PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Select reconnaissance Marines from Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 15th MEU, dove in to a unique opportunity to honor the fallen and to start the Western Pacific 12-02 deployment, Sept. 17-24.
The swift, silent and deadly divers used the time to sharpen their skills and qualify for some of the unique missions the Marines could be called upon to conduct during the deployment. They viewed the USS Arizona Memorial from an exceptional vantage point and simultaneously earned an open-circuit dive qualification. An open-circuit dive is similar to recreational diving since the Marines use compressed air tanks.
The Force Reconnaissance Platoon acts as a direct action element for the MEU commander, while the BLT’s Reconnaissance Platoon provides amphibious reconnaissance capabilities to the BLT commander.
“The dive gave us an appreciation of the monument and gave us a chance to pay our respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Capt. Drew A. MacDougall, platoon commander, Reconnaissance Platoon, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU.
The USS Arizona has been at the bottom of Pearl Harbor for more than 70 years. Approximately 1,000 members of the crew died on the USS Arizona, several of whose remains are still inside the skin of the ship to this day.
“This was really a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Staff Sgt. Roland C. LeBlanc, assistant platoon sergeant, Reconnaissance Platoon, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “We were all very excited to go and experience something like this. It was the best way to start a deployment,” added the 28-year-old native of Chicago.
A military dive qualification requirement is needed in order to dive around the monument, and only a couple hundred people have ever dove down there, said McDougal.
“It was a real honor and privilege to be able to dive it,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brent M. Wright, platoon sergeant, Reconnaissance Platoon, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “It was very humbling to see all of the history [behind the monument].”
After the dive, the platoons’ leadership gave a history lesson covering the events surrounding the sinking of the USS Arizona. The class took place inside the national monument, which is open to the public, and they impressed upon them the magnitude of diving at the memorial.
“I am truly honored to have been a part of this dive. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Cpl. Bobby D. Hunt, reconnaissance Marine, Reconnaissance Platoon, BLT 3/5, 15th MEU. “Over the course of the week, we were able to refine our standard operating procedures before joining the rest of the MEU for the deployment,” added the 20-year-old native of Enterprise, Utah.
In addition to qualifying at the memorial, the teams also qualified on the windward side of the island at Kaneohe Bay on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“We spent the week confirming and expanding the dive capabilities that BLT Recon and Force Recon provide to the MEU,” said MacDougall. “Over the course of the week, we conducted two 500-meter swims and two 1000-meter swims at day and night. We also conducted a final exercise, practicing infiltration and exfiltration,” added the 28-year-old native of Newport R.I.
Exercises such as this cannot be conducted without the assistance of other units. To help make the training possible, the Marines were supported with gear and boats from 4th Force Reconnaissance Company at MCB Hawaii. Mobile Dive Salvage Unit 1 in Pearl Harbor and the National Park Service assisted the Marines by guiding them around the monument.
The 15th MEU is currently embarked as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group, while they serve as the nation's rapid-response sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force for Western Pacific Deployment 12-02.