Putting the “Am” in “Amtrac” – Marines on the bayou

Remember that 3-25 Marines AAVP7A1 destroyed by a huge IED last month where 14 Marines were killed? Critics were quick to jump all over the military for equipping troops with vehicles that couldn’t survive those sorts of blasts. Wolf Blitzer on CNN even wondered why they hadn’t yet been equipped with up-armored humvees. A Newhouse News Service story ran in many outlets under the titles Amphibious vehicle easy prey in Iraq and Amphibious vehicle weakness exposed.

We haven’t heard much of that lately, though, have we?

I wrote about the furor at the time:

This story is a simple illustration of maybe my biggest pet peeve: ignorance of military affairs by 99% of journalists.

I think all most journalists and editors know about the military is My Lai, the Pentagon Papers, and the words “Tet Offensive”.

This wasn’t really a case of ignorance of esoteric military jargon or technical details. This was simply more of the “the government isn’t giving the troops what they need” campaign. I’m more than a little irritated that I, just this guy sitting at a computer, seems to know and understand so much more about the military than the professional journalists getting paid to write about it.

Follow the link to Amphibious vehicle weakness exposed. Which newspaper did that particular story with that particular title run in? The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

There’s a reason why it’s ironic that a New Orleans publication played along.

Let’s start here: U.S. Forces provide assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: Marines rescue stranded hurricane victims:

Marines rescued more than 100 people stranded by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina Monday after tides and high winds pummeled cities along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Leathernecks with the Reserve’s reinforced 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, based in Gulfport, Miss., navigated the debris-filled streets of Biloxi late Aug. 29, plucking dazed citizens from their battered homes.

About 130 people were rescued by the Marines, who drove two AAV7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles through the destruction.

The amtrackers took the flood victims “to a designated drop-off point where they were returned to safety by civilian authorities,” according to a news release from Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport. One amtrac in the operation rescued 100 people, making four trips with 25 victims crammed into the crew compartment, a Navy spokeswoman said.


Then there’s Marines lend a hand in New Orleans East:

Motoring through the flooded streets of Michoud, a small neighborhood just 10 miles east of the city center, Master Sgt. Eric White saw the helicopter swooping low over his AAV7 Amphibious Assault Vehicle.

“I saw them waving and waving out the door, but at first I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say,” the inspector-instructor with the Gulfport, Miss.-based 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, said. “I thought, ‘what are you, Lassie?’ ” Suspecting that the Army helicopter might have been trying to point something out to him, White followed.

“I was just standing on my balcony when these guys came by on their tank and saved me,” said Corlissa Dobson, 26, as she patted White on the shoulder — safe and sound on dry land. “I had just drunk my last bottle of water.”

Now, we’ll forgive Ms. Dobson for calling the AAV a “tank”. That sort of technical mistake is understandable when made by a civilian unfamiliar with military terminology.

What’s different than that sort of error, though, is a loud and determined effort to slam the vehicle for it’s “weaknesses” or attempting to portray its use by the Marine Corps as another example of the government failing to provide for our troops.


The amtracs were ideally suited to the relief effort in the days immediately following the flooding of New Orleans. In many places, it was probably the only way to reach those in need:

The Marines move through the streets — now nothing more than maritime byways — bobbing softly, their engines groaning as the amphibious vehicles grind over a submerged car, a bumper tearing loose and rising slowly to the surface, the only evidence that this was at one time a bustling suburb of the historic city of New Orleans.

Looking over the thick steel rim of the amtrac’s crew compartment, the Marine infantrymen stared in stunned silence.

“I don’t see how they’ll ever recover from this,” said Cpl. Michael O’Brien, 26, of Dorchester, Mass., 1st Squad leader with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I expected it to be like this for a few blocks, but so far every place we’ve been has been flooded like this.”


And even in an environment where the amphibious vehicles could shine, working in that sort of situation is not a simple matter.

Witness Hurricane debris tests Marine amtracs:

Screw drivers, pry bars, Ka-Bar knives — anything that pokes or scrapes. That’s what it took to get many of these vehicles going after the first day on the job here.

You see, AAV7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles were meant to carry Marines from ship to shore, slashing through battering ocean waves to drop their deadly cargo on an enemy beach. But the amtracs of the Reserve’s 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion — about a dozen vehicles in all, cobbled together from nearby units that volunteered to chip in for the Corps’ relief efforts in this storm battered city — aren’t navigating clear, unobstructed waters.

Instead, the aging amtracs are negotiating mine fields of urban detritus, swimming through ruined neighborhoods six feet beneath the fetid water.

“There’s so much crap floating around out there,” said Cpl. Andrew Neilson, 26, of Gainesville, Fla., an amtrac crewman with the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Bravo Company, 4th Tracks, as he ripped what was left of an above-ground swimming pool from a tangle around the tracks of his vehicle.

“And the water’s so dirty you can’t see it so you can’t steer around it.”

But though not designed for relief work in a flooded city, the Marines are good to go. And no complaints about lightweight amphibious troop carriers are to be found. Especially in the Times-Picayune


Go figure.

