sea duty command. Each LCAC needs a crew of five Sailors: a chief or senior chief who acts as a craftmaster, an engineer, a navigator, a load master and a deck mechanic.

"Some Sailors would spend about 10 years just at ACU 5," said Gas Systems Turbine Technician (Electrical) 3rd Class Brandon Twigg. "No matter what team you're flying with, everyone knows their job to get the work done."

Run by four main engines and two generators, an LCAC also sports two large fans at the stern. These fans provide steering and propulsion capabilities, and can help the craft reach a speed of 50 knots.

Operating an LCAC requires a lot of skill and specialized training. Sailors who want to be part of an ACU command must submit MILPERSMAN 1306-949s (Landing Craft, Air Cushion) to their in-rate detailers. The command is considered a special program, and if accepted, a Sailor will be assigned to an LCAC course.

They should expect a lot of hard work, said Twigg.

"When I hear other Sailors talk about how hard their 'A' or 'C' school was, in my mind, I was like 'You have no clue how hard school is,'" he said. "There were about three Sailors who couldn't pass in the first two weeks. My school was no joke."

Two training commands teach the LCAC pipeline: Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific and Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Atlantic. These commands offer five LCAC programs, including the LCAC Navigator Crew Training, LCAC Mechanical Maintenance and LCAC Craftmaster Crew Training Courses.

"If you want a different type of sea duty that is full of challenges and hard work, apply for an ACU," said Free. "Not only are you working with hovercraft, you're working with Marines, giving you a diverse background in your career."

It's also, Sailors agreed, a pretty cool job.

"'When friends and family ask what I do in the Navy," said Owen, "I smile a bit and tell them, 'You know in 'Transformers 2,' when they raid the beach on the hovercraft? I work on those.'"