Also posted at Winds of Change


  1. I’m not surprised to see our Marines pitching in (like they always do) to help out when it’s needed most. Can’t say I’m surprised by the original point of your post either. That well paid college educated (allegedly!) professional scribes are frequently the most ignorant of ‘bleepers’ when it comes to basic knowledge of most things military. Oh well………….back to the style page! LOL!

  2. Yep, these things work great in roles like this 🙂 They were designed to get heaps of Marines off ships and onto land quickly, and I’ve no doubt they do that very well. Weren’t they used at Inchon during the Korean war in that textbook amphibious assault? Am I the only one who thinks NATO camoflage for armored vehicles looks really good? There’s something about the shades of green, red/brown and black they use that I find really appealing, in those nice fat blobs.

  3. Im not sure I understand your point. So the fact that the media acknowledges the fact that amphibious vehicles are a good thing to use in a flooded city means that they should not also point out that they are a bad thing to use when patrolling city streets in an insurgency zone? Yes, when the AMPHIBIOUS ASSULT vehicle was blown up PATROLLING in a DESERT they pointed out that the vehicle was not designed for that. Im sure that if marines had drowned because they tried to drive a bradley through 20 ft flood waters a very similar story would have been published. You say ‘This wasn’t really a case of ignorance of esoteric military jargon or technical details. This was simply more of the ‘the government isn’t giving the troops what they need’ campaign. I’m more than a little irritated that I, just this guy sitting at a computer, seems to know and understand so much more about the military than the professional journalists getting paid to write about it.’ Because they pointed out an obvious shortcoming of the vehicle/mission combo. While that shortcoming might have been obvious to you and to anyone who has a passing interest in military affairs, it is not obvious to the general public, and apparently either not obvious to the people who planned the operation or not important enough to do anything about. The fact is that americans died and continue to die because someone didn’t get them the tools to do the job they were assigned. The fact that you want to both blame this on the media and then proceed to make jokes about it and treat it as if it were not a valid concern is infuriating to me.

  4. Mike: How about Wold Blitzer wondering why the Marines hadn’t yet recieved up-armored humvees? Simply a valid criticism of the ‘vehicle/mission combo’? Totally unrelated to previous armor stories, right? If you’ve read my previous posts on the amtrac, you’ll no doubt know that I’m one who questions the ‘vehicle/mission combo’ of amtracs in the Iraqi interior and you’ll realize why your statement in the last sentence of your comment is utter B.S. As for ‘While that shortcoming might have been obvious to you and to anyone who has a passing interest in military affairs, it is not obvious to the general public’ that is, in fact, exactly my point. The public, who doesn’t know the difference between an amtrac and a Tiger tank, gets fed a long line of stories about how the amtrac is a death trap. That’s what most of those stories were.

  5. I think Murdoc’s point (which I agree with) is that it’s valid to criticise the usage of these vehicles in circumstances for which they are not designed and do not deal with well, such as armoured patrols. They’re landing craft – they exist in order to get Marines ashore alive under a moderate level of hostile fire and that’s about it. These would have been great to have on D-day, for example. However, it’s not valid to say that the government has failed to provide the Marines with the proper equipment to do their job just because one of these gets blown up when being used improperly. The Marines have M1 tanks and other assets which are better suited to armored reconnaissance. It’s up to the commanders in the field to request and use such resources. If there are instances where the commanders are requesting armored vehicles, are getting AmTracs and being told ‘use them, that’s the best you’re going to get’, that would be a big problem IMO. But so far I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that this is actually the case. The pundits should be smart enough to point the above out, but the way they behave, it’s as if they don’t understand the difference between an HMMWV, an AMTRAC, an M113, a Stryker, a Bradley, a Buffalo or an M1. Anyone with a very basic understanding of armored warfare understands the different types of vehicles (light armored truck, amphibious landing vehicle, APC, heavy armored car/reconnaissance vehicle, IFV, mine/bomb clearer, main battle tank), their strengths and weaknesses and where they are approriately used individually or in combination. This is the sort of information you can get from a kid’s book. So basically my point is you shouldn’t complain about the equipment the soldiers you have if you don’t even understand properly what it’s used for. Improperly using equipment is different from having the wrong or inadequate equipment.

  6. Look, for all we know, the bomb that blew up that AMTRAC would have destroyed an Abrams too. I don’t have a lot of information about the size of the blast and I doubt I ever will. If it caused that much devastation there’s a good chance. I don’t think M1s are all that armored from below. AMTRACs would barely rate above an unarmored HMMWV in terms of protection I think, and just below an M113. Its armor will protect against small arms at medium-to-long ranges and shrapnel. Even a 7.62mm machine gun will probably penetrate it at short range. Therefore you would not find me riding in one unless the biggest threat in the area would be aome AKs and even then it would be a bit sketchy, you’d want to have some alert gunners ready to return fire if under attack. The military should be well aware of that. If they thought otherwise, that concerns me. More likely they were involved in taking calculated risks. In a way, that’s the military’s job. Every now and then you’ll be unlucky with one of those risks. It’s a fact of war. I’m still betting that, as another blog I read suggested, someone screwed up in sending the Marines off to patrol in that thing. They’re so big, if you can hit a barn door you can hit one of them. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket… poor guys (and their families).. it sucks but until the media stops giving these guys the front page their attacks will continue I’m afraid